Thursday, November 1, 2012

A Letter to Movember Participants

Movember is upon us and I couldn't help but notice an even more disturbing trend:

There is no discourse about prostate cancer in any of the participation I have found in my Facebook feed or in Twitter search.

So I searched Google, under a variety of keywords and phrases. Same result. Well, some of these at least used the word "awareness," so I guess that counts, right?

No. It doesn't. And I'm not at all surprised that I discovered these things in my research. I expected it because all I had ever heard or read about Movember was how hilarious it would be if you grew a handlebar moustache. How hilarious it is when women and children wear fake moustaches. I've read that you look like a '70s porn star. I've read progress reports on your hilarious moustache. It's not funny, not just because it's poor humour.

I haven't learned a damn thing about prostate cancer from your moustache or from your awareness -- awareness about how hilarious it is, not awareness about the condition. Not awareness about how to detect the disease. Not awareness about how to help your family, friends and neighbors or strangers who are affected by it. Not awareness about how (or if -- probably how) social inequities prevent or limit access to assistance for some people and what that impact has been on prostate cancer patients.

Is it possible to raise real awareness, like what I just described, with a fun and silly campaign for a disease? Why has the fun and silliness of Movember prevented real conversation about prostate cancer? I'm really asking you. I want answers.

I know many of you will say "But I'm raising money for prostate cancer!" And I know many people reading this will feel justified in participating and raising awareness about their moustache without even fundraising because their moustache shows support for prostate cancer and will encourage people to donate. To these arguments, I respond: the ends do not justify the means.

Earlier this year, I wrote a post describing the dilemma of my complaints about Movember:
"An unsilly, relevant, informative campaign probably wouldn't get nearly as much participation from the public, coverage from the media or funds for the cause... It's a sad reflection of our culture if we need to grow moustaches to raise 'awareness' and funds for such a prevalent, life-threatening illness."
I know Movember has raised a lot of money for prostate cancer and don't get me wrong, I totally support that. And I think a lot of you participate by growing moustaches and talking about them because you know the campaign is raising money. If you can raise money and have fun, why not?

Because awareness has to be part of the conversation. It's not an option: fundraising or awareness. Good fundraising doesn't mitigate absent awareness. I'm sorry; it just doesn't.

People won't get more access to assistance, like help paying for drugs, childcare, rides to treatment, or whatever their needs are (I don't know what they need, despite all this "awareness," and neither do you, it seems),  unless people become aware that this poor access exists, demand change, help affected people directly and raise awareness of that, so others will understand the need and will help them too.

People won't know their risk factors for prostate cancer, won't know how it should be detected, won't know how their lifestyle and environment may impact their risk, unless there is awareness.

Also, where is the money going? Is a substantial amount donated by Movember organizations actually going to research? How is that affecting treatment and outcomes? Is it helping people access treatment and limit risks to contracting the disease? I'm glad that Movember has provided an online tool to submit donations and that most participants (companies and individuals), seem to use it and link to it.

People can't change social issues like these, or demand change, unless they are aware of them.

Movember is also problematic because many participants keep bandying the word "awareness" around, despite, of course, no actual awareness. I don't know if the purpose of this is to make themselves and their readers feel like they are at least raising some awareness, or if they genuinely just don't know what awareness is. Whatever the case, the lack of awareness about true awareness and its importance is perpetuated by the misuse of the term because people think the awareness component is being fulfilled.

So if I get uppity with you about your participation about Movember, this is why. I'm not being too sensitive; I'm not looking for things to bitch about. My concerns are valid.

If Movember can't change these things or Movember participants won't change, I will be very angry. And I will know that Movember really is just about the fun. It's an excuse to grow a moustache.

And I'm certainly not just angry with the participants. Movember is a legitimate organization. They should know better and do better.

Movember is a symptom of what's seriously wrong with our society and culture. I think that's why I hate most about it.


  1. It's sad to say, but I think many wouldn't participate if it weren't funny. It may not do AS MUCH good, but it does a little, and that's a start. And posts like this certainly raise a greater awareness which is important.

  2. Lynda - Thanks. I'm glad that Movember is raising money at least and perhaps prompting people to do their own research. If this was the first year of Movember, I think I would be a bit forgiving for these reasons.