Fear mongering in bar bathrooms
By Avalon Doyle, Contributor
It’s Friday night and I’m in Langley at Gabby’s Country Cabaret with one of my girlfriends. I’m there to look pretty, dance, and maybe lasso me a cowboy. The last thought on my mind is, “I’m probably going to get the Human Papillomavirus tonight from said cowboy and die of cervical cancer.” It’s the last thought on my mind up until I make a trip to the loo, where I sit reading an advertisement for a HPV vaccination that says, “Don’t get screwed by cancer: get immunized against HPV.”
Ads like this are in every bar I’ve been to in the past year, and they’re ridiculous for several reasons. In this example, the copywriters and drug company went for a punchy line over factual accuracy. The vaccine doesn’t protect against all forms of cancer; it can reduce your chances of developing certain strains of cancer associated with HPV.
There are many misconceptions about sexual health that already exist in the world, which largely has to do with society’s values associated with sexual acts. I don’t think it’s fair that a huge drug company uses its ad-buying power to perpetuate ignorance, or uses my girls’ night out as a chance to scare me into using their product.
My second issue is a much larger one: these ads are another form of slut shaming. Especially the aforementioned ad, “Don’t get screwed…”: the advertisers highlighted “screwed” in red—really driving the point home. As a writer, I know that these words aren’t randomly chosen and the poster isn’t randomly placed. They put it in a bar where girls go out, amp themselves up on a little liquid courage, and maybe think about taking home a cute boy. Then the ad literally catches them with their pants down, bombarding them with an inappropriate message that suggests they will definitely get burned by their sexual habits. There’s no “You could get this,” or “You might get that.” It’s always “You will get cancer.” It reminds me of a scene from the movie Mean Girls, where the sex education teacher tells the class, “If you have sex, you will get Chlamydia, and die.”
Port Coquitlam’s Treehouse Pub is even more abrasive. Their bathroom features an ad from the Canadian Women’s Foundation that reads, “Congratulations, it’s a girl. She has a 50 per cent chance of being physically or sexually abused.” Then the tag line reads, “For girls growing up in Canada, it’s tougher than you’d think.” No shit, Sherlock. I know that—I am a girl. What I’d like to know is where that statistic comes from. Is it 50 per cent because women make up roughly half the population? Again, they choose shock value over helping us to understand the facts.
I still have no idea why this is in the women’s washroom. Does the Canadian Women’s Foundation believe women don’t know how difficult and scary it often feels to be a woman in our society? When I was a child, I wasn’t allowed to go outside for recess or ever play beyond an adult’s sight because a child-molester was calling my mother every week to talk about me. That man never got to me because my mother and the women around her kept me safe—the cops said they couldn’t do anything unless he hurt me first—and yet the Canadian Women’s Foundation thinks we need to be told to keep women safe. Shouldn’t such an ad be in the men’s washroom?
Did anyone know that Gardasil is available for men in Canada? It’s not included in the proposed programs for HPV vaccinations in middle schools—that’s just for girls. I’ve never seen it advertised. I never hear about men being told to take care of their sexual health. In bar bathrooms, advertisers encourage them to try this new beer, or these new smokes. Why not tell them that the vaccine may prevent their penis from breaking out in big, nasty genital warts? Or maybe we should be telling men their little girl has a 50 per cent chance of being physically or sexually abused.
The way it is now makes me feel like I’m being told that it’s my responsibility. It’s my job to keep my precious womb disease-free, and mine alone. Just as I’ve always paid for my birth control and the morning after pill, and just as it’s women who accompany other women to abortion clinics. Sex is a shared act between two consenting adults—or it should be—but the consequences rest on my shoulders alone.
I’m not asking for it to be solely a man’s responsibility, either. That would be just as wrong. I’m just asking that if the act is between two people, that advertisers treat the consequences equally. There should be just as much of a push to vaccinate men, and just as much responsibility on them to keep women safe. I’m done with being told I’m wrong for being a sexually expressive, independent woman and that my actions will undoubtedly lead to me being raped, getting HPV, and dying of cancer.
The better option would be to stick the ads on the back seat of a cab and make us both think about protecting our sexual health.