Mo’ money, mo’ gender problems?

Aine O’Connell


For those of you without an internet connection, No Shave November (or Movember, as it’s usually known as) is a charity based movement that involves growing a beard/moustache to raise awareness and funds for prostate cancer. It began in Ireland in 2008 allowing men who participate to look like hipsters/ Ron Swanson for a whole month while funding cancer research. It’s easy, silly, recognisable and a bit of craic. But I hate what Movember inspires in people, both online and in real life. I hate it not for what it is, but for people’s responses when women try to get involved. I hate the sexism that comes with Movember, even if it’s not intended by the moustachioed amongst us.

The interesting thing about “No Shave November” is that it’s not inherently exclusionary. Women can, and do, get involved. In the freezing cold month of November, women can put their razors down, and be free to cosy their legs up in aid of charity. There are even women participating on the “mo” side of things – a woman from Belfast who suffers from Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) is forgoing her usual hair removal routine in order to raise awareness. However, a cursory glance at Twitter shows a different kind of coldness spreading through this wintry month: sexist tweets aimed at both men and women. A typical tweet on the #NoShaveNovember tag reads something like this: “For girls participating in No Shave November: Hope you’re looking forward to no D December!” “No Shave November only applies to guys. Sexist? I know but it’s disgusting when a girl participates”. Or even the more authoritarian “Just to clarify…No Shave November is for men only. Ladies, keep it together”. I know that the people we’re dealing with here are those closer to the Neanderthal side of the human evolutionary development spectrum, but it’s this attitude that puts women off wanting to get involved.

It’s put me off getting involved – just like in August when I signed up for Armpits for August, a similar initiative. Everyone I mentioned it to recoiled, despite the fact that I was doing it for PCOS, which is a pretty shitty syndrome to have. Similarly, if I were to quit waxing my dark-brown leg/lip/armpit hair, I’m sure I’d get more than a few funny looks. Yet I’ve found myself admiring moustaches across the library as I write this article. Is this as far as the policing of bodies has gone, particularly women’s ones?  While I don’t agree with the arguments for pubic hair removal, I can at least see their point. It is a personal choice, after all, and I’m not going to tell anyone how to treat their bodies. Why are those women who want to contribute to a world-wide movement for an excellent cause vilified and held up as disgusting and unattractive? I want a world where I can raise money for a cancer I’ll never get, because I’d hate to see anyone I love get cancer. The exclusionary attitude so many people have towards No Shave November hurts the initiative, as cheerful tweets documenting progress are slowly choked by calls for women to cover it up, keep it tidy and generally do what decades of oppression, pornography and…well, sexism have told them to do.

Thinking about a mens’ cancer charity got me thinking about the female equivalent – the hugely successful Breast Cancer Awareness movement. While their “Think Pink” campaigns are aimed mostly at women, the breast cancer fund-raising is in no way exclusionary. Quite the opposite, in fact. Last year a campaign was launched that targeted men – the “Save The Boobies” campaign in the States. The charity sold wristbands and made videos pleading with the public to donate – to save women’s breasts.

Now, it’s difficult to discuss this one without sounding like a man-hating feminist, but: seriously? Campaigns like this – as well as the “post the colour of your bra” craze that swept Facebook last year – see the trees, but not the wood. It’s true that sex sells, but in the words of a breast cancer survivor and campaigner: “When death is truly knocking at your door — and I’m not talking about early, uncertain cases — most aren’t thinking about how much they love their breasts, they’re thinking about how much they love not being dead. They’re thinking: Chop those things off, now”. That’s the kicker. Breast cancer charities aren’t trying to save the breasts – they’re trying to save the women. What if the main thrust of a prostate cancer campaign was “We Love Balls”?  Again, even in the case of charity work, sex sells – but only a certain kind. Neither “save the awesome women who happen to have breasts” nor “save the testes” would have quite the traction we get on sex-orientated campaigns or on Movember. Both fund-raising approaches ultimately lead to the objectification of women and men. Movember is a great way to raise awareness and I’ll be supporting anyone I know rocking a mo’ over the next few weeks.  Nonetheless, haven’t we evolved beyond the crippling gender norms of cancer fundraising? Can’t we step beyond “Pink! Cute! Boobs!” mentality for Breast Cancer, and the “Manly! Rugged!” one for No Shave November? How we stop excluding genders and works together to save the women (not the boobs) by whatever means possible, including a woman having hairy legs for thirty days?

Some might say that I’m missing the point with this article – after all, these charities are about fundraising and awareness, not gender equality. However, that point of view neatly underscores my argument – people are taking something great and using it as a vehicle for body-shaming, imposing oppressive beauty standards and hating on both men and women. At the end of the day, this is not a feminist issue but it a sexism one. Calling people out on their sexism is every bit as important as No Shave November. Everyone has the right to raise awareness without feeling objectified, vilified or stupid.