November 29, 2012

Reflections on a Movember to Remember

Reflections on a Movember to Remember

If there is one thing I’ve learned from Movember, it is that you do not question its legitimacy and purpose. Movember is not interested in educating anyone about the prostate or prostate cancer. Its sole purpose is the establishment of hegemonic, patriarchal masculinities. Masculinities which for the most part tend to be heterosexist.

It all started about a year ago, when Alex Manley, a writer for Concordia’s The Link newspaper, questioned the purpose of the Movember movement and called out masculinist victimhood. (Read Kyle’s response here on The Gaily.) Manley pointed out that this movement distracts from other more important causes, and suggested that a few lifestyle and diet choices could prevent prostate cancer. What ensued was not a conversation regarding Manley’s critiques but rather a vitriolic, slew of castigations against him for having the insensitive audacity to question the suffering of men. Manley was even slagged because, gasp, he was a feminist. The male feminist – the greatest treason to the Great Alpha. Not only was Manley berated for his views, but The Link had to issue an apology. In true patriarchal fashion, the great Alpha retained his unquestioned authority by means of bullying. Everyone contributed their two cents worth regarding Manley’s piece – including The Gaily. Soon afterwards, Manley himself issued an apology, and the incident was done. Keep calm, carry on – order established once more.

My personal relationship with patriarchy has been one in which I have been victimized ferociously at its hands. My body embodies oppression. I am a cisgendered, gay male who is permanently disabled with espina bifida. I am a brown, Latino immigrant in a nation that is steeped in racism. When I looked at the barrage of angry mail Manley and The Link received for that piece, especially from indignant males, my first reaction was to roll my eyes and reply ‘spare me’. Maclean’s, along with a slew of Masculinist blogs berated Manley and accused him of treason against manhood. Manley’s piece and its aftermath, only demonstrated the hypocrisy, lies and patriarchal manipulation that has found its way into what should be a serious topic of discussion and learning.

When I first began this semester at Concordia, one of the things that I wanted to do was ‘Queer Up Movember’ a little like the Gaily has tried to do for the last two years. I was going to remind men, specifically the masculinist movement, that Queer Men have prostates too. So do transwomen, and there are those who would suggest cisgendered women do as well. I was going to challenge the patriarchal order to stand true to its word and concern for prostate health, as opposed to a tired image of patriarchy. I brought this forward to different people and repeatedly the message was ‘Are you sure you want to go through with this?’ It seems that the trauma from the flogging Manley received is still resonant, that is that touching Movember should be done with caution. 

It should be asked, and in full honesty, how many men actually know what the prostate is? How many men have actually come into contact with it?     

It should be asked, and in full honesty, how many men actually know what the prostate is? How many men have actually come into contact with it? Did they know they could? What do they know about it? In this, I must commend The Gaily. The conversation here around Movember has also served to talk about the prostate, the physical entity as opposed to the abstract construction. Next, do we even know the origins of Movember, or who this Movember is? Movember started in Australia in 2004 – a Western nation, proving Manley’s piece accurate in its research, much to the chagrin of masculinists. Interestingly enough, it is not an organization or an actual person. As Kyle from The Gaily has pointed out, Movember is a grassroots movement. And yet, to whom are we then donating the collected money? At Concordia University for example, ASFA –Arts and Science Federation of Association, is holding a party this Friday for Movember. The advert announces that proceeds will go to ‘the Movember’. What Movember? Whose Movember? Who is conducting, sponsoring the research? Where is said research taking place? Who is collecting this money? Kyle from The Gaily, suggested last year that Movember is far more of a worthy cause than say the Pink Ribbons campaign because Movember is a grassroots movement as opposed to an organized corporate venture. As if being grassroots gives it some kind of sanctified legitimacy. The Tea Party in the United States, has also described itself as a grassroots movement. 

If we were to start conversations around the prostate as an organ of sexual pleasure, then we would have an image of men potentially challenging patriarchal notions of men as solely penetrators.

Do said proponents of Movember serve to educate people regarding the prostate? Hardly. For the most part, any conversation regarding sexual pleasure will be missing from this discussion, because as Leo Bersani has suggested in his famous treatise ‘Is the Rectum the Grave?’ there is nothing more repugnant to society than a grown man with his legs in the air in a sexually receptive position. If we were to start conversations around the prostate as an organ of sexual pleasure, then we would have an image of men potentially challenging patriarchal notions of men as solely penetrators. The definitions of sex and sexuality would be challenged in that men, now, can derive legitimate sexual pleasure from being penetrated. The penetration of man is a direct challenge to the patriarchal construction of ‘man’ that suddenly it would not be able to sustain its socio-biological deterministic definitions of ‘man’ more often than not defined perpetually in relation and opposition to ‘woman’. What would happen if men moustaches and all, regardless of sexual orientation/identity began to insert their fingers into their anus in order to just feel what and where the prostate is? Never mind actually finding themselves enjoying the experience to the point of orgasm? An orgasm that has the potential of rendering the penis no longer the centre of male sexual pleasure.

The definitions of sex and sexuality would be challenged in that men, now, can derive legitimate sexual pleasure from being penetrated.

Movember will not do.

Interestingly enough, prostate cancer itself is fraught with mystery and controversy. Prostate cancer, is not all that it seems, and some suggest that it has been constructed and created by the medical establishment in order to create a panic of sorts amongst men. Dr. Welch, Dr. Schwartz and Dr. Woloshin, in their ‘Over-Diagnosed: Making People Sick in the Pursuit of Health’ has suggested that prostate cancer is a lot more complicated than simply, you will get prostate cancer. They suggest that a lot more men will be diagnosed with prostate cancer than actually die from it. What is more disturbing was the fabrication of prostate cancer. The medical community sought the goal of finding prostate cancer and making it prevalent to the point that indeed, it became a natural occurrence to all men. All men are susceptible to prostate cancer if we look hard enough, and indeed, we found that they are. Along the same lines come Nortin M. Hadler’s ‘The Last Well Person: How to Stay Well Despite the Health-Care System’, which also points to the failure of prostate cancer screening that has led to invasive life-altering procedures such as the prostatectomy. It is not the victims that these medical authors chastise, but rather the manipulative manner with which misinformation has been passed as legitimate information. Movember, furthers this kind of dangerous information. Because as the authors propose, once a patient has been screened with prostate cancer, can we hold it against them, to accept invasive procedures? Can we hold it against them for the desire to save themselves, no matter the cost? Movember, thrives over this kind of panic, and in fact were it not for this kind of panic, it could not survive.

And here is the real danger of the Movember movement; it will castigate anyone who dares question its legitimacy. I remember when the idea first struck me to Queer Movember. I was asked by a Queer person, as to why I should want to toss queer people into potential medical scrutiny and surveillance and control of the Movember movement. Movember asks of men that they fully relinquish autonomy of their bodies and give their full trust to the medical establishment.

I wrote a letter into The Link questioning the legitimacy of the Movember movement to sexuality and health. I proposed that Movember has the potential to not only educate men regarding their sexual health, but also sexuality liberate them. Further, I exposed the hypocrisy of Movember’s supposed concern for health by pointing out that transwomen are left out of conversations regarding prostate health. All queer bodies and people. When I first approached The Link in order to put together a piece, I was told that I had a 1000 word limit and that it would be slotted into the opinions page. However, still feeling the sting from last year’s lashings, The Link advised me to tread carefully. In the end The Link cut my piece by some 600 words and placed it as a letter into the school paper as opposed to an actual piece. In this way, whatever the fallout, The Link would not be responsible. Maclean’s on campus picked up on the story and suggested rather lazily that I was hating on Movember. The comments on the online version of my letter only served to prove the premise of my piece in the first place. One person charged ‘And so begins the oppression olympics’ and another went to ask what transwomen had to do with prostate cancer, that there were services for transwomen and they do not concern themselves with men, also, being gay is apparently irrelevant to the conversation.

Movember, then is about establishing hegemonic, patriarchal, masculinities and nothing but. Movember is not interested in teaching people about the prostate, what it does, what its purpose is, and its role as an internal sexual organ with the possibility of providing orgasm. When the topic of the prostate as a sexual organ capable of sexual pleasure does come up, it is kept strictly heterosexual. For example askmen.com has a wonderful piece on the prostate and sexual pleasure, but askmen.com is specific to heterosexual men, because in the end, having a penis is not what makes you a man, but rather heterosexuality is. Movember is just an extension of masculinist compulsory heterosexuality. The backlash against anyone who so much as questions that is proof enough.

In the midst of all this controversy and the murky waters of prostate cancer, many of my questions regarding it have not been answered. I do not want to get prostate cancer. I doubt any queer body does. At this point the masculinists will say, that I would not dare question breast cancer, and neither would the feminists. The truth is however, the feminists have and do. Asking questions is not insensitivity to a topic. Movember is actually dangerous, because it stands as a sergeant, telling male soldiers to go forth into battle without question. To do so is an act of treason that will be punished. The Gaily’s Kyle suggested in his piece following the incident from Manley’s ‘No to Movember’ that the controversy around it was just as problematic as Aguirre-Livingston’s Post-Mo piece. In this, Kyle missed the mark. Whereas Manley was questioning patriarchal privilege and victimhood, Aguirre-Livingston was flaunting his socio-economic privilege, and debasing the rest of us who still felt a sense of community and Pride from Queer identity and politic and The Village. Whereas Manley was questioning patriarchal dominance, Aguirre-Livingston was suggesting we should all be subordinate to it. Whereas Manley was asking some hard critical questions, Aguirre-Livingstone was telling us to quit our whining and just find a straight-acting man to bareback with. I found Kyle’s position on Manley’s piece a bit troubling, because where he justifies his skepticism about breast cancer research and campaigns, he can very well justify his support for the Movember movement, this makes me wonder, is that, because it has the potential to affect him, and therefore a guarding of his own personal privilege? As predicted, it was a masculinist who came into the comments section to high-five Kyle’s denouncement of Manley. Indeed, in the comments section, said masculinist refers to Manley as a ‘young male feminist suffering from self hate and lack of education’ and it is this feminism that misguides him. As an autonomous man, this offends me.

So as November comes to a close and many of us, myself included, will be shaving off our moustaches, perhaps we should take the time to reflect on what we have really learned from all these discourses on Movember, the prostate and prostate cancer. Personally, I think I have learned quite a lot this month. I have been challenged into educating myself regarding the physical prostate and I would like to learn more. If there is one thing I should like to add to a conversation regarding Movember, it is this: break away from the herd. Take control of your own bodies and education. Growing a moustache will not prevent nor cure prostate cancer; education will. Let’s dismantle patriarchy, not reinscribe it.

About the Author

Born and raised in El Salvador, moved to Canada during the 90's. A rebel against the patriarchy, and the anti-thesis to the white, able bodied, heterosexual, male. Currently working on Women’s Studies Major, Interdisciplinary Minors in Studies in Sexuality Concordia University.



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  1. Jonathan

    Brilliant exposé !

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