The clean-shaven majority

So apparently there’s a thing in the UK called (toe-curlingly) “Movember”? And it’s something about growing moustaches and raising money for charity? I guess? Something like that. Anyway Neil Singh and Arianne Shahvisi tell us in the New Statesman why it’s a bad thing.

For the most part, sponsored activities (day-long silences, sponge-throwing, public waxing) depend on the extreme, the outrageous, the ridiculous. Friends and family are, apparently, only willing to part with money to witness something odd, humorous or downright unpleasant. So what message does Movember convey to those whose moustaches are more-or-less permanent features? With large numbers of minority-ethnic men—for instance Kurds, Indians, Mexicans—sporting moustaches as a cultural or religious signifier, Movember reinforces the “othering” of “foreigners” by the generally clean-shaven, white majority. Imagine a charity event that required its participants to wear dreadlocks or a sari for one month to raise funds—it would rightly be seen as unforgivably racist. What is the difference here? We are not simply considering an arbitrary configuration of facial hair, but one that had particular, imperial connotation to British men of our grandfathers’ generation and currently has a separate cultural valence for men from certain ethnic groups. Moustaches, whether or not “mo-bros” mean theirs to be, are loaded with symbolism. We often wonder how our fathers (both life-long moustached men) must feel each November, when their colleagues’ faces temporarily resemble theirs, and are summarily met with giggles and sponsor-money. No doubt they draw the obvious conclusion, that dovetails with many other experiences of life as an immigrant: there are different rules for white faces.

Um….is this a parody? Did the Staggers inadvertently republish something from the Onion?

I’m told not. I’m told it’s not, repeat not, a joke.

Further, the inclusivity of Movember deserves examination. For one, only men (and even then, only some men) can grow a moustache. The decision to focus on the moustache to raise awareness of men’s health issues might seem like an apposite one (though there’s no obvious relationship between moustaches and cancers), but it reinforces the regressive idea that masculinity is about body chemistry rather than gender identity, and marginalises groups of men who may struggle to grow facial hair, such as trans-men. Ironically, Movember also excludes the very men it is supposed to uplift; many men who have undergone radiotherapy or surgery to treat testicular cancer are rendered “hypogonadal” and are therefore unable to grow facial hair.

And you know what else? Eating lunch marginalizes people who get up too late to eat lunch. Riding a bike marginalizes people whose bums are too skinny to tolerate bicycle seats. Watching birds marginalizes people who prefer to watch tv.

So watch it, chum.


  1. John Morales says

    Movember is a thing here in Oz, too.

    Also, though the piece to which the OP refers may not be intended as a joke, it surely seems like one to me — but then, I’m regularly informed that I lack intercultural sensitivity.

  2. Stevarious, Public Health Problem says

    So apparently there’s a thing in the UK called (toe-curlingly)

    Is “toe-curling” good, or bad, in this context? I thought toe-curling was a good thing, but that doesn’t seem to fit the rest of the article?

  3. angharad says

    Reading some of those links he posts it seems that mo’ heavy cultures seem to be so because they regard it as a highly masculine thing and the culture leans towards the macho. So it’s not a cultural thing per se in that the people don’t seem to be thinking ‘I must grow this mo’ to be a real Mexican’ but ‘I must grow this mo’ because I am a manly man’.

    And the ridiculous part is because people who don’t cultivate facial hair because they look silly when they do so, look silly when they do so.

  4. says

    Sigh. People have jumped the shark. Did the authors of the article miss that the guys who grow these silly facial hairdos do so in order to raise money for research into a disease that kills youngish men while causing brutal pain?

    SonSpawn is growing the stache portion of his preexisting beard/stache combo so as to be able to wax it into handlebars. I am planning to make him some wax for the purpose, but however will I ensure that I have not appropriated the wrong recipe?

  5. ajb47 says

    Friends and family are, apparently, only willing to part with money to witness something odd, humorous or downright unpleasant.

    Or, perhaps, friends and family are willing to part with money for a cause a friend or family member finds worthwhile.

    So what message does Movember convey to those whose moustaches are more-or-less permanent features?

    That maybe they should raise money by shaving their mustaches off? Possibly in another fundraising campaign?

    Imagine a charity event that required its participants…

    So… this is the only charity event out there at this time? Isn’t this event voluntary? I feel I’m not expressing myself correctly here, but a voluntary charity event requiring participants to do something? People who already have mustaches can’t do something for charity in some other way? At this time of the year the only people who can do something for charity must be mustache-less?

    Oh, wait… Is this a “it only counts if everyone sees me doing something for charity” thing?

    As a white male who has had a mustache since he was 17 (2 reasons – when I first shaved it off at 17, I cut myself and I have a beauty mark on my upper lip) and a goatee/fu-manchu/whatever that partial beard on my chin connected to my mustache is called (because I have a scar on my chin that is troublesome to shave over), I say figure out the charity that works for you and use it.

    Am I the only one who has gotten from this article that the only people who can donate to charity in November are those who decide to grow a mustache? Is it totally out of the realm of possibility that someone who might want to participate yet already has a mustache may think to shave said mustache on, oh, maybe, Halloween in order to grow a mustache for this Movember?

  6. leftwingfox says

    The local specialty candy shop sells chocolate moustaches, and donate the profits to the Movember charity (which is men’s prostate and mental health initiatives).

    I did fundraising for it this year, but I’ll probably stick to doing donations in the future instead. I REALLY don’t like how I look in a moustache, and look forward to getting my regular beard back as soon as possible.

  7. chigau (違う) says

    I thought Movember was just a yearly fund-raiser for prostate cancer research.
    Who knew?

  8. drken says


    A mustache attached to a beard that only covers the chin is called a Van Dyke. In the US, people have taken to calling this a Goatee, but they’re wrong. A Goatee, does not have a mustache. However, if you trim a Van Dyke so that it forms a circle, it’s known as a Circle Beard. In a Fu-Manchu, the ends of a thin mustache are grown long so that they form two “pony-tails” on each side of the mouth to resemble the racist film character Fu Manchu. However, mustaches grown in an inverted “U” shape (essentially a Van Dyke without a beard) are also called a Fu Manchu as they form the same basic shape.

  9. StevoR : Free West Papua, free Tibet, let the Chagossians return! says

    Eh, we have Movember here in Oz too. its alright I guess. Raises a bit for charity.

  10. sundoga says

    The writers of this article are total idiots. Aside from anything else, alternatives to growing/shaving your mustache are encouraged by the Movember people – like cutting your hair short, or dyeing it. None of which can be considered “male only”.

  11. Suido says

    Movember originated in Australia and NZ back in 2004, and has been a tongue in cheek way of raising awareness and money for men’s health issues – primarily prostate cancer and mental health – by claiming to ‘change the face’ of men’s issues.

    To claim any sort of grievance over what is one of the best charities going around in terms of raising money and awareness for men’s health issues is ridiculous.

  12. jfigdor says

    It does my heart good to see so many thoughtful and intelligent feminists like Ophelia able to clearly differentiate between legitimate sexism and unhinged pc-ism off the rails. Thanks for being reasonable.

  13. Jeremy Shaffer says

    It is done in the US too.

    As it was explained to me by someone participating recently, the purpose is not spectacle or to suggest that growing a mustache is extreme behavior or anything like that. It’s a change done in a way so that it is noticeable. If you see someone that’s usually clean-shaven start to grow a mustache you’re likely to ask why. When that happens they have an opportunity to tell you about the cause they are looking to raise awareness and money for that they might not otherwise have.

    As someone noted above there are other ways someone, including women, could partake.

  14. Shatterface says

    ‘Gender normative’, for fuck’s sake, like campaigns around cervical cancer are gender normative because they discriminate against men and the transgendered.

  15. Shatterface says

    I grew a moustache once entirely to take the piss.

    I didn’t do it for charity, I didn’t do it for fashion, I didn’t do it out of a religious taboo against shaving.

    I grew it because I knew it would look stupid and I had to have a photo taken for a security pass I didn’t think served any real purpose so I set out to have a photo that looked stupid.

  16. Bernard Bumner says

    As someone noted above there are other ways someone, including women, could partake.

    Other ways?

    Typically, there is at least one properly handled, high-profile story per year of a woman taking part in Movember.

    1) Money raised for charity
    2) Raised awareness of conditions affecting women which might cause exceptional hair growth, whilst
    3) Challenging the idea that there is anything strange, shameful, or ridiculous about the same

    Movember is not marketed as any sort of hyper-masculine event. Indeed, much of the consciousness-raising is around trying to get men to address (what turn out to be serious) medical issues at an early stage, rather than (urgh!) manning-up.

  17. Shatterface says

    The human race has an almost infinite capacity for taking offense. Any form of communication is inherantly ambiguous and open to interpretation.

    The fact that the kind of over-privileged arse-hole who reads The New Statesman can take offense at November but interpret Medhi Hassan’s declaration that non-Muslims are cattle as benign shouldn’t surprise anyone.

  18. HappyNat says

    Movember has been going on for at least 5 years here in Ohio. A few members of the local basketball did it to raise awareness. Several of my coworkers did it this year, as I start my winter beard in October, they said I didn’t count. It’s fun to see people grow a crappy moustache and it raises some money. I love, it but I’m biased to experimental facial hair.

  19. says

    I find the notion that white people can’t grow facial hair without it being either cultural appropriation or adopting imperialism to be, well, racist. It’s like saying it’s a way that whites should assert their superiority and continue to other Mexicans/Indians or whomever by reserving and maintaining moustaches as some kind of ethnic identifier.

  20. says

    Comments are now closed on the article, probably because 95% of them were derisory.

    My colleague has been growing a tache for Movember. If beards and taches were fashionable, he’d probably shave it off for charity, or grow his hair. I told him he looked dashing and gave his charity £5.

    These stunt charities are a bit annoying but they’re social glue, and part of office life – people running for charity, or doing evening walks or whatever. My rule is to give £5 to the people I like. They’re usually for things like cancer research.

    There are cultures which discourage women from running, so I suppose those white girls that do their 10k charity runs are showing their disdain for the other.

    Mustaches aren’t owned by an ethnic group. Chaps who do Movember jocularly refer back to the 1970s when blokes wore mustaches eg in Magnum PI. Burt Reynolds sported one.

  21. Al Dente says

    I’m white and I’ve had some sort of facial hair since the early 1970s. I’m neither imitating nor abusing Latinos, Indians, Middle-Easterners, or any other ethnic group. I have a particularly heavy beard and very tender skin. The less I shave the more my face doesn’t suffer. Fortunately I’m able to grow a full, luxuriant beard and mustache.

  22. RJW says

    So, if we extend the reasoning of those two wankers, any Asian who wears Western style clothes is a racist.
    Do they want to ban pyjamas?

  23. says

    I’m reminded of why we coined the phrase “politically correct” in the first place. Or, in Australia, “ideologically sound”. It used to be, way back in the 70s, an in-joke among the left, not mockery from the right. It was aimed at people who went over the top in their insistence on perfection, seeing problems where there were none, or turning molehills into mountains. And here we go again. There is nothing new under the sun.

  24. says

    I have known many people (usually young men of a sort of hipster persuasion) who got hairy every year in November, for at least the last 15 years or so in multiple cities in the U.S. I have always heard this referred to as “No-Shave November” and I have never had any inkling that anyone was doing it for charity. In fact, as I first encountered the practice among Campus Crusade attendees and can’t offhand recall any known (to me) atheists participating, I thought it was some religiously motivated men’s pride ritual, like the men’s prayer breakfasts or hunting trips I grew up hearing about. I wonder now if they borrowed the manliness narrative of “Movember”, but not the benefit to charity or the inexplicable name ( how do you say that anyway? We don’t call mustaches “mo” here and the people I’ve seen doing this generally don’t shave their faces at all and sometimes don’t shave their heads at all).

  25. ismenia says

    Last year I saw a woman with a stick on moustache during Movember.

    As for the “white clean shaven majority”, most non-white men in the UK are clean shaven. Plenty of white men have beards and moustaches. It’s not the clear ethnic divide the authors make it out to be.

  26. Gareth says

    Mustaches were very common in parts of Wales up till about the 80s when they started to fall out of fashion (seems to have moved to the extremes of clean shaven vs beards), you still see alot of older blokes sporting them. I’d suggest some Londoners need to consider getting out of London once in a while.

    I can sort of see their angle, that movember makes a mocking spectacle of the act of having a mustaches which can be annoying for people who always have them, but this is piss poor way to bring it up.

  27. footface says

    #1: Those people who “have to have mustaches” don’t actually have to have mustaches.

    #2: A mustache is not the same thing as a sari or dreadlocks, cultural signifiers mentioned in the article. If I grow a mustache, it’s not any more a “costume” than my lengthening hair is. My whiskerage is stuff that comes—naturally, all on its own, with no cultural baggage—out of my own face. It belongs to me and I can do what I want with it.

  28. RJW says

    Singh and Shahvisi are essentially revealing their totalitarian impulses and prejudices, while criticising others.

    BTW, Ceausescu banned beards.

    This ridiculous article should have ben posted on April 1

    First they took our beards away.

  29. Anne Marie says

    RJW: “So, if we extend the reasoning of those two wankers, any Asian who wears Western style clothes is a racist.
    Do they want to ban pyjamas?”

    Ugh, regardless of whether the article makes any legitimate points or not, this is a really stupid counter argument. “Western style clothes” are essentially required for myriad cultures (at least for business and daily wear) due to a long history of racism and imperialism (as well as the more modern Western fashion industries, which are trying to get people to wear their clothes – unlike the people of color being discussed). Forcing people from other cultures to dress like “Westerners” for hundreds of years and then saying that it’s racist of THEM to call out people who appropriate their culture is terrible as an argument and pretty shitty in general.

    Also, no one called to “ban” anything, so that’s another straw argument.

    See this person’s post for more information:

  30. RJW says


    You obviously don’t understand the historical context and have missed the civil liberties implications entirely. Islam has a long history of imperialism, so if Westerners wear pyjamas or caftans is that a sign of Islamic imperialism or “racism”, I’ll bet it’s not.

    “Western style clothes” are essentially required for myriad cultures (at least for business and daily wear) due to a long history of racism and imperialism..” An unsubstantiated and incorrect generalisation.

    You appear to be claiming that the Japanese, Chinese and others have adopted Western clothes because of the irresistible impact of Western “imperialism, racism” etc etc. That attitude is, in my opinion, rather patronising, employs double standards (perhaps unconsciously) and displays some latent racism in that the assumption is that those ancient cultures are easily influenced by Western ideas. The Japanese and Chinese pick and choose from the West what they need, refer to their histories. When the Chinese use the Roman alphabet to improve literacy, have they “appropriated” our culture? ”

    ‘…people who appropriate their culture is terrible as an argument and pretty shitty in general.’

    That is pure drivel, Western culture is what it is because of its capacity to adopt aspects of other cultures and sub cultures follow the same practices.

    Cultures or ethic groups can’t copyright mores, cuisines, religions, political systems or fashions. So, by applying
    your bizarre reasoning–Moustaches were the hight of fashion in the UK for centuries, any male who fancies himself of Celtic or Anglo Saxon is simply exercising his ancestral cultural rights to grew a any sort of mo he chooses. My argument is, in a free country, anyone, male or female, has the right to grow a moustache.

    “Also, no one called to “ban” anything, so that’s another straw argument.” You’ve confused sarcasm with argument.


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