One in four women don’t go for their smear test, in fact, the rate of attendance is at a nineteen year low.
So what can we do about that? I recently Tweeted about it (I know, what was I thinking, stick to wombats in teacups, Kuhn, you know the rules…) and I was bombarded with people (mainly women) telling me how silly women are, how it only takes a few minutes and it could stop us from DYING, don’t we want to not die?
Women are quite clearly crazy and vain, they would rather risk death than go through a few minutes of discomfort and the embarrassment of some doctor peering into their vajanus. It’s only a vagina, stop being so precious about it. Just another example of women being rubbish. Tell them to stop refusing!
Let’s start with me telling you most women aren’t refusing, they are putting it off, that we get how important it is, but scaring us into doing it isn’t going to help. Also, we are intelligent women, we can weigh up the risks ourselves.
You could try looking at the reasons women hate these procedures and address those reasons, because they are legitimate fears. You have no idea what some women have been through, which isn’t your fault, it’s how life is, but just because you can’t personally understand why some women might feel uncomfortable, it doesn’t make it less valid. As I say a lot in this blog, we are telling you how we feel, that should be enough.
Talking down to us does not help. Patronising us does not help.
Having a load of cartoons and photos of celebrities having them does not help. Shaming us does not help, showing us pictures of women going through cancer treatment does not help. These things only make the fear worse for some women and makes them shut down from it even more. The more we are told we need one, the more terrified we become. And telling women ‘it will be fine’ doesn’t help either. We’re not stupid, we’ve all been in lots of situations where things have been most definitely not fine, so back off.
So how have we got to this? If we look at all the huge medical advancements that have taken place over the last one hundred years, how is it that certain procedures haven’t moved on at all?
A more cynical person than myself might say that it’s because this particular procedure is one that involves women, and that it is indicative of the way that women’s health takes a back seat. (A good friend of mine, @amandajanemason, summed it up perfectly on Twitter when she said “Seriously, if men had to do it, it would be a matter of spitting into a test tube by now”.)
Women are conditioned from an early age to just get on with it and accept that things are going to hurt. An example of this is sex. Young girls are told that it will be uncomfortable the first time, that’s just how it is, something you have to go through. But this is wrong and instills from an early age the idea that sex is primarily about male pleasure, instead of teaching young people what to do to make sure it’s not uncomfortable for anybody.
We are told that some things ‘just are’ and there’s nothing that can be done.
Women with very valid reasons for not wanting to give birth vaginally are being made to feel ashamed of asking for a C-section. Any woman who’s ever had depression will forever be lumped into that group with any ailment she presents to the doctor. This means that women are seeing huge delays between their first visit to a doctor and eventually being diagnosed. Let’s not even get into the whole thyroid thing. But they are just not listened to.
(Imagine a condition that affected every single man in the world, imagine them being happy being told that it will pass eventually, it will just take another eight to ten years. Hello Menopause).
I’ve been having regular smear tests for over twenty years, but the process has hardly changed.
There’s the way they shut that curtain as you get undressed from the waist down, leaving you to sit on that awful paper sheet that sticks to your arse. Then the strip of paper they give you, for modesty. Whose modesty? Is it mine? Is it so I don’t see what’s happening? Because I can’t see anyway, because boobs. Is it for the nurse? Mate, you’ve got your face inches away from my vagina wearing surgical gloves and you haven’t even bought me lunch, that line has been well and truly leapt over.
There’s the way they tell you to relax as they not-so-subtly prise your knees apart before cranking up the speculum.
Ah, the speculum. That shiny, metal, duck-billed torture device.
This lovely bit of equipment has hardly changed in design since it was invented over one hundred and fifty years ago, and if you delve a little deeper into the history of its invention, it’s a story of patriarchal domination and racism, tested on female slaves with no pain relief.
It symbolises the long held fear of women’s bodies, this tool that ensured no physical contact was made, because hey, we don’t want to make the women hysterical.
And so it carries on, the discounting of female discomfort, the blame being placed on the woman herself. I personally am proud of my tilty cervix, I picture it as one of those false floors in a fun house, but it has always been up to me to remind them and to then get into the right position with my hands placed in a certain way so that they can find the damn thing. All while being told to relax and with the threat of ‘the bigger speculum’ hanging over me. Believe me, there is nothing guaranteed to make a tilty cervix swish away like one of the lands in the Magic Faraway Tree than being threatened with the big speculum.
So sort it out. Talk to us. Find out what we don’t like, find another material to make the speculums, there are loads out there, maybe even talk to the sex toy industry, I don’t know, just do it. Find out if we’d be happy learning how to do it ourselves? I’d be happy doing that and I bet if you had an easy-to-use kit that we could just pick up and take home, the take up would be higher.
We are not stupid, we are happy to let you into our vaginas if needed, we’d just like some say in how you do it.