Advertising emergency contraception is a good thing for the NHS to do – it provides vital information to women who may not otherwise seek it out. However, the Walsall Healthcare NHS Trust thought the best way to get this message across would be to make motherhood look like the worst thing that can happen to a woman.
"Would you give up this,” asks the poster (referring to the pictured high heels and lipstick), “for this?” (meaning the baby’s dummy lying in the bottom corner of the image). In other words, are you ready to give up your fun, social and lipstick-wearing life to look after a baby? Because, when you’re a mother, all those things will be firmly out of your reach.
Except, that’s not true. Having a baby – contrary to the Walsall NHS Trust’s beliefs – does not mark the end of a woman’s life. There are plenty of mothers who wear heels and there are plenty of mothers who wear lipstick. If the shoe and the lipstick are meant to represent the wider concept of a glamorous, party lifestyle – one that will apparently be lost when you have a baby – then there are countless examples to dispute this idea.
What this advert is really saying, is that women have to make a choice between their own life and their baby’s life. Once you give birth to a child, you only exist as a mother – not a woman, not a person, not a lover or a friend
Kirstie Jones, a woman who went to the press after noticing the ad on a National Express West Midlands on her commute, agrees. “It's sexist because it doesn't understand women, it implies if you are a mother you have to give up certain things,” she said, “It doesn't matter what you look like, what lipstick or shoes you wear when you have a baby. It's irresponsible.”
What this advert is really saying, is that women have to make a choice between their own life and their baby’s life. Once you give birth to a child, you only exist as a mother – not a woman, not a person, not a lover or a friend.
The divisional director of midwifery, gynaecology and sexual health for Walsall Healthcare NHS Trust, Nicola Wenlock, apologised for any offence caused by the campaign, but believes it has been effective. “We apologise if this particular advertisement has raised a concern, the intent was to raise awareness of emergency contraception and advice available for those in this age group who wish to avoid unwanted pregnancies,” she told The Daily Mail. “The campaign has played an important role in tackling teenage pregnancy and poor sexual health in our local area which has been reducing steadily year on year.”
Women should be able to make their own choices – especially when it comes to emergency contraception and reproductive rights – but the idea that women must decide between lipstick and a baby is a superficial choice. More than that, it’s a coercive and shame-fuelled attempt to make women choose between two aspects of life that aren’t in any way mutually exclusive. You can be a good mum and wear high heels; you can be a great mum and wear lipstick. And that’s nobody’s business but your own.