Tuesday, November 1, 2011

RE: Movember

To Who It May Concern,


Movember. A time of year when judging people from a distance gets a lot easier. October was breast-cancer awareness month, and we saw an array of products switch to pink packaging with proceeds supporting breast cancer research (See video below). So that was yesterday, today men are shaving down their upper lips for a month-long moustache growing challenge to raise funds and awareness for prostate cancer. The differences in fundraising strategies between the two months are very telling of our society.

The goals of each of the cancer fundraisers are twofold: outreach and fundraising.  Movember’s revenue model is primarily based on sponsorship of participation in November-long moustache growth.  October, or Pinktober, as it has come to be marketed conforms its revenue model to tightly consumerism, in addition to sponsored-participant events (like the CIBC Run for the Cure).

From a critical perspective, I have to ask why we need these charities to exist. If we live in a country that guarantees health rights, why are cancer research and support programs not part of our public investments? If this approach was taken, the administrative costs associated with fundraising and logistics of large charity projects could be avoided. Instead, we turn to market solutions for much of our health charity funding, leaving medical progress vulnerable to recession, scandal, and inefficiency. 

Whipped to market forces, medical charities are forced into creating broad-reaching and innovative fundraising schemes. Here, charities, like businesses, have turned to the mobilization of identity politics to create profit. Because it is understood that femininity is largely based in consumerism and appearance, and acknowledging that women hold the vast majority of purchasing power in North America, Pinktober is an obvious marketing campaign.

Conversely, the growth of a moustache is symbolic of much less severe social regulation placed on men’s bodies.  Movember’s month-long pledge also seems obvious; create a visible presence among men for an awareness campaign and collect pledges. So, a (primarily) women’s cancer is approached through methods designed to profit from the continued mantra that a woman’s happiness and beauty are but a few purchases away. Meanwhile, Movember flaunts how men can grow unruly and often unattractive facial hair for an entire month in the name of charity.

A suitable comparison would be an initiative for women to stop shaving their arm pits for the month of October. (There would be outrage) This would actually make sense, because often enough lymph nodes from the arm pit have to be removed alongside a mastectomy. While women’s armpits are much less visible than men’s upper lips, they are much more regulated. 

I’m not saying it’s wrong to donate to charities, or participate in events, (lord knows I've done my share) but I am saying it’s important to think about the role these institutions play in (re)creating our social relations.