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.
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
December 4, 2013
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