“The smear campaign against our bodies is killing us,” argues Lucy Mangan.
A speculum has been inserted into the data pile and parted to reveal that the rate of cervical screening is at the lowest it’s been for two decades. Five million women are currently overdue a smear test.
And I’m one of them. Why? Short answer: I’m an idiot who can’t find time to schedule an appointment for a simple, free test that might literally save my life. That might literally save me from dying of cancer.
Slightly longer answer: I’m not good with vaginas. My own, mostly – my lifestyle doesn’t really require me to have competence with any others, but I’m pretty sure I would not be much good with those either. But then we just have to ask why again. Why am I not good with my own vagina? Why am I slightly screwing up my face as I type the word? Why do I go slightly light-headed – and not in a good way – when I think about someone poking around down there with clinical rather than carnal interest?
Uuuh… that would be because I think it’s revolting. I think it is revolting in appearance – flaps, bleurgh (I know that’s the vulva and not the vagina but please don’t challenge me too much, I really find this very difficult) – in moistness, in feel and oh, it’s just altogether revolting. I’d prefer it wasn’t there at all, day to day. If I could, I would just attach it as necessary when the aforementioned carnal interests came knocking.
I don’t feel that it’s just another part of the anatomy. I barely feel like it’s part of my anatomy at all. I feel it’s probably been tucked away out of sight for a reason. Namely, IT’S REVOLTING.
I would hope that I am alone in this. I would hope that everyone reading this is horrified by my mental state and is rushing to email me with paeans to their own beautiful vulvas and love of their labia and effusive encouragements to think of it as both tool and ornament.
It’s not that easy, of course. Because I (or we, if I may be so bold) haven’t simply conceived a sudden irrational dislike of a random body part – what we’ve done is believe the lies we’ve been told about this specific one. We’ve grown up in a world that makes jokes about how we smell “down there” (a place too hellish to be given its proper name in polite society), that refers to it in terms of its animalistic bleeding and wetness, its shameful association with sex and its inextricable link with the horrors and pain of childbirth. My brain and vag took all that in when I was too young to question it and there it stays. And now I’m supposed to hop up on a couch and let people look at the thing? I don’t think so!
This is clearly an insane position to hold (not the couch one, that’s very sensible. Don’t move till they say you can), but nearly three quarters of the women who are overdue their smear test cited embarrassment as the reason they are putting it off. And it’s an embarrassment that comes from not being able to see your vagina as just like any other bit of you. And so, I want to say, to me that’s an entirely understandable position. Unfortunately, that position could also kill you.
Are we to let internalised misogyny kill us? That doesn’t seem very fair. I think I’m going to draw a line at it making me feel alienated from my body rather than murdering me. So, I’m going to find a nice doctor and get it done. The only unnecessary smears are the ones about a part of me – the ones I’ve already listened to for far too long.