Fancy some grog mate? It’s Australia 2003 and two friends are enjoying a beer together as they often do. On this occasion though Travis Malone and Luke Slattery get talking about moustaches. The once popular in the 70’s trend had all but disappeared and the two guys from Melbourne joke that they should bring the Moustache back. Inspired by a friend’s mother who was raising money for breast cancer they decide to grow a moustache to raise awareness of one of the biggest threats to men’s health, that of prostate cancer. By persuading 30 friends to ‘grow a mo.’ by sending out an email with the title ‘are you man enough to be my man?’ the beginning of a new level of awareness around men’s health began.
The Movember movement has gained momentum year on year and now boasts a staggering 6 million Mo bros and Mo Sisters supporting the cause and raising funds to be channelled back into men’s health, facilitating better conversations, awareness, research and help for our brothers who might not ordinarily have the dialogue or the support to embrace and get help for health problems, mental or physical. These days it’s not only prostate and testicular cancer but also men’s mental health that is in the spotlight during this month of Movember.
With the knowledge that suicide is one of the biggest killers of men under the age of 45 this is important and without movements like Movember our men would struggle to get the support they so desperately need.
It gets me thinking about the men in my life. My father, my uncle, my brother-in-law, my friend’s sons, my nephew, and my male friends. Looking around me it is easy to see how men came to struggle with the idea of open dialogue around their health and how admitting to a problem can often be felt as a weakness. One of my best buddies is a guy who I’ve known for 12 years and whose been an absolute rock for the last two. There is no romantic connection between us, more a sister, brother friendship which developed into a strong alliance in the aftermath of my own mental health crisis.
I was coming to terms with the effects of a severe depression, and he it turned out, was still reeling from the breakup of a relationship with the love of his life. The woman he planned to marry and have children with, was, only 8 months after their separation, doing both with another man.
What I noticed was that whilst my friend was able to be a rock and a power of strength for me, he was finding it hard to deal with his own pain. He wanted to cry. I could hear it in his voice. It was years of being raised to believe that ‘big boys don’t cry’ and that he had to ‘be a man’ about things that stopped him from even knowing how to start the conversation about much he was suffering mentally and emotionally.
It took a lot of gentle persuasion and reassurance from me that it was ok to be feeling the way he did, that he was a great friend and able to support everyone around him, but he was also allowed to break down and for his hopes and dreams to shatter in no particular order, all over the floor. I told him he would only start to heal once he’d acknowledged to himself that he was in an emotional black hole and that it was ok to be vulnerable. It was ok to admit to the world that he was struggling. He, like me just wanted some love and understanding. He, like me is a mere mortal. A human. Men and woman are not so different in the very human need to feel, and to admit to being scared and fearful but history and expectations about how a man should behave have led to a crisis in men’s ability to open themselves up. The fear of being vulnerable and the fear of being diagnosed with a life-threatening illness are real and the need to admit those things and be able to get help is crucial. Education and being given the ability to talk openly is quite literally saving men’s life through movements like Movember.
In the UK we have made a few waves when it comes to how society feels about men’s roles and the importance they play within the family for example. These days men can change nappies, take paternity leave (although only for a week or two) and some choose to leave their jobs to look after the children. This is a well needed change from the traditional expectations of what a man ‘should ‘be but there is still a general idea that men are the stronger of the species. That men are indestructible. That men are stoic and showing emotion is weak. As woman we say ‘men get it easy’ because they don’t have to contend with fluctuating hormones in the way we do and will never know the pain of childbirth.
However, men are expected to be tough through whatever life throws at them and even within their own sex they battle with what they can say to each other and how they are perceived by their fellow brothers. Men are more likely to get into physical fights and these days with knife crime at an all-time high are just as vulnerable as woman, just in different ways. Men are expected to be brave
and strong always. I don’t think it’s that easy.
As a woman or a Mo Sister, I recognise men in all their suffering and admire a man when he is honest and open. It's what I look for in a relationship and a friendship with the men I meet. I love men. There are bad ones but there are bad woman too. So, if you have an important man or men in your life, ask them how they are, persuade them to get a medical check and encourage a bit of top lip hair growth during this month of Movember. There’s still time. Let’s keep raising awareness around men’s health. Mo Bros and Mo Sisters unite and together we can help save our precious men.