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Back You are here: Home Sex, Gender & Sexuality Diversity - [Archived] ISGD Movember: Good cause, poor execution

Movember: Good cause, poor execution

MovemberEducating the public about prostate problems and ‘men’s health’ is a smart move, but initiatives like Movember that are sexist, heteronormative, gender normative, racist, classist, ableist and whorephobic, as well as excluding marginalised people who may be at risk of those health issues is not smart, writes Bastian Fox Phelan.

14 November 2010

Movember is a not-for-profit, charitable organisation that runs the annual men’s health initiative, Movember during the month of November.

In Australia, Movember works with the Prostate Cancer Foundation of Australia and beyondblue national depression initiative.

I signed up for Movember – as a transmasculine person who can grow a moustache thanks to my genetics ­– in the hopes of raising awareness about the complexities of health education. I do not have a prostate and cannot get prostate cancer, although I am at risk of breast, cervical and ovarian cancer.

Rather than simply supporting cisgender men’s health, I wanted to grow my mo for Movember to raise awareness of some issues around intersex, sex and/or gender diverse (ISGD)* healthcare and how prostate cancer affects anyone born with a prostate – not just cis men.

In an attempt to gain the support and participation of people in Australia, the Movember Foundation has created an initiative that presents its message in a simple, light-hearted manner and encourages both individual and group fundraising.

The Movember Foundation states that the organisation has been successful in improving awareness of health issues such as prostate cancer and depression, and is ‘committed to bringing about change as a result of the funds and awareness raised through the Movember campaign.’

However, as I became involved in the initiative and explored the website, I became increasingly critical of the approach Movember takes to public health.

Much of the branding and advertising for Movember relies on the image of the ‘modern gentleman.’

Although intended to be humorous – presumably to make serious health issues accessible to a wider public – the language and imagery employed by Movember is often sexist, heteronormative, gender normative, racist, classist, ableist and whorephobic.

According to GLBT health body ACON, studies have shown that ‘a climate of heteronormativity, heterosexism and discrimination can result in lower rates of GLBT people accessing health services.’

One way that the non-inclusive and discriminatory climate is systematically reproduced is through public health initiatives that fail to respectfully represent people from diverse backgrounds and acknowledge the complexity of health issues.

The way that women are represented throughout the Movember website is highly problematic.

Whilst the campaign attempts to be inclusive of women, referring to ‘Mo Bros and Mo Sistas,’ the language used to play on the old-fashioned imagery of men with moustaches reinforces ‘old-fashioned’ sexism.

Movember – along with the promotional partner Grill’d ­– plays on the history of oppression of women by referring to women participating in Movember as the genteleman’s ‘special lady friends’ suggesting that participation is only assured if a woman is chaperoned by a man.

The Week 2 Mo Newsletter sent out to Movember participants encourages Mo Sistas to ‘keep your boys focused on the finish line’ – as if a woman participating in Movember would only be doing so to support men who are the main fundraisers. Presenting women as useful only in their relation to men is extremely sexist and undermines the independent contributions of women to society.

On the Grill’d website, women are referred to as ‘follicle-challenged female friends’ which conveys the idea that femaleness is synonymous with hairlessness.

Many women are able to grow moustaches. However, under the sex and gender binarist system hairy women are discriminated against and under-represented in all forms of media. Movember and Grill’d perpetuate the myth that women cannot grow moustaches.

The Movember website is dominated by images of white masculinity: in ‘The Lodge’ you will find numerous images of Whiteness. The Man of Movember and Hall of Fame picture galleries overwhelmingly represent people who appear to have white skin privilege.

The so-called Mo Fact Cards promote heteronormativity with statements such as ‘Women are more attracted to men with Mo’s,’ and use ableist language in jokes such as ‘Beards are for the weak and lame.’

In The Lodge you will also find classist tips for gentlemen such as ‘When walking in the countryside, be sure to greet strangers. Things are different in the country, stick to designated paths, especially in crop fields, angry farmers are best avoided.’

There is no acknowledgement of the range of people who can and do grow facial hair apart from the Other-ing of people from diverse cultural backgrounds: one Mo Fact Card states that ‘Mo’s are sported by over 3.5 million adult males and some females in eastern europe.’

The Grill’d advertising slogan for members of the ‘Grill’d Guild’ – people who raise $40 or more and are entitled to one free burger per day during November – uses the phrase ‘A gentleman never pays for it.’

This slogan plays on the phrase ‘a gentleman always pays’ in regard to chivalry and the notion of gender roles and heterosexual dating. The use of the word ‘it’ is questionable: the ad is referring to a burger at Grill’d, however, ‘it’ operates on an intentionally ambiguous level and is reminiscent of the way that sexual activity can evasively be referred to in our sex-negative culture.

Invoking the figure of the gentleman ties this ambiguous statement to historical ideology: namely, middle-class Victorian-era sex-negative codes of decency and the concept of moral hygiene.

In this context, ‘a gentleman never pays for it’ is suggestive of anti-sex work and whorephobic attitudes.

Furthermore, the ‘boy’s club’ imagery evokes a time when privileged white cis men dominated public space, and many members of society were denied citizenship and human rights.

Making light of privilege suggests that we live in a world where oppressions such as sexism, classism and racism are no longer issues we need to address.

However, when you confront the issues surrounding participation in public space, statistics of violence experienced by individuals based on intersecting marginalised identities, difficulties accessing health care, housing and employment due to discrimination, and the deeply problematic way our society operates, it is clear that privilege is systemic and institutionalised in our white supremacist, sexist, classist, ableist, cisdominated, sex and gender binarist, heteronormative society.

The language of public health initiatives such as Movember reflects a system of oppression that discriminates against people on multiple and intersecting levels.

However, one aspect that is present even in key health organisations is the complete exclusion of intersex, sex and/or gender diverse people.

The Prostate Cancer Foundation of Australia (PCFA) is the peak national body for prostate cancer in Australia. PCFA uses gendered language throughout the site: ‘Every year, around 18,700 Australian men are diagnosed and more than 3,000 die of the disease, making prostate cancer the second largest cause of male cancer deaths, after lung cancer. Almost one man in eleven will develop prostate cancer during his lifetime.’

However, prostate cancer does not only affect men, and it does not affect all men.

Trans Faith Online states that ‘Prostate cancer affects 1 in 6 people born with a prostate.’ This includes trans women and other sex and/or gender diverse people with a prostate and some intersex people.

Transsexual woman blogger bird of paradox writes “I ran a simple Google search for prostate cancer, + trans women. It returned 382,000 results.”

I ran similar searches that returned between 20,000 and 650,000 results.

One of bird of paradox’s results was for the website Health With Pride which states that “trans women will still have a prostate post-gender reassignment surgery and can still develop prostate cancer.”

According to bird of paradox, excluding trans women from resources addressing prostate cancer is unacceptable: “Don’t tell me that only men can get prostate cancer. Because as well as erasing transsexual or transgendered women, you really are talking balls,” she says.

Public health campaigns and health service providers must use inclusive language and treat people appropriately or risk alienating and providing inappropriate care for ISGD people.

In an article on Trans-Health.com, the online magazine of health and fitness for transsexual and transgendered people, Justin Cascio reports on a roundtable discussion on cancer prevention outreach to the trans community in the Bronx (a borough of New York City).

Cascio writes that the roundtable was attended by representatives of organisations that provided health and housing assistance to trans people in New York City.

According to Cascio’s article, the roundtable discussed several issues for trans people accessing health care, including not being covered by insurance or having insurance but not being covered for specific procedures such as mammograms due to their current or legal gender, misinformation about trans health, barriers for accessing health care, and training service providers to be trans friendly.

Cascio quotes Dr. Jamie Feldman of the University of Minnesota Committee on Transgender Health and Research saying that “My guiding principle... [is] screening based on the body parts a person has – if someone has breasts, they should consider mammography starting at age 40; if they have a prostate, they should consider prostate cancer screening starting at age 50. The most important thing to know [is] what body parts one has, and be prepared to take care of them.”

If health initiatives and health care providers focused on the body part, not the sex or gender that is commonly associated with the body part, information and services would be more accessible for ISGD people and health concerns may less frequently be overlooked.

Focusing on the body part and challenging the sex and gender binary is the approach often taken by ISGD people when creating their own health resources. Buck Angel Entertainment offers two videos that discuss trans health: one, called ‘Public Cervix Announcement’ in which Angel encourages ‘men like me’ to have regular gynaecological examinations, and a second video, ‘Trans Woman Prostate Public Service Announcement’ starring Drew Deveaux in which Deveaux states that ‘women can have prostates too’.

Angel and Deveaux encourage people to know and love their bodies with the statement ‘Own it, use it, or lose it.’ Not only do these videos encourage people to access healthcare for their at-risk body parts, they also dispel the myth that only men have prostates and only women have cervixes.

Too often, ISGD people are forcibly reduced to their body parts.

In an interview with Terry Gross, transgender musician Antony Hegarty of Antony and the Johnsons says that ‘I think people tend to be really obsessed with transgender people’s physical configurations.’ Antony says that this crude reduction is almost cruel.

In a cisdominated, binary-focused world where it’s still acceptable for people to casually inquire about the genitals of ISGD people, empowering ISGD people to own their body parts and care for their health requires the inclusion of ISGD people within mainstream health channels.

Failure to adequately provide health services to ISGD people is contrary to the principles of human rights.

My message to health campaigns like Movember and to organisations like The Prostate Cancer Foundation is this: include us, provide for us, or lose us.

*Note: Use of ISGD terminology is still being debated in communities of people that this terminology is intended to include.

Bastian Fox Phelan is a writer and activist living in Sydney’s Inner West. They make the zine Ladybeard and they manage the group blog for STILL FIERCE Sydney Intersex, Sex &/or Gender Diverse Collective.

Author’s privilege: Bastian Fox Phelan is white/Jewish, transmasculine, queer, currently able-bodied and neurotypical, hormone-distinct, thin-ish, upper-middle class, currently artist class. Bastian is 23 years old, an Australian citizen and has a Bachelor of Arts (Honours) and Creative Arts.

Comments   

+3 #12 cdg1979 2012-11-01 19:28
What a ridiculous article. The author needs to stop being so sensitive and whiny. It's a light hearted charity initiative that's not meant to be taken seriously. That's what makes it fun. Also, the first celebrity endorser I saw on the Movember website was none other than Snoop Dogg. So much for the whole "white skin privildege" bs
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+2 #11 Ian Marsden 2011-02-07 05:52
This is the biggest load of rubbish I have ever read! The author makes pathetic attempts at attacking Movember by blowing things up out of all proportion - is ‘follicle-chall enged female friends’ really sexist? How many women were upset by not being described as hairy? It was obviously tongue in cheek!
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-3 #10 Momomo 2010-12-27 22:04
It would be really nice to see more inclusive public health discussions, I agree.

"These conclusions are so far-fetched you could draw the same conclusions about just about any cause in society."

Yeah, and that's fucked up! The whinging commenters above need to get a grip and rather than banging out privileged drivel on autopilot.
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0 #9 val599 2010-12-01 05:35
frankly the "SHmucks" that dreamt up this pathetic attempt to degrade the male of the species , SHould SHave their "KYsters" and SHove this this "2 & 3" up there as well. EITher KYster would do :sad: ......... More time and money is spent on ads for breast cancer , with a serious tone to that problem. When it comes to males , it is treated as a joke with overtones of hoMOphobic HuMOur.... with a big aUsralian " U "
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+2 #8 Timothy 2010-11-22 23:21
Ffs, they're trying to raise money for cancer, and making it 'fun' in the process. If you don't like the approach taken, fine, go away, leave it be.
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+1 #7 bear99 2010-11-21 06:38
This is the biggest load of trash I have ever read! These conclusions are so far-fetched you could draw the same conclusions about just about any cause in society. Be grateful that you actually live in a country with an accessible health care system that is able to engage people on mass in order to improve our already very high standard of living .Not everything is going to please every group in society, that is a fact...this is just a winge piece and on a personal note..as a transman I believe you have totally missed the mark with this one. A little sense of perspective is necessary.
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-2 #6 AHC 2010-11-19 21:58
great article Bastian, thanks for writing it. very thorough analysis and thought provoking
Ada :-)
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+1 #5 Mont Alban 2010-11-19 14:38
Checking the media pick up....Movember seems to be globally supported by men- heterosexual, homosexual, and bi-sexual, women- heterosexual, homosexual, and bi-sexual, and businesses- large and small. Clearly this post misses the larger point on the proven fact that most men are not proactive about their health and do not talk about it. Movember is a great way to break down those barriers. Not to mention one of the programs funded in the US would have saved my father's life, had he still been alive. Good enough for me!
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0 #4 Jason 2010-11-14 19:48
I have to firstly say I understand what you are trying to say. But I can't help but feel you have totally overlooked what 'Movember' is all about.

Money is being raised and awareness of the cancer is being made to a much wider group/groups of people than ever before. With the money raised more research can be done and in time anyone with a prostate with benefit.

I think a little too much thought was put into this campaign and you need to realise any publicity is good publicity.
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0 #3 MOfO 2010-11-14 07:35
"Only about one in 10 prostate cancers detected by screening actually poses a threat to a man's life, according to a new analysis conducted by researchers from the University if Cambridge".

"A common prostate cancer treatment may significantly increase men's risk of heart problems, according to a study conducted by researchers from King's College London and presented at a joint meeting of the European Cancer Organization and the European Society for Medical Oncology in Berlin".

"If none of the men diagnosed with early-stage prostate cancer were ever treated, 97 percent of them would still survive the disease, according to a study conducted by Swedish researchers and published in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute".

"As many as 50 percent of all prostate cancer diagnoses may be cases of over-diagnosis, according to a study published in the British Medical Journal".

Funny how these cancer fear marketers never tell the whole story..
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