For the past week or so, my social media feeds have been crowded with blokes posting progress pics, plenty of comments suggest they are "doing well bro".
This month, rather than the usual shot of a slightly uncomfortable man sneaking a quick flex in the changeroom mirror, these pics have been of their 'taches. Movemeber is well and truly upon us as these men "grow a mo and save a bro".
Why would we choose to raise awareness for men’s health by creating competitive environment where blokes are encouraged to demonstrate their manliness?Credit:Shutterstock
According to one billboard I recently saw, these moustaches save lives. But what cultural work does this carnival of bro-hood perform?
This campaign clearly raises awareness and funds for men’s health issues that are often shrouded by shame and embarrassment, but could the values it promotes reinforce rather than challenge the gender scripts that prevent men from speaking up in the first place?
With a focus on mental health, prostate and testicular cancer and suicide prevention, Movember has health problems in its sights that are exacerbated by ideals of masculinity.
These are health issues whose sufferers often postpone seeking medical assistance because ideals of stoicism and bravery encourage them to stay silent, with dire consequences.
Putting it bluntly, expectations of masculinity are killing men because they prevent them from speaking about illnesses that undermine their feelings of manliness.
Why, then, would we choose to raise awareness for men’s health by creating competitive environment where blokes are encouraged to demonstrate their manliness?
Facial hair has long been considered a sign of virility, even the Movember website acknowledges this while trying to pretend it is somehow ironically disposed to these archaic ideas.
Why would we support a 'bro-off' over facial hair when we know ideas about manliness prevent men from seeking help?
But the jokes thrown around about bum fluff and patchy growth in schools and offices reveal that thick facial is still understood as direct evidence of masculinity – where masculinity seems to be a scale with Bob Downe at one end and the VB voice over at the other.
These are not archaic ideas, they are alive and well in our culture.
Of course, the thickness of facial hair varies from bloke to bloke, the capacity to grow an abundant moustache it is not a natural part of being a man for everyone. Seen in this light, this campaign actually makes it a gendered risk for some to participate.
What would it mean to be the bloke at the office who grows a patchy moustache? What kind of jokes would come pouring in at his expense? Of course, this is all delivered in jest – but isn’t taking the piss out of men for their manhood part of the way we police gender?
Drag queen Joyce Maynge (as Freddy Mercury) and her Freddy Mercury, provides a lesson in how to do an ironic mo.Credit:Cole Bennetts
The organisers of Movember would do well to celebrate the ways the queer community is rewriting this campaign – men in these communities are posting pics of themselves in drag, sporting facial air and looking generally fabulous.
However we aren’t seeing these challenges to ideas about masculinity on Billboards and official webpages; we just have endless pictures of men looking manly, laughing and stroking their top lip.
Those who complete the challenge are clearly seeking ways to support worthy causes. Moreover, for some, this moment clearly creates the space to speak out and seek the help they need.
Even though it is oriented towards issues that are often the source of embarrassment for men, Movember proclaims loudly that men need to talk about their mental and reproductive health. Like so many political and social campaigns, it turns an object of shame into one of pride – men proudly wear their 'taches to show their solidarity with this cause and create an atmosphere where men might speak up.
When ideals of manhood have become a political battleground … men clearly enjoy the chance to display a symbol of manliness for a cause.
Anything that creates space for men to break through the shackles of shame and embarrassment and seek help is most certainly worthwhile.
Movember is also a way to remember lost fathers, brother, uncles and lovers – it is textured by grief and we need to respect that. But this good will and grief is, perhaps, blinding us to the cultural messages Movember keeps in place.
#Metoo has reminded us to question ideas about male privilege. While it looks like this Movember has its tongue in its cheek, I suspect this good humour conceals its gender politics. In a moment when ideals of manhood have become a political battleground, many men clearly enjoy the chance to display a sign of manliness for a good cause.
As the Movember website states: "Men with facial hair have been credited with attributes including wisdom, sexual virility, masculinity, and technical proficiency in all things." The twenty first century man is not somehow immune to this historical baggage.
Why, then, would we support a ‘bro-off’ over facial hair when we know that ideas about manliness prevent men from seeking help?
Sure, we can make jokes about who is growing the most lush 'tache. But hidden in this campaign is a set of ideas about manliness that are unhealthy for men. These ideas corner blokes into narrow ideas about what it means to be manly, and could prevent them seeking the help they need.
Dr Leigh Boucher is a lecturer at Macquarie University.
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