Expecting a bit mo’ from Movember

The month of November has drawn to a close, and with it, Movember’s legions of moustachioed folks end their campaigning… not only will the sightings of moustaches drop significantly, but the amount of times I am asked what i think of the “awareness” campaign will hopefully taper off.

Ah, what a lovely, complicated, recurring question. I had planned on responding to it myself, but before I knew it my badass friend Iris had already tackle the issue quite succinctly. In her editorial “Mo Awareness, Mo Problems” she covers everything from the very heteronormative narrow approach to addressing men’s health issues to the badass moustachioed folks ignored in Movember’s hall of fame. But don’t let me speak for her, read it yourself:

A large portion of the money raised by Movember goes to Prostate Cancer Canada, which is funding some extremely worthwhile initiatives, but some of this cash goes back to Movember itself, which seems to be paying largely for slick graphic design and gimmicky branded merchandise.

While I don’t want to minimize the importance of cancer research, I have my doubts about whether Movember is the best vehicle for a men’s health movement. Though popular, “moustache awareness” has been marketed so strongly that the causes it stands for can seem like an afterthought.

screencap of the movember website that reads "merchandise"

screencap of the movember website that reads “merchandise”

If you look hard enough on the Movember website, past the ads for beer, motorcycles, and razors, you’ll find that the campaign encourages men to get physical exams, eat healthier diets, stop smoking, and drink in moderation. But rather than using their marketing dollars to make it cool for men to eat salads, the Movember website unhelpfully tells you the volume of beer that a one-month old moustache can absorb.

It doesn’t talk about access. Movember imagines that men don’t go to doctors because they “just can’t fit it into their schedule.” The campaign assumes that the largest barrier to health care access is men’s reluctance. This ignores other significant factors, like the availability of healthcare or insurance coverage; the ability to see a queer or trans-positive healthcare practitioner; the ability to access healthcare in your first language, or if you work a night shift, or a variety of other reasons including the accessibility and affordability of healthy foods.

It’s cisnormative. Movember’s prostate cancer focus has expanded to encompass “men’s health awareness” generally. Still, not all men have prostates. Cervical cancer is also a “men’s health” issue –checkitoutguys.ca does an awesome job of providing info for trans guys who need paps. There are also lots of guys – trans and cis alike – who can’t grow facial hair, but that doesn’t make them less manly.

It’s heteronormative. The moustache plays a huge role in queer style and iconography, but Movember’s celebrity Hall of Fame is super straight (Dr. Phil, Mr. Potato Head, Ned Flanders, Ron Jeremy), except for Freddie Mercury. Where’s John Waters? Tom of Finland pinups? Le Tigre’s JD Samson? (Julia adds: Frida Kahlo!)

The Movember campaign also explicitly argues that moustaches are sexy, without ever acknowledging queer sexualities and relationships. The website’s “Mo Facts” include statements like “Women are more attracted to men with Mo’s.”

This absence is especially conspicuous in a campaign that focuses on prostates. If the aim is to get men to get annual physical exams, it would be especially useful to lessen the perception that someone’s finger in your ass (whether that finger is your doctor’s or your lover’s) is an experience to be avoided. No homo, right bros?

It misses opportunities to debunk sexist ideology. The idea that only men have moustaches is propped up by a lot of sexist marketing and patriarchal bullshit. Ask any woman who has bleached, shaved, waxed, or lasered her face – or who has felt pressure to do so. Women with facial hair have been displayed as “freaks” in circuses. Movember dismissingly mentions that “some Eastern European” women have moustaches, which is a harmful stereotype in itself. Check out J. Bee’s “Femme a Barbe” zine for more on women & other bearded gender outlaws.

Movember (somewhat defensively) states that men are “indifferent” to their health and need to step up their game to catch up with the “women’s health movement”. Of course, the underfunding of necessary programs or research relating to anyone’s health is a situation that should be improved.

Still, the framing of this conversation leaves out larger discussions about gender and healthcare that would likely be more effective than the “men are scared of hospitals” model that Movember uses. There is a “women’s health movement” because historically, women weren’t included in medical studies and so research regarding their health was underdeveloped. For instance, the symptoms of a heart attack are different for cis women than cis men.

As well, women’s bodies are often pathologized as unwell and treated as public. Women are pathologized as being sick even when the symptoms are often due to their social location – we don’t have “hysteria” anymore, but we do have similar stigma about shit like PMS. Men, especially typically masculine, macho, “bros” like the ones targeted by Movember, are thought to be by definition healthy and normal. It’s good that Movember aims to discourage the “it’ll all be alright” attitude, but it seems unlikely to be effective without also critiquing the “bro” stereotype.

It centres white dudes. When Jarvis was on campus scouting for Mo Bros, he told us that after hours of looking, he found an overwhelming number of participating white guys and very few POC participants. The official Movember website is similarly problematic, though they do sell licensed Snoop Dogg t-shirts.

It leaves out environmental factors. Healthy lifestyles are important, but can only do so much. Curing cancer for good will likely involve pressuring governments for better environmental regulations that limit the use and exposure of carcinogens beyond what individuals can do on their own.

What do you think? Personally I think she’s hit the nail on the head (but I’m biased seeing as she is my best friend).

While i’m on the topic of moustaches, though, here are some more awesome links:

Majestic Legay posted this video on November 1st of this year. So much of what they had to say rang true for me, namely being a “hairy french canadian” and getting teased. I don’t quite remember exactly when I stopped removing facial hair, but suffice to say these days I’ve embraced the little face fuzz I do have. I think it is slightly linked to the first times I did drag, where I had less work to do to highlight my sideburns, eyebrows, etc. It’s different for everyone, but I think we spend far too much time and effort hiding our facial hair and avoid conversations about it like the plague. Perhaps critical folks can reclaim movember to start discussions around how hypergendered facial hair is? and admire the badass femmes and queers who fuck with those notions around the attachment of moustaches and beards to traditional notions of masculinity? That is a campaign I can get behind.

majestic moustache

Two of my favourite moustachioed babes, majestic legay and jessie dress (founder of fa(t)shion february)

No Shave November No Matter Your Gender
art by katy did not

In the end, I can’t really write off Movember entirely. It’s got some real good aspects, and as a fan of moustaches on people of all genders and presentations, I personally can’t complain about the increase in sightings. I just think there’s a lot of work to be done before it’s something I can enthusiastically support. When we can start talking about cancers without having to brand them as girly! pink! = breast cancer and moustaches! virile! rugged! = men’s health/prostate cancer, I’ll be one happy camper. Until then, though, I’ll high-five these badass critical folks like iris, j. bee, and majestic for their insights and awesome work.




Filed under body hair, pop culture

4 responses to “Expecting a bit mo’ from Movember

  1. Thank you for accessorizing my editorial with babes.

  2. illusclaire

    I gotta agree, those are some smashing points she makes.

    I always used to find “awareness” campaigns more alarming than helpful – when all the pink ribbons would spring up everywhere, it was like a month of HEY, YOU MIGHT GET CANCER! IN YOUR PRIVATE AREAS! Rather than “if you get cancer, here’s what to do and how people can help”.

    I can see that, for people brave enough to confront cancer possibilities, it is useful to be reminded of the possibilities. But.. And that’s even without the exclusive marketing.

    Those moustachio’d ladies are looking rad.

  3. Awesome blog! Fantastic editorial; I love campus newspapers, and serious discussions of problematic “awareness” campaigns. My friend came back from a weekend visiting her boyfriend in Peterborough and brought me a copy of Arthur, specifically thinking of showing me that excellent editorial – but I found I’d already read it here! Anyways, thought that was an interesting moment. 🙂

  4. Pingback: Loads of Links: 12/7/11 « Reading in Skirts

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