The public backlash to Alex Manley’s “No to Movember” from The Link, Concordia University’s independent newspaper is reminiscent of the response to Paul Aguirre-Livingston’s “Dawn of a New Gay” in The GridTO this summer when Aguirre-Livingston argued that some in the homosexual community had gone “post-mo”. (You can read our response here and here.)
Aguirre-Livingston too was criticized heavily for attempting to deconstruct socio-cultural establishments/movements (The Village, among other things in the LGBT community) from a very lofty, parochial, and privileged place. In Manley article, fundraising for prostate cancer research, particularly compared to more important global issues, is not even vaguely worthwhile. It is in fact “just a really well-disguised tantrum that guys are content to throw to make it seem like prostate cancer research is as important as research towards curing women’s cancers, or, say, getting food and clean water to starving people”. Is Manley also asking us to go, in another sense of course, “post-Mo”?
Why was there such a heated backlash to Manley’s article? Maybe because he seems to be a lamenting international development student disgusted with the lack of funding and focus on global issues, and simply chose a contextual (and successful) scapegoat (Movember)? We are left wondering if it even is really about Movember at all? Or is it his way of criticizing a larger issue, such as the North American culture of fundraising, our health/unhealthy culture?
In his article, Manley basically has three main arguments:
+ prostate cancer should be considered a first-world problem and thus is less important that third-world problems,
+ it’s our fault we have prostate cancer, and we typically have the money to take care of ourselves,
+ we should give our money to causes “more worthy” than privileged white North American men
His is a lament against North American privilege in general, not necessarily meant to be a criticism of men living with prostate cancer. He uses prostate cancer, albeit rather clumsily, to reiterate his opinion and drive home his point that we aren’t as bad off as we make it seem. He argues that Movember is basically a campaign to “raise money towards saving a group of extremely privileged people – themselves.” Manley is clearly calling to attention his personal opinion about the level of privilege of first-world individuals as many privilege-apologists wont to do. He unfortunately confuses privilege with guilt and self-vilification. He continues:
If Movember was to raise money for people in third-world countries, for illiterate people, or homeless people, or for anything but what it is—which is privileged guys pretending they have it as hard as people with real problems—then it might come close to approaching something vaguely resembling worthwhile.
Manley thinks that prostate cancer is a #firstworldproblem. This is where he earns his criticism. When we appropriate certain levels of importance to anything, especially an issue dealing with human mortality, we ultimately encounter a system of hierarchy. Some will agree with that proposed system and some will of course not, as we have seen. But can you place a level of importance on ways in which people get sick or die?
Manley argues that people in “third-world countries…or where people dying is a day-in, day-out matter of getting food and water or vaccines” is far more important than cancer in North America. For him, fundraising movements like Movember should take a back seat to more pressing global issues. Movember, for Manley, is essentially an archetype of ignorant Western policies towards the third-world and our continued notions of self-importance, as well has his criticism of North American culture, wealth, and consumption more generally. He does so in a way that belittles a very important health issue, which (in a matter of opinion) has just as much importance/relevance to others.
To reduce Movember to a “tantrum” of a group of privileged men with the intention to make prostate cancer as important as “say getting food and clean water to starving people” is again, an insensitive opinion, rather than an actual argument. He is only reaffirming his personal hierarchical model of importance, where global issues take precedence over the local. Should they take precedence? Manley would argue yes, because he believes that not only is prostate cancer a #firstworldwroblem, it is a disease we support ourselves through our eating habits, and lifestyle choices. If I am not mistaken, the Movember campaign seeks to better knowledge and awareness about the disease so that we can take our health into our own hands. Manley focuses on the money and neglects this aspect of Movember.
He finally makes some kind of argument in his stance on charity, specifically it being a “zero-sum game” where people become self-satisfied with their donation and remove themselves cognitively from other issues going on around the world and at home. I don’t disagree with his contention here, I just think he needs a lot more proof to make it. Not only that, but he has no idea what other charity or fundraising work those involved in Movember could possibly or do participate in. It’s a generalized statement to try and prove a point, an attempt to hold water in a bucket with a large hole in it. An argument perhaps, but an incredibly weak one.
Our North American culture of #whitegirlproblems and #firstworldproblems is something we (as the hashtags illustrate) mock and critique ourselves. It has produced a lot of jaded minds that believe our problems and issues are serious and important. This ultimately comes from privilege, or the easy access to basically everything we want. Our issues often derive from not being able to find a cell phone, dealing with a broken iPod, or a unrecorded show on a PVR. Manley, I believe, is criticizing this North American way of thinking, but not going about it in the best way. He presupposes that this mentality (which does exist), is almost universal. That we are so consumed with ourselves that we don’t give a shit about others in other parts of the world who are suffering. This is where his ire comes from. He seems pissed off and fed up.
To make the argument that global issues are far more important and more worthy of the funds raised, he tries to connect Movember with this notion of privilege by arguing that we do it to ourselves, we can prevent it with life-changes and that we can afford care anyway. It is here that I would argue he ultimately fails. While I agree with him that North American culture has lead to health related consequences, I don’t agree that we should basically just give up and focus elsewhere. Prostate cancer is not a disease of privilege, it is a disease. And like all diseases, education is critical in the way we go about fighting it. Let’s learn about what Manley would argue to be our self-harming ways and change them for the better of our health.
(Editor’s Note: The Gaily has taken a stand in the past regarding cancer fundraising. You can read for example my article, “Why I hate Pink Ribbon Crap and Six Reasons Everyone Oughta Care“. How is that different than what Manley did, and why are we supporting a different cause when we don’t support the pink ribbon ones? Well we didn’t take a stand against CANCER, but against the corporatization of a movement. Not people, but ideas. Not fundraising, but a specific kind. My problem with pink ribbon campaigns is that corporations are the ones benefiting more than women, and the products they are selling may be contributing to the disease they are supposedly trying to cure. You get the gist. I support the Movember movement, and not pink ribbon movements, specifically because they are not corporatized. That does not mean however, that the movement is not also highly gendered, and like any movement and fundraising campaign, it should always be open to speculation, critique, and questions. A good thought-provoking piece about a movement rather than an attack on the priveledge of people with the disease may have been warranted. Cancer is never a privelege, and it is against that that we take a stand.)