Opinion: Time for some in-yer-face men's talk

Peter Cardy, chief executive of Macmillan Cancer Relief

During Male Cancer Awareness Month and ahead of Men's Health Week, my colleagues set me wondering whether the voluntary sector is targeting men in the right way. Men are notoriously poor information seekers; the male driver who won't ask for directions is not an urban myth.

So the Men's Health Forum delivered a masterstroke when it published a men's health manual in a form identical to the famous (among men) Haynes car manuals, and it sold out rapidly. There are limits - treating the body too much like a machine results in wear and burnout - but the manual looked like a legitimate form of information for a bloke to be seen with.

A similar phenomenon occurs with Macmillan's mobile cancer information centre, now on its annual tour. Our static centres in hospitals are light, airy, relaxing, beautifully designed environments, whose users are more often women than men. But the mobile information centre, shortly to produce the first of several clones, attracts a much higher proportion of men.

With its sharp angles and exterior metal surfaces, it looks a bit like a branch of Halfords and is more acceptable for blokes to drop into when they're passing. Once they get inside, though, it's airy, light, relaxing, beautifully designed and, it seems, acceptable to both sexes.

Last time I reflected on gender in this column (Third Sector, 27 April), I was given a hard time by some women who thought I sounded like an old-style chauvinist. To my mind, I'm just a quizzical observer of human behaviour.

Fearlessly, then, I observe that the typical values of charities aren't the typical values of men. Man stuff seems to be under-represented in comparison with women's concerns. Not surprising, perhaps, when female behaviours (co-operation, collaboration, caring) are prized in charities and male behaviours (competition, aggression, solitary) don't work so well.

So chaps, perhaps have we only ourselves to blame that the breast cancer charities, for example, have attracted large amounts of research and care funding, while the men's cancer charities are still running to catch up.

The witty, risque games marketed by the Prostate Cancer Charity - the Peeball and Sammy Sperm among them - have helped to raise awareness and get the disease talked about. Maybe this is the clue to how to get man stuff onto the charity agenda. Forget tasteful and nice, go for in-yer-face, pushy, jokey, blokey things.

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