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Health Commun. 2014;29(1):81-92. doi: 10.1080/10410236.2012.719178. Epub 2013 Feb 12.

Confessions of a pharmaceutical company: voice, narrative, and gendered dialectics in the case of Gardasil.

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a Department of Communication , University of Colorado Boulder.


Despite the fact that both men and women carry the human papillomavirus (HPV) and jointly contribute to its status as an epidemic, the promotion of Gardasil, a vaccine that blocks infection from four strains of HPV, has largely been designated as a women's-only health issue. The following case study contributes to ongoing efforts in the field of health communication to identify problematic assumptions informing contemporary health policy and practices. Specifically, I analyze how Merck Pharmaceuticals, the creator of Gardasil, strategically imbues direct-to-consumer advertisements with contradiction to preserve traditional notions of both women and medicine. I found that three gendered dialectics characterize Merck's efforts to invoke complacency among female consumers: public/secret, education/ignorance, and structured/individualist. In the case of the HPV vaccination, the implications of these dialectics are the perpetuation of complacency among female audiences that threatens both the success of this particular technology and the overall status of women and health. In line with conclusions offered by Thompson (2010a), this study extends a call for health and communication scholars to continue to deconstruct dominant medical discourses and presents possibilities for re-storying narratives that mediate women's experiences with health.

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