‘Go smoke free. Stay pretty the health campaigns that havent heard of feminism

From superficial smoking campaigns to ads that attempt to make breast cancer sexy, public health advice for women has got a long way to go…

Hear that sound, all you women of a childbearing age? Its time, running out. Soon your eggs will be past their prime and you will no longer be of any use to society. Even if youre hot! Just ask the Italian government, which recently launched an advertising campaign urging women to get a move on with their baby-making. One poster showed a woman brandishing an hourglass with the caption: Beauty has no age. But fertility does. Feminism: it has come so far.

The ill-conceived ads, launched ahead of Italys first national Fertility Day, were not well received and the campaign has been pulled. Its 2016 and women feel as if they should be treated as more than glorified incubators. Who knew? There were also some suggestions that maybe the government should focus less on reminding women about their ovaries and more on trying to fix issues such as unemployment, paid maternity leave and poor childcare provisions.

Italys fertility publicity may not have worked as intended but it has done a good job of advertising the extent to which womens bodies are still carefully controlled under the guise of public health advice. So, to ensure you are all up to speed with the latest developments on how to safely operate your lady-body, here are a few more examples of campaigns demonstrating an unhealthy interest in womens health.

Booze and babies

Mixing alcohol with oestrogen, women are frequently told, is a recipe for disaster. Drinking will get us raped and/or give us herpes for starters. And if thats not enough to get you to put that glass of merlot down, then wont you think of the unborn children? Earlier this year, Americas Center for Disease Control and Prevention caused widespread ire when it basically said that fertile women shouldnt be drinking unless they were on birth control. A press release explained: Alcohol can permanently harm a developing baby before a woman knows she is pregnant. About half of all pregnancies in the United States are unplanned, and even if planned, most women wont know they are pregnant for the first month or so, when they might still be drinking. The risk is real. Why take the chance?

Ive also heard that walking down the street puts you in danger of getting struck by a car. The risk is real. Of course, I dont mean to underplay foetal alcohol syndrome, but this advice seems to greatly underplay womens common sense. Whats more, its based on highly dubious evidence. A number of studies have shown that light and occasional drinking poses little risk to pregnant women, or their foetuses. In any case, the most frustrating thing about the constant flow of moralising about women and drink is how one-sided it is. Theres been very little health advice to men, after all, about how that one sip of Stella is going to turn you into a rapist with raging syphilis.

Making breast cancer sexy again

Save Second Base T-shirt. Photograph: Save Second Base

Breast cancer is the most common cancer in women worldwide, so it makes sense that a large amount of womens health advice centres on our breasts. What makes less sense, however, is just how fixated on breasts these health campaigns often are. There have been a slew of provocative awareness campaigns centred on messages such as Save Second Base and Save the Ta Tas, for example.

And if breast cancer campaigns arent drowning in tired innuendo about, giggle, boobs, giggle, then they tend not to think further than pink. Indeed, Breast Cancer Action has even coined the term pinkwashing. It defines a pinkwasher as a company or organisation that claims to care about breast cancer by promoting a pink ribbon product, but at the same time produces, manufactures and/or sells products that are linked to the disease.

Superficial smoking campaigns

Go smoke free. Stay pretty a Queensland government anti-smoking campaign. Photograph: http://ifyousmoke.initiatives.qld.gov.au/

Women only care about their looks, right? You would certainly think so judging by some of the anti-smoking campaigns. An Australian campaign called Your Futures Not Pretty, for example, explains to young female smokers that if they dont put down the cigarettes they might as well kiss their futures (based on men finding them attractive, obviously) goodbye: Go smoke free. Stay pretty. Women are invited to upload a pic to the Future You Smoking Booth and see how old and horrible you could look if you keep smoking. Its a shocking transformation. Being old and female dont let it happen to you!

The dangers of beer goggles

A Tennessee anti-drink and drive campaign. Photograph: John Partipilo/AP

Even public health campaigns aimed at men seem fixated on passing judgment on a womans appearance. Last year The Highway Safety Office of Tennessee had to apologise over a campaign that warned men about the dangers of drinking and driving through irreverent messages on beer coasters. For example: Buy a drink for a marginally good-looking girl, only to find out shes chatty, clingy and your bosss daughter. Imagine, guys, after drunkenly crashing your car you could wake up to find yourself with horrible injuries and the terrible realisation that youd made out with an ugly girl!

The campaign you havent seen yet

More egregious than any of these campaigns are the ones that dont exist yet. While a large amount of energy is expended on moralising about womens bodies, there is still a shocking lack of research around many womens health issues. For instance, nobody knows exactly how harmful tampons might be because there has been very little research done. Ridiculous as it may seem, this would appear to come down to simple squeamishness and embarrassment society has made menstruation so taboo that science doesnt want to go near it. (The research that has been done has largely been funded by tampon companies, who one imagines arent entirely unbiased.)

Whats more, much medical research still focuses on men and neglects to properly control for female-specific differences. I know, its depressing, right? Still, Im going to have to advise you not to take solace in a glass of wine, particularly if youre not on birth control. Its for your own good.

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/womens-blog/2016/sep/08/go-smoke-free-stay-pretty-the-health-campaigns-that-havent-heard-of-feminism

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