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Feminspire | April 19, 2014

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The Gardasil Misinformation: How Gendered Marketing is Putting Us at Risk

The Gardasil Misinformation: How Gendered Marketing is Putting Us at Risk

A couple months ago I noticed an ingrown pubic hair. I assumed this to be the result of my less-than-cautious shaving practices, and silently cursed the gender double-standard of body hair (one that I have not been courageous enough to subvert, but my admiration goes to feminists who don’t shave). When it didn’t go away, I began to worry that it was infected. The thought of sexually transmitted disease crept into my mind, but I pushed it away and instead concerned myself with online tips and tricks for treating ingrown hairs. When nothing worked, I decided to see my doctor, who informed me that it was in fact a genital wart. I was tentatively diagnosed with HPV.

This came as a shock but not really a surprise. Due to my internalized misogyny and basket case anxiety surrounding the opposite sex, I have always struggled to assert my sexual health in the faces of men who whine and moan about wearing condoms. Since women are more susceptible to the contraction of STDs and our complications from them are usually more severe, it can be understood why men would resist wearing condoms, since sexual pleasure is often the only thing on their minds. It’s shitty, but nothing in our society teaches men to sacrifice their own gratification for the well-being of women. I digress. In addition to my poor protective practices, I have had fifteen sexual partners, many of whom have also had numerous sexual partners. I used condoms with very few of these men. In all fairness, I had this coming, and I’m grateful it wasn’t anything worse.

Of course, the diagnosis brought Gardasil to my mind. I’ve gotten pressure from physicians for years to get Gardasil, the HPV vaccine. I refused every time for largely moral reasons, though I had heard stories of Gardasil causing severe complications and even death, which of course turned me off. I am strongly against animal medical testing, and did not want any “unnecessary” vaccines (HPV isn’t exactly polio or something). I am also put off by the way Gardasil is marketed. For those who have been fortunate enough to not have the inanity forced upon them through cable television, Gardasil’s advertising campaign has centered around getting the vaccine as an act of female empowerment. The commercials feature strong women doing strong women things like sports and painting and sitting in gorgeous urban lofts, each with the tag line “One Less.” I found the adverts condescending and manipulative, and part of a culture of enabling male sexual irresponsibility. Women are shouldered with the negative consequences of sexual congress, while men make little to no effort to take responsibility for themselves, enabled to do so by social messages like that of Gardasil, which genders the burden of risky sex. I did not regret my refusal of Gardasil, but respected the perfectly legitimate decision of many women who chose to get the vaccine.

Gardasil one less campaign

However, upon further research of HPV, I learned that my understanding of the disease was pretty off-track due in part to miseducation provided by Gardasil advertisements. First of all, I was shocked to discover that men can get cancer and other health problems from HPV, too. Further, Gardasil is totally available to men. Why is this information completely shut out of its marketing?

The gendered economy, that’s why. Women are subject to all unholy manner of exploitation in Western capitalism, from objectification in commercials to the robust markets of “cures” for socially conditioned female insecurities. Gardasil fits within this phenomenon, with the twist of buttressing a culture in which sexual risk is the problem of women. This is fundamentally disturbing because in being marketed like this Gardasil does not seek to vaccinate half of the sexually active populous (i.e., men). Once again, men are enabled by society to live in a world devoid of the very harsh realities of sexual risk, while women endure the expense of vaccination and potential medical complications. And those women like me who refuse Gardasil are shit out of luck, since there is essentially no chance of sexual partners being vaccinated, given that its availability to men is not advertised. I might not have HPV right now if Gardasil had not been gendered, rather marketed to all the sexually active people to which it is available. And that, my friends, is some bullshit.

Submitted by an anonymous reader

  • Emilie

    I regularly think this concerning birth control options – a few months ago I was told that staying on the pill could lead to a stroke for me and I was suddenly forced to change my entire approach to birth control. I settled on the IUD, which was painful and is still causing me problems a few months later, and will for weeks yet to come if the pamphlets are to be believed. The entire time all I could think of were reports I have seen, over and over again, that male birth control is a totally do-able thing in terms of the science, but it has never been explored, exploited, marketed or even introduced to the public as a concept because it is believed that men straight up won’t take it. This drives me insane, as I have a long term, responsible (far more so than me) boyfriend who is totally willing to take male birth control – the options just aren’t there for him because no one will even consider the idea that men might actually want to be responsible for themselves sexually as well – it has been something women have dealt with exclusively for far too long.

    • Delaine Rae

      The IUD gave me pain and regular flow for the entire year I had it in. I had it removed out of frustration and got pregnant immediately. Now I have my tubes tied.

    • ks

      emilie, i urge you to check out the book “taking charge of your fertility” by toni weschler. it might change your life. it’s methods have kept me non-pregnant for five years now.

  • Sully

    I actually knew that men can suffer consequences from HPV, too, but it had never occurred to me that they would be able to be vaccinated against it as well. I actually haven’t seen any advertisements for it, but the way the vaccine was explained to me only mentioned women. It’s a terrible double standard to hold women more accountable for sexual health than men.

  • Melissa De Sa

    I have had HPV twice and always use protection. Sadly, all that is needed is sexual contact and the virus can live in the body up to two years and come out at various times. On men, they are typically carriers and when you address the situation, they won’t take responsibility for it because they don’t see it.

  • Ronka

    Sorry – plenty of information out – moral reasons? Really? You apparently had sex anyway?! WHY would you not vacinate yourself against cancer? Really, thats what its about – cervical cancer. It is another vaccination – a 13 year old does not ask what they are for – and if they DO you tell them it is to PROTECT THEM. My 13 year old daughrter was given the shot AND my 20 year old son was given the shot – the information IS out there. While they DO promote it mostly for women – it has been promoted for males as well.

  • Anon

    Condoms don’t necessarily protect against HPV. Also, at my doctor’s office, the vaccine is standard for both sexes (at certain ages).

  • BrendanS-JBD-ENC

    I thought this was a fairly decent article, except for the finger pointing.
    While we all can all certainly agree that Gardasil’s marketing practices are bullshit, there is no basis for your assertion that “men make little to no effort to take responsibility for themselves, enabled to do so by social messages like that of Gardasil, which genders the burden of risky sex.” “Risky sex” encompasses far more than the risk of contracting HPV, and this one instance of gendered marketing does not mean that being responsible for sexual risk is gendered.
    Everyone is responsible for their own sexual health, regardless of their sex, and if you encountered someone who wasn’t it was still your decision to have sex with them.
    Another major issue I had with this article is that when I read through it the first time, the author expressed shock at the revelation that, despite the potential health risks for men as well, Gardasil is not marketed for men. At first, I assumed this was out of concern for the men and their partners who may be uninformed, and thus practicing unsafely. Then the last paragraph revealed the author’s dissatisfaction to be more selfish than I was expecting. “And those women like me who refuse Gardasil are shit out of luck, since
    there is essentially no chance of sexual partners being vaccinated,
    given that its availability to men is not advertised” The author is upset, not that men are uninformed about protection against a disease that harms both sexes, or that they may be spreading it to their unknowing partners (since HPV is undetectable in the responsible men who get tested for STDS), but rather that she has to be the one to take responsibility for her own health. As if to say, “it isn’t fair that I have to get a vaccine, why can’t the men get it instead.” I thought maybe it was unfair to assume this about the author, except that she literally wrote, “I might not have HPV right now if Gardasil had not been gendered, rather
    marketed to all the sexually active people to which it is available.”
    The entire article bashes men for not taking responsibility for their sexual health, and in the same breath that is exactly what the author is doing. You say you don’t want the vaccine for personal reasons; what about the men who are in the same boat? Gardasil causing severe complications and death would turn anyone off from getting it, and concern about animal testing is not exclusive to women. Your decision to protect yourself or not is your responsibility.

    To clarify, I agree that everyone should be informed about and vaccinated against HPV. I do not agree that your contraction of HPV is the fault of “all those irresponsible men”.

  • Jennifer Elford

    I got the vaccine a few years ago, and my mom, being a nurse, also wants my brother to get it when he’s older.

  • Realist

    As someone who has had a rare, 1 in 100,000, case of cervical cancer that occurred in large part because my HPV went misdiagnosed for years, I would not take HPV too lightly. It’s “not polio” but it can be ( in my case: stage 2 ) cervical cancer, and it can cost you your ability to reproduce. The effects of HPV for men do not include cancer.

  • MZG

    In Australia, there is about to be a big campaign for boys aged 12-15 to get the gardisil shot. Makes sense I reckon.

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  • Emma Murdoch

    While I agree that Gardasil should also be marketed to men by the company, when it was approved for use in men by the FDA, the news was made quite public. Secondly, male or female, getting a Gardasil vaccine is just a GOOD IDEA. Prevention of cervical cancer? Yes, that’s something I’d like to avoid. As an ardent feminist, I prefer to not put myself or my partners at risk because I don’t like the Gardasil’s advertising.

  • Iris

    Where I live (in Canada), the vaccine is available for free to girls, but has to be paid for if it’s for boys. According to the local Health Unit, the reason boys don’t get coverage is because it prevents genital warts and cervical cancer for girls, but only genital warts for boys i.e. girls benefit doubly. Though this does sound like a bit of a bs reason, I believe both boys and girls should be taught to take responsibility for their sexual health.