Ladyparts? That's my brain, isn't it...? It is, isn't it? You mean my BRAIN, don't you? Go on, it is, isn't it?...

A couple of months ago I spotted an advert on a District Line tube train. It was for a ‘Love your ladyparts’ leaflet from Macmillan Cancer Support. Symptoms and cancer, for women. Health promotion, on the face of it. I didn’t have time to note the text number to message before I got off but there are some traces of the leaflet on the web.

You can see its front page here.

I’ve tried to get hold of it through that site but but there's been no response to my mobile or my landline numbers. It must have been a campaign with a limited run. If it is still going it's pretty obscure. But it was in the public domain when I saw it. It seems to escaped any comment. Until now. 

I was sceptical about it. In what sense is a leaflet 'free', I mused, if I have to send a text message and then wait for a response and engage in a verbal or text conversation with someone to whom I will have to give my address? I would have swapped two chunks of personal detail for entry to a database to get my leaflet. Not free, not free at all.

As they never contacted me it never arose as an issue

The web wording says “By clicking “Get your free guide” you also consent to us contacting you to keep you up to date about how you can donate to us and how you can get involved in our activities including fundraising, unless you tell us otherwise by ticking this box”.

This seems pretty flaming sneaky to me. I might prefer to be kept up to date on ways to reduce the risk of cancer, not how to donate. It’s out and out fundraising. The advert I saw on the Tube seemed to be health promotion. I wonder what the Advertising Standards Authority would think - not that I'm about to ask. I can't find the original Tube advert that sparked my interest for a start.    

I looked up who owns the ladyparts website domain on  It’s not Macmillan but Burnett Works “a fundraising and marketing agency that weaves charities into people's lives”. Their website claims precisely zero expertise in evidence based health promotion to women. Lovely. This explains a lot.

But it does not justify why Macmillan were within 50 yards of the thing. Badly done, Macmillan. Badly done.

Apart from that, what else strikes me? My assumptions may be utterly wrong but I write the following assuming the leaflet is all about gynae and breast cancers. 

First thought: Is my lady brain a ‘ladypart’? I suspect it’s not in Macmillan/Burnett Works fundraiser's minds. Scary thing, those lady brains…..all that thinking…. Is a woman's thinking part not capable of a distinctively female output, like a uterus, for example - contrary to all data on the benefits of gender diversity in public, working, cultural and social life?

Brain cancer scares me. That's a thought from a female about a cancer that might affect me. And almost certainly missing from this fundraising - excuse me - health promotion leaflet.

It was much easier to round up the usual notions of gender and cancer and reproduce that; repeat to women that the big problem with cancer is the particular danger their reproductive organs and breasts pose to them. Personally, I tend to wonder more widely -  I wonder about  bowel cancer for reasons that will become apparent. And also lung cancer - because I don’t smoke, not because I do; because I may still get it.

Second thought: What normal middle aged or older women, who should be the target audience for health promotion on symptoms in a disease of ageing, habitually refers to their reproductive organs and breasts as ‘ladyparts’ and would immediately spot this leaflet as potentially relevant to them (ignoring the additional issue I have with the gender specific bit)?

Unless, of course, it isn’t health promotion to older women but something else entirely. I refer you to my earlier fundraising observations.

And if those women do appreciate the expression ‘ladyparts’ contrary to my expectation, is this a word likely to be recognised or welcomed by women of black or other minority ethnic origin? I have no idea but it feels unlikely to me. Was it tested with them? Yes? OK. Then I’m wrong. But if it wasn’t tested in a health promotion context, why ever not?

I refer you again to my earlier fundraising observations.

Third thought: Why is Macmillan doing symptom  awareness anyway? That’s before a cancer diagnosis and you come within Macmillan’s purview …. I think I know the answer.

I refer you one final time to my earlier fundraising observations.

If you are going to do health promotion, Macmillan, do it differently, and honestly, as health promotion. Not fooking fundraising. And avoid tackling it as 'cancers only women get' as if this is the key cancer problem women should know about.

Women are people too. Cancers people get need women-specific routes to women’s specific attention, as well as the well-worn routes to the minority ‘women specific’ cancers. 'Cancer and women' can still be made a compelling women’s narrative. Just vary the plot, to include all women and all cancers.

[And do the same for men. Prostate cancer and 'male only' isn't the sole cancer story for men, just as breast cancer and 'female only' isn't the sole cancer story for women] 

And on to sub-editing. The leaflet is subtitled 'Symptoms of cancer that affect women’. This is wrong Wrong WRONG. My mother, a woman, was so badly affected by cancer that it killed her. It was bowel cancer. Macmillan should have spotted that, if Burnett Works marketeers couldn't - and altered the text to fit.

I’ve checked the numbers. 75% of women who die from cancer each year have cancers that are not gender specific. Macmillan could have broken the badly fitting gender-centric cancer narrative, led by the breast cancer lobby and rearranged it, in a novel pattern to fit cancer and women.

That could be a Macmillan flavoured USP, but they didn’t do it. And do the same for men, obviously.... 

Macmillan claimed a health promotional message but smuggled in a fundraising narrative shaped to fit - to fit, I presume, a fundraising target.

Tell me I'm wrong. Please.