If you are unfamiliar with Movember, it is a joint word for moustache (Mo) and November. The secret behind this practice held annually in this month is to raise awareness on men’s health issues including, but not limited to, prostate cancer, testicular cancer, and men’s increasing suicide rates. Movember, a movement which had its roots in New Zealand and Australia before spreading to the greater West by 2007, and is now sweeping at the feet of Beirut, is hailed by quite some men as a way to raise men’s health concerns and has even gained popularity amongst celebrity ambassadors such as Snoop Dogg.
Movember websites such as one originating from the UK wish “to stop men from dying when they are too young”. Therefore, men are encouraged to start the month clean-shaven, grow their moustache throughout, and engage in an array of activities such as running, biking, or any other fun activity, all while collecting money to aid men who need it most.
However, Movember in its romanticism is too simplistic. With a seemingly fun and practical encouragement of growing a moustache, there lies androcentrism covered with a blanket of gender blind practices. Do men need Movember to raise awareness about their health issues such as prostate cancer or suicide only once a year? What happens when Movember ends? Should we—men—put down troubles and say society is healed of the trauma men face in lieu of health adversities? This is one part of the problem which Movember seems to lack the correct answers for.
` Movember also promotes a certain narrative as vested in hegemonic masculinity which does not challenge gender inequalities and the differences that exist between men and women. It assumes all men are homogenous, yet men across cultures are different with dissimilar needs. Movember utilizes the beard as a way to discuss men’s health, even reproductive ones. This disassociates men’s health problems as essential and men as a vulnerable gender, despite being covered under the shed of masculinity. Movember thus becomes a reformist movement and not a transformative one.
Also, more critics see it as promoting a greater version of masculinity which only celebrates the man of November with a beard. While it is true that, in general, men die at a younger age than women, Movember therapy is to cure the symptoms rather than the cause. A vast research on masculinity shows that cultures have socialized men as “strong”, “brave”, ‘rough’, and ‘active’, who must show no emotion like women, their inferior counterparts. All these attributes attached to the masculine role in present society have bred a crisis in men’s lived expectations, and those who do not fit are seen as “collapsing masculinities”.
A successful campaign that Movember should emulate is MenCare, a global fatherhood campaign where men are actively seeking parental leave to participate in fathering their little ones while also allowing their wives to engage in other regular activities. This practice was indeed found not only to be good for men themselves to learn how to care but also as one way of creating happier families.
The question thus “Movembers” should ask themselves is: how will this annual practice fuel their agency against patriarchy and hegemonic masculinity—a figurative cancer to our health, identity, and living?