Monday, July 21, 2008

Pharma DTC Ads Portray Women as Weak and Battered Victims

I have received many comments about posts that poke fun at direct-to-consumer (DTC) ads that portray women as weak, battered, and victims of esoteric syndromes that actually afflict very few women.

My posts should have conveyed my belief that most DTC ads depict women in a negative way, whereas men are depicted positively. Unfortunately, I failed to convey that point because of mistakes I made.

A case in point is a post I made about PGAD -- Persistent Genital Arousal Disorder (see "PGAD. EGAD! Another Syndrome/Disorder, Whatever!").

The first mistake I made was the title of that post, which was snarky and implied that PGAD was a phony medical condition. Of course, my blog post titles are meant to capture people's attention and get them to read the post, which contain pearls of wisdom about pharmaceutical marketing.

Another mistake I made is not challenging other bloggers for putting my comments in the wrong context. Kevin, M.D.'s blog, for example, wrote this:
Persistent genital arousal disorder

Physicians aren't sure how to treat this:

. . . a 33-year-old housewife and mother in South Carolina, became so desperate she voluntarily had herself committed — twice — to psychiatric institutions. "One psychiatrist said I must be sexually repressed and needed to experiment more," she says. "He suggested I try lesbianism."

Update: Apparently, others have thought the same thing.

(See Kevin's post here.)

Kevin linked to my PGAD post as an example of "others" who have thought the "same thing," by which readers might infer I think the same thing as that "psychariatrist." This, of course, is not the case if you bother to read my entire post.

Apparently, some women who suffer from PGAD HAVE read my post. Here's a comment from one of them:
This is post is very upsetting. So you think all women complaining about this disorder are making it up? you think there is no such disorder? I have this and it is very disturbing and painful. Imagine living your life 24 hours a day feeling like you are in the middle of having sex! It is not funny or desirable. People with PGAD, are not thinking about sex- don't want to have sex- it has nothing to do with sexual desire!!!- yet your genitals are constantly aroused. You can't concentrate on anything, you sit around praying and thinking of ways to get the feeling to stop but nothing works. I am hopeless because I can't find any help, crying at my computer because there is nothing to help this disorder and then I come across this asshole. It is painful and I feel like I am going insain, and having sex doesn't help it so if Paxil does than give me some please.
OK, like Dennis Leary, I've been called an asshole many times. Goes with the territory.

My post about PGAD imagined what a fictitious DTC ad about a PGAD drug (eg, Paxil, if approved by FDA for PGAD) would look like. It ended more on an anti-male note than an anti-female note: the woman happily cycles off into the sunset and exclaims: "Thanks to Paxil, PGAD is not a problem any longer. Riding my bike also helps. And I got rid of my loser husband!" And she didn't go riding off with another woman!

But that's not my point!

Here's My Point
First of all, DTC ads for Rx treatments of medical conditions like PGAD, RLS, fibromyalgia, various forms of depression, etc., imply that many more women suffer from these conditions than is supported by the evidence. That generates an impression in my mind of women in general rather than a very small subset of women.

Secondly, the impression of women I am getting from most DTC ads is that most women suffer from depression -- I see very few men in these ads -- have mysterious, hard-to-define syndromes -- and are really distressed about "going" -- compare the DETROL ads depicting women who fret that everyone knows they have a bladder problem to the active, happy-go-lucky men suffering from enlarged prostates in the FLOMAX ads. DTC ads also show women as being battered (see, for example, "Battered Woman Imagery in Pfizer's New Fibromyalgia Ad") and generally victims who really really need help from a pill in order to be happy!

Is this the image that women want to relate to?

Yes, I know there are women out there who DO suffer from these conditions. I'm just objecting to the way that women are objectified in DTC ads! Apparently, others have thought the same thing.

In contrast to most women in DTC ads, most of the men I see in Rx drug ads are strong and vibrantly alive -- even erectile dysfunction sufferers are young, happy, and virile men with great looking women partners who are HOT for them! I almost envy them!

Objectification of Women
Case in point: the Evista ads (see here) and the PGAD news item, in which I see an image of a woman appearing in a major news source (MSNBC) objectified as a cartoon vagina. BTW, I did not create this image; I stole it directly from MSNBC. OK, this is not a DTC ad per se, but it illustrates how women are portrayed not just by pharma marketers, but in the media in general.

The fact is most women in DTC ads are protrayed as victims and overly dependent upon products created by a male-dominated industry.

There is one exception that may prove the rule: the ad for Amitiza. The woman in this ad has a medical problem, but it's not detracting from her attitude and there is a positive feeling as she goes about her apparentky successful life.

So, what's my point?

DTC advertisers: Stop making it appear that American woman in general are beset by debilitating, strange, difficult to diagnose syndromes!

And most importantly, stop depicting women as victims!

That's my opinion and I'm sticking to it!

1 comment:

  1. Anonymous12:39 PM

    You are right on the money. Pharma uses fictional patients when discussing "symptoms" in exactly the same manner. Lilly's "Donna" was famous in the PCP world for Zyprexa. She wasn't psychotic but she was a single mom with a job who has trouble sleeping... so doctor give this pathetic woman a sledge hammer of an anti-psychotic.

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