Each November since 2004, countries around the world have gradually begun marking a new month-long event: Movember. The movement gained international traction around 2007, when it spread across Europe and North America. Now, it’s an institution: men across the world grow and fashion moustaches to raise both awareness and money for men’s health issues like prostate cancer, testicular cancer, and suicide. By 2012, Movember was listed as one of the top 100 non-government organizations in the world.
The stated goal of Movember is to “change the face of men’s health.” The campaign seeks to address the compartmentalized and stigmatized nature of men’s health issues, and a key part of this conversation is the role that masculinity plays in stigmatizing these issues. Masculinity has, to some extent, made it difficult for men to express weakness; perhaps more accurately, it’s made it difficult for men to express anything at all besides stoicness.
This performed toughness claims lives. Men are less likely to go see a doctor about health concerns than women, which results in unresolved health issues. In some cases, this means a cancer has more time to develop. In others, it might mean depression, gone untreated, culminates in suicide. These are extreme examples, but examples nonetheless: stigma rooted in masculinity directly impacts the wellbeing of men. These issues are compounded in racialized, gay, and transgender men.
If Movember is to be successful in its mission of changing the face of men’s health, it has to be rooted in open, progressive dialogue with men and masculinity. Growing a moustache is a good start, but the real goal is to change the way that men interact with themselves and their health. In order for that to happen, it’s important to approach Movember the right way.
That means letting each man celebrate the month in their own way. Movember is certainly famous for its reinvigoration of the thick upper lip, but even this is rooted in a somewhat sensitive issue. Many men simply can’t grow a moustache, or if they can, it’s an unfortunate, transparent peach fuzz. A thick crop of facial hair has been traditionally associated with the image of a virile, masculine man, so for those that can’t grow sufficient facial hair, the association of manhood and men’s health with facial hair production can be alienating. If someone you know isn’t growing a moustache, don’t badger them about it—there are other ways to further the conversation around men’s health. To borrow a Hallmark-ish platitude: remember the reason for the season!
Another way to forward the spirit of Movember is to simply talk to the men in your life about more than the weather. Opening up the floor for men to discuss how they feel is a key facet of improving men’s health. This doesn’t have to be a grand gesture or a drawn-out process; it can (and arguably should) be an effortless, routine conversation. Pop a question like, ‘How are you feeling?’ or ‘Is there anything you want to talk about?’ The inverse approach is to bring up a personal issue you’re dealing with, to signal that there is space for that sort of discussion. The routinization of these chats can help others to feel more comfortable in confronting and addressing their own problems.