It's the most wonderful time of year. November has faded into December, and the male population has come full circle - from whiskers worthy of General Custer to a default state of lazy scruff. Movember has come and gone: much fun was had, many eyes were averted and prostate cancer awareness was bountiful. But was the month long campaign as effective as it could have been?
Movember kicks off each year on November 1st with thousands of men putting down their razors for 30 days and letting their whiskers grow wild in support of men's health, specifically prostate cancer. Like a marathon, participants recruit sponsors with all proceeds going towards the cause. Movember was established over a round of beers in 2003 by a group of Australian friends; since then, it has become a worldwide movement with official factions in the US, Canada, Ireland, UK and New Zealand. In 2010, Movember raised a global total of $72 million, up substantially from $44.3 million in 2009. The campaign has a captive audience that grows each year, but closer attention needs to be paid to the message behind it.
The Movember campaign overlooks (and in some cases, promotes) several key hypocrisies. Movember markets itself as a celebration of manliness and ruggedness. Press materials hail the moustache as "nature's finest bounty" and refer to participants as "Mo Bros." In Movember culture, bigger and "manlier" is always better with participants encouraged to celebrate their "valour" at month's end. The Movember Canada website trumpets: "Mo Bros effectively become walking, talking billboards for the 30 days of November. Through their actions and words, they raise awareness by prompting private and public conversation around the often ignored issue of men's health."
But isn't it equally harmful to ignore the inherent hypocrisy in promoting such outdated, limite, and shortsighted definitions of masculinity in the name of prostate cancer? One of the most painful aspects of prostate cancer is a man's psychological struggle with the loss of bodily functions and parts closely associated with manhood. This past March, the Psychology of Men and Masculinity journal published a study that connected Latino men's hesitancy to get tested for prostate cancer with their belief that digital rectal exams were emasculating. Social constructions of manliness impose problems at every stage of the cancer's treatment, so how does lauding hyper-vigilant masculinity support men in this battle? Even more ironic is that androgen treatments used to combat advanced prostate cancer often inhibit a man's ability to grow body and facial hair. This means many men who are survivors, or are undergoing treatment for prostate cancer, can't participate in their own awareness month. It's almost as absurd as supporting a cancer that results in mastectomies with a pink-splashed sexualization of boobs.
The Movember movement even goes so far as to crown the gent with the "ultimate Mo" the "International Man of Movember." I get that fun and competitions promote participation, but surely one has to draw the line when the activity not only has no significant link to the cause, but absurdly laughs (grows?) in the face of it.
Another oversight is the lack of a female role in Movember despite prostate cancer's massive effects on intimate relationships and family life. The Prostate Cancer Canada Network quotes Andrea Beck, doctoral student in clinical psychology, on its website: "[women] are deeply affected, sometimes even experiencing greater distress than their partners." But the current female role in Movember is simply to "support" male counterparts through continued attraction and sex in spite of the Mo burn suffered on skin and retinas. Sure, this unofficial arrangement comes with jokes and snark on both sides of the 'stache, but it speaks to a gaping hole in Movember culture. Women affected by the cancer are marginalized, if not wholly ignored (sorry, dubbing us "Mo Sisters" doesn't count as inclusive) by the lack of serious thought about their role in the campaign.
Both male and female victims of prostate cancer deserve more than Movember currently offers. While way ahead of the charitable rat race in terms of popularity, media coverage, and even dollars raised, there needs be more substance behind it. A movement genuinely tasked to "change the face of men's health" needs to dig deeper and ask tougher questions to be a truly effective supporter of the cause.
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