This morning I have to go and have a cervical smear test. It is six months overdue, my excuse being that I have been out of the country for those months. I am still registered to my family home here in England, so the letter popped through the door in February and my mum (instructed to open all letters on my behalf in case there is anything of importance) let me know about it. They send only one reminder, women have to take responsibility for their own health and make sure to arrange appointments. I don’t disagree with this, in so far as I think women should have bodily autonomy, and it would be pretty hypocritical of me to then think that these tests should be mandatory. At the same time, I would recommend to all women to keep on top of these smear tests, as the alternative is far worse than a few moments of discomfort. In the UK, 9 women per day are diagnosed with cervical cancer.
As well as the slight difficulty between believing that women really should have the smear yet also believing that women should have control over decisions made about their bodies, there’s another issue at hand. Currently, the smear is only available to women over the age of 25. While the official line is that women under this age are more likely to have mutable cells, thus are more likely to have false positive results potentially causing unnecessary distress, it’s safe to say that this doesn’t magically change when someone celebrates their 25th birthday. The fact remains that people can, and do, get cervical cancer before this age.
It was around the 1970s when women’s health began to be taken seriously. The second wave feminists fought for many issues under the remit of female bodily autonomy. 1967 saw the legalisation of abortion in the UK, as well as the contraceptive pill becoming available to unmarried women. While cervical screening was introduced in 1964, it was very disorganised and haphazard, and the second wave feminists had to push for it to be available to all women. It appears that the availability issue is one which modern day feminists need to take up, as though great strides have already been taken, younger women are being refused smear tests even when they have reason to believe they are at risk, and are dying of cervical cancer. So let’s make our voices heard just as our sisters before us did. Meanwhile, if you’re eligible for smears and yet avoiding actually going, please reconsider. It is uncomfortable to have people poking about while you’re covered with a paper towel for ‘modesty’ (seriously seems a bit pointless when you consider what they’re doing, but okay). At the end of the day, it’s your choice, but it’s also your choice to support the campaigns which aim to offer the possibility of testing to young women.