Every prostate cancer advocate had heard the depressing comparison with breast cancer advocacy. Most people—and a huge list of corporate sponsors—know what pink means during the month of October, but few realize that September is Prostate Cancer Awareness month. Efforts to promote the color blue in support of prostate cancer advocacy in the same manner that pink has promoted breast cancer advocacy have had mixed results. The NFL wears pink accessories in October, but never dons blue ones. The White House is lit in pink for a night every October, but does not shine blue in September.
Less effective advocacy and lower public awareness have tangible consequences. In 2012, more American men will be diagnosed with prostate cancer (about 240,000) than women will be with breast cancer (about 227,000). Yet, almost twice as much government-funded research money is allocated to breast cancer.* In 2011, Susan G. Komen, the largest private breast cancer organization, had almost ten times the revenue ($471M) of its closest equivalent, the Prostate Cancer Foundation ($43M).
The authors of the 2007 book, Cancer Activism: Gender, Media and Public Policy,** explore the roots of the disparity between breast and prostate cancer advocacy. They highlight two key differences:
- “The breast cancer movement developed from the ground up…By contrast, [Prostate Cancer organizations are] building a grassroots network from the top down” (33).
- “[Another difference] concerns the kinds of activities in which prostate cancer and breast cancer survivors are willing to participate… The breast cancer movement undertakes events that focus on physical activity of survivors and surrogates… Prostate cancer activities are more passive, [for example,] watching a sports event such as major league baseball or professional golf” (34).
Traditionally, we men have organized ourselves in hierarchical chains of command that exert influence from the top down. This system works well in the military and corporations; however, it is less effective in motivating volunteers, advocates, and donations. And, generally speaking, we guys would rather watch than run or walk. One strategy to get more men involved in advocacy efforts, then, might be to start a grassroots movement that does not involve much physical exertion.
In 2003, a group of Australian guys were sitting around thinking about ways to raise awareness about men’s health, particularly testicular and prostate cancer. They hit on the brilliant idea of growing a mustache for the month of November. No running or walking required. In Australia, mustaches are called “mo’s,” so November quickly became “Movember.” The idea spread quickly. What started with 30 men grew to more than 850,00 men in 14 countries by Movember 2011. Out of nothing grew a fundraising effort that totaled more than $126 million in 2011.
No prostate cancer organization or official committee came up with this idea–just a few guys sitting around drinking beer, which is probably the perfect male definition of “grassroots.” And growing a mustache requires no physical exertion. Even better, guys can grow facial hair; women can’t, so here was something that perfectly symbolized our masculinity.
Rather than trying to imitate pink October with a blue September, Movember is something completely different—and completely male. Dan Zenka in his blog, My New York Minute, said it well: “I’d bet anyone that most men would rather retire their razors and grow their mustaches out than don a pair of light blue Nikes and a light blue t-shirt and go for a one, two or three day walk.” And, unlike lighting the White House blue, or continuing futile negotiations with the NFL, growing a mustache for a month is fun. More importantly, it is rapidly becoming an efficient way to raise public awareness—and money.
When a formerly clean-shaven guy appears with a ‘stache, or a guy who already has one shaves it off on November 1st to start growing it again, curious people are bound to inquire. And this grassroots advocate can simply say, “I’m growing this ‘mo’ to let everyone know that I care about men’s health, especially men’s cancers. And you can help, too. Just look up my name at Movember.com and make a small donation.”
So let’s stop looking for Blue September to match Pink October. As we marketing guys would put it, being second to market puts one position of weakness. It is much better to do something original and completely unexpected. Movember is changing the face (so to speak) of prostate cancer awareness and men’s health activism. We men now have an advocacy and awareness Mo-vement to call our own.
*In FY11 breast cancer research performed by the National Cancer Institute (NCI) and the Congressionally Directed Medical Research Program (CDMRP) exceeded $645 million, 42% more than the $368 million directed to prostate cancer.
**Karen M. Kedrowski & Marilyn Stine Sarow, Cancer Activism: Gender, Media and Public Policy, (Urbana and Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 2007).