You’ve probably heard that November is the time of year to ditch the razor and opt for a full beard or mustache. This facial hair challenge was the starting point of Movember, a movement to address men’s health and wellness issues that has spread worldwide.
In 2003, Travis Garone and Luke Slattery met up for a beer in Melbourne, Australia and their conversation turned to current fashion trends 一 including jokes about bringing back the mustache. Inspired by a mom’s friend who was fundraising for breast cancer, they decided to launch a campaign about men’s health and prostate cancer using the mustache as a symbol to start conversation and inspire donations.
Garone and Slattery’s project grew into a full-fledged company: the Movember Foundation. Today, Movember has campaigns in over 21 countries and has raised $730 million for men’s health programs. Their work focuses on addressing prostate cancer, testicular cancer, physical inactivity and mental health and suicide through a male lens. According to the organization’s website, men make up 75% of suicides and die an average of 6 years younger than women, largely for preventable reasons.
Bryan Rojas-Arauz, an Education and Prevention Outreach Specialist for the University of Oregon Counseling Center, believes that the taboo around male vulnerability exacerbates health problems by preventing men from seeking the help they need. “Men often don’t go to the doctor until we’re dying,” Rojas-Arauz said. “There’s this modality of just being okay all the time, the idea that vulnerability is not good.”
On Nov. 20, the University Counseling Center and the Sigma Lambda Beta Fraternity hosted a screening of the movie “Moonlight” in support of Movember. Around twenty people gathered in Lokey Hall in front of the projector screen to watch the coming of age story that follows Chiron, an African American boy growing up in Miami, Florida, through three stages: his childhood, adolescence and young adulthood. The movie examines how bullying, the influence of drugs and expectations of sexuality and masculinity push Chiron to develop a hard exterior over time.
Following the film Rojas-Arauz led a discussion focusing on men’s wellness and identity. “Something that really resonated with me in this film is masculinity being performative,” he said, kicking off the dialogue.
Rojas-Arauz also explained the Man Box, a concept attributed to TED talker Tony Potter that depicts the restrictions set around male emotion and social behavior. According to Rojas-Arauz, the four emotional states allowed within the box are anger, hunger (for power or status), happiness and sexual desire. “We feel all the emotions still, but we’ve been socialized to not let them show and whenever someone steps out of the box, that’s when we start to hear a lot of different labels and a lot of them are negative,” he said.
While speaking at panels, Rojas-Arauz often encounters resistance from older male participants who argue that he is “taking away young men’s ability to be who they need to be” by encouraging them to accept a fuller range of emotions. But to Rojas-Arauz, “it’s not this idea of positive masculinity changing how men interact 一 it’s actually expanding how we’re allowed to show up which I think affects all of us positively.”
Rojas-Arauz wrapped up the evening by asking participants if, like Chiron, they ever put on a mask to face the outside world. Gender-based or not, there are all sorts of reasons we perform certain types of behavior. “I think when you’re living on a college campus there’s this idea of high levels of performing and you are what you do. How much of that is performative?” he asked. “I challenge you all to take a risk, be a little bit more vulnerable and maybe show a little piece of you that you’re hiding.”