Tag Archives: gynaecological

Movember versus Muffember

2 Dec

Now, I know the main readership of this blog is of the female variety, so I’m sure you will have joined with me yesterday in congratulating yourself on the passing of another “Movember” – the annual campaign to raise awareness and funds for the fight against prostate and testicular cancer – hopefully without any incidents of public embarrassment or moustache-rash. Chem’s specimen this year led to the nickname ‘Mexican;’ however disappointingly few of my other male friends decided to participate this year. In case your menfolk crown themselves with moustaches all year round and you have no idea what the fuss is about, here is a brief summary from the official website for Movember UK:

“On Movember 1st, guys register at Movember.com with a clean-shave face and then for the rest of the month, these selfless and generous men, known as Mo Bros, groom, trim and wax their way into the annals of fine moustachery. Mo Sistas are the women who register to support the men in their lives, raising funds by seeking sponsorship for their Mo-growing efforts. Mo Bros effectively become walking, talking billboards for the 30 days of November and through their actions and words raise awareness by prompting private and public conversation around the often ignored issue of men’s health.” 

Last year over 112,000 men and women officially supported the campaign [although many I suspect, like Chem, grew a ‘tache for awareness but didn’t actually raise sponsorship], raising £11.7 million. The Independent claims over 250,000 people joined in this year, with a current total of £14.7 million raised as part of a global total of £63 million! If you’re not getting an impression of the grandeur and scale of the event yet then check out the official Movember Facebook pages for the UK, USA, Australia and Canada – each of which have attracted tens of thousands of fans. Distinguished gents Stephen Fry, Daniel Craig and Justin Bieber publicised their own facial delights on social media – unfortunately Bieber’s failed to impress – and the campaign has attracted global media awareness.

I wholeheartedly support Movember, despite the preponderance of moustaches it generates on otherwise extremely-attractive men, but would also like to draw attention to the comparatively media-neglected phenomenon that is Muffember – and its rival/companion, as Puce recently alerted me to – Fanuary.

Just as men grow and sculpt their facial hair during Movember, Muffember and Fanuary campaigners document the growth of their pubic body hair for a month, with one website even offering the tongue-in-cheek encouragement of shaping it as a moustache in pay-back! Like Movember, the Fanuary movement originated in Australia; hence why it takes place during the month of January in order to target bikini-lines in the prime beach season; whilst Muffember is designed to run parallel with Movember. Both aim to raise awareness of the gynaecological cancers: cervical cancer is a prime target, but ovarian cancer as well as cancer of the fallopian tubes, vulva, vagina and uterus, all treatable if detected early, are in need of similar awareness campaigns.

The problem with Muffember and Fanuary is that, generally speaking, the public audience of a woman’s “lady garden” at any one time is likely to be countable on one hand, despite the recent trend for showing-off “vajazzles.”  Whilst some participators, for example the extremely brave Sarah Berry [warning: you will see pubic hair if you click this link], choose to visually document their progress online, it’s a controversial choice and one that even cancer charities have denounced as “pornographic” and distasteful – this news clip from 2007 charts a rare [that I could find] media recognition of Fanuary, where they highlight the official charity’s distancing from such efforts, even threatening legal action if their name is used in affiliation.  Fanuary is now supported by the charitable trust Women for Women, whilst Sarah Berry’s Just Giving fundraising page asks for donations in support of Ovarian Cancer Action.

In researching the two campaigns for this blog I was struck by the difference in media reaction – whilst Movember is globally recognised and has a fancy official website, the nature of the female campaign is much more underground – or rather, underclothes. Berry’s blog charting her progress was featured in a short piece on Diva Mag Online, and the campaign was also mentioned on the website Family Affairs, to give one example. However a brief search of Wikipedia will reveal that neither Fanuary nor Muffember are listed [unlike a well-documented page for Movember], and only Fanuary has made it into the Urban Dictionary.

It’s hard to say which campaign has gathered more online momentum, however the difference in Facebook pages, for me, spells it all out [I’m sure Twitter would provide interesting figures too, but I don’t know how to use that] – Fanuary has attracted nearly 8,000 likes, with the following passage as the sole information provided:

“Fanuary is the girls version of Movember… we grow our fanny hairs in January! Movember is disgusting and ridiculous… so now i am introducing another disgusting and ridiculous month…. FANUARY!! gilrs HATE facial hair… boys HATE fanny hair!!”

This is followed by the tagline “its a battle of the hairy sexes!! ;)” Personally I’m quite astonished that such an idiotic statement has been allowed to be affiliated with the campaign name, which not only degrades female body hair as unfeminine or sexually unattractive to the male gaze, but also labels the Movember campaign as “disgusting and ridiculous” for no apparent reason other than that “gilrs HATE facial hair” – nevermind the fact I’d hate any of my male friends or family to suffer testicular cancer just a little bit more than a few extra bristles on their faces. I hope that those who have liked the page have done so out of a serious desire to break down the taboos about gynaecological cancers, and not simply a desire to affiliate with the vaguely “feminist” pretensions of the page.

In contrast, the Facebook page for Muffember has attracted a mere 85 likes, but provides links and information to those serious about participating.

I found it interesting that whilst these campaigns both claim affiliation or juxtaposition with Movember through their name, the Independent article released today cited the “pink ribbon campaign” for breast cancer awareness as the female equivalent to Movember. Hugely successful in the media, breast cancer seems to be much less of a societal taboo than gynaecological counterparts, and the campaign to raise awareness of testicular cancer much more socially acceptable than female equivalents. For example, to the best of my knowledge no-one has complained about Cosmo’s “naked centrefolds” that feature celebrity men posing naked to raise awareness of testicular cancer – when women try to do the same thing, we are told it is “pornographic.” I acknowledge this is a tricky debate here about exploitation of the female body and sex appeal to sell – but if the product being sold is knowledge that might save a life, and the women doing the selling perfectly happy to raise awareness through their bodies as many men are, then why is it a problem?

I read an article on the Guardian today that assessed the “pornification” of women’s bodies in a culture of “hypersexualisation” that encourages women to have cosmetic labiaplasty in order to “perfect” their womanhood. The authors suggest that feminists are now “conservatives” in the public eye, seen as creating “moral panic” over sexualised images of women’s bodies that misses the actual problem: the images “perpetuate myths of women’s unconditional sexual availability and object status, and thus undermine women’s rights to sexual autonomy, physical safety and economic and social equality.” In my opinion the Muffember and Fanuary campaigns seem to be damsels in exactly this distress – women are being discouraged by “feminists” who fear sexual objectification from showing their bodies to support those bodies’ health and well-being, yet everyday consumer-culture proliferates images and messages of gender-sexualisation. It also denies the existence of a “positive” imaging of the vagina, as a subject viewed from female/feminist gaze, rather than sexualised masculine gaze – and you don’t have to be a radical feminist to dispel this myth, as even the “respectable” Guardian ran features over the summer on the imaging of the vagina by female artists [on my “future posts to write” list!].

By now my word count represents nearly a third of the essay on medieval marriage I am supposed to be writing, but I have two more small points to make: firstly, I started reading Caitlin Moran’s How To Be A Woman last week in a fit of essay procrastination – I’m only a few chapters in, but if you want to read a very honest and modern take on pubic hair as well as other aspects of “femininity” than I absolutely cannot recommend anything better to read. And secondly, if you know a man a little down at the loss of his moustache this month, then I honestly think Not On the HighStreet’s Movember Collection could definitely cheer him up…