I’m currently growing a moustache to raise money for various charities associated with men’s health — or ‘doing the Movember thing’, to use the official terminology. I’m not enjoying the experience. I was a blond child and what’s left of my hair is mousy brown, but my moustache is ginger. That’s right, ginger. I look like a lower-middle-class spiv, circa 1948.
To make matters worse, I can’t persuade anyone to sponsor me. So far, I’ve raised a grand total of £60, but even that paltry amount means I can’t shave it off until 30 November. As Caroline said, ‘Wouldn’t it have been easier to just donate £60 to a prostate cancer charity and not bother with the moustache?’ She then added, ‘You do realise I’m not going to kiss you for a month?’
God knows what possessed me to do it. Part of it was vanity. I somehow convinced myself that I might actually look better with a moustache. It’s the same flawed judgment that prompts men to buy some absurdly flamboyant item of clothing only to be laughed at by all their mates the moment they wear it out. The difference is, they can take it back to the shop the next day, whereas I’m stuck with this lip weasel.
Peer pressure must have been a factor, too. It sounds pathetic — no, it is pathetic — but reading about all the celebs who are growing moustaches for the month of November and seeing them on telly unquestionably had a subliminal effect. Monkey see, monkey do.
Then there’s the desire to advertise just what an upstanding Christian fellow I am. Movember must be the least anonymous form of charitable giving known to man — worse, even, than having an athletics stadium named after you at your alma mater. It’s like hanging an enormous sign around your neck saying, ‘I’m raising money for a good cause.’ Subtext: I’m a bloody nice guy.
But by far the most embarrassing motive — and I’m guilty of this, too — is the impulse to compete with women when it comes to victim status. I -imagine it was envy of women’s pitiable condition on account of all their ‘health issues’ that prompted the men behind Movember to start the charity in the first place. They’d had enough of all these famous women going on and on about breast cancer and ovarian cancer and thought, ‘Right, time to get in on that gender-specific -disease action. Men are victims, too, you know.’
It’s the same anti-macho posturing that lies behind the men’s liberation movement. It must have come as a shock to the pioneers of modern feminism — women like Betty Friedan and Helen Gurley Brown — to discover that some men believe it’s just as difficult being a man as it is a woman. These feisty Amazonian warriors hoped to engage men in a battle of the sexes, only to find their opponents withdrawing from the fray and complaining of man flu.
Personally, I’d prefer to die on the battlefield with my testicles in my mouth than respond to the feminist challenge by bursting into tears about the masculine condition. It’s a form of passive aggression that no self-respecting man should engage in. And it’s embodied by this idiotic little toothbrush nestling on my top lip.
If I had more time, I’d write a monograph called ‘The Decline of the Moustache as a Symbol of Masculine Virility’ and link it to men’s complete surrender in the gender wars of the 20th century. First, we allowed this masterpiece of male grooming to be co-opted by gays, thereby making it impossible for any red-blooded heterosexual male to wear one. Then, in an act of grotesque self-flagellation, we allowed it to become the centrepiece of a men’s lib charity set up to out-pathetic women.
The upshot is, it’s now socially acceptable for men to have moustaches again, but only in the month of November and only on the strict understanding that they’re intended to be a joke. Believe me, I have yet to meet another man doing ‘the Movember thing’ who hasn’t been at pains to establish that he doesn’t normally wear one. God forbid that anyone should think he’s so unsophisticated he actually believes it’s cool to look like a man. In other words, it’s an ironic moustache — a symbol of neutered masculinity.
Maybe I’m making too much of this. If I had miraculously sprouted a full-on Tom Selleck paintbrush, instead of this Simon-Pegg-without-the-beard affair, perhaps I’d feel differently. But I doubt it. I’ve allowed myself to become a quisling in the fight against the femi-Nazis and I hate myself for it.
Toby Young is associate editor of The Spectator.
This article first appeared in the print edition of The Spectator magazine, dated 24 November 2012