The phrase "man up" is thrown about, usually in a jovial way to undermine men who are showing emotion or pain, but also at women as a misogynistic slur. It's a phrase which is not only oppressive to women and non-binary people, but men as well. The "man up" culture, also embodied in terms like "stop acting like a girl and "grow a pair", enforces the idea that emotion is weak, and a feminine trait, that should be avoided in place of 'masculine' traits- which is ignorant at best.
Why do we assume that hyper-masculinity is a goal or the ideal way to live? Why are we stereotyping and assuming that genders are binary and anyone who identifies with said gender has to act a certain way? Why is emotional expression seen as negative, but repression of feelings not? The "man up" culture is such a heavily-gendered phrase that limits men and shames them for stepping outside of what the media deems as appropriate.
This encouragement to "man up" is so convoluted because what does being a 'man' mean? It's too ambiguous. Are we talking about society's construct of masculinity, or are we talking about the biological definition of those who possess a Y chromosome? "Man up" suggests that those who are biologically male are also inherently 'strong', and that those who do not possess the Y chromosome aren't, and should aspire to emulate 'masculinity'. But masculinity is not the same as being male, male is something biological, masculinity is a constructed concept that society has entrenched so deeply in our culture that we struggle to tell the difference between the two.
Being told to "man up" is limiting and suppressing men who don't want to abide by the hyper-masculine stereotype. Not drinking beer, not having muscles, not being into sports doesn't make anyone less of a man. Being artistic, or emotional, isn't effeminate or weak, and you do not need to "grow a pair". Liking beer, or football doesn't make you more of a man, it simply means that as a person those are the pastimes you enjoy. A women who enjoys those things is not "one of the boys" she is a woman with hobbies that don't conform to what the media and society think we should like, it isn't "unladylike", because honestly what the f*ck does being a lady even mean?!
This culture of men feeling weak if they admit that they're struggling or in pain, has far more dangerous consequences than it may seem from the surface. Depression is more prevalent in men, and suicide is the biggest cause of death among men under the age of 45. This isn't a coincidence, it's a product of our society. I can't imagine how isolating it feels to, when you get the courage to speak up about your depression, be told to "man up" or "grow a pair". Where do men turn after this reaction? How do men feel like what they're feeling is valid if it's constantly trivialised and deemed as weak? We need to learn how to respond to these phrases better, rather than just shrugging them off. They need to be challenged and our desensitisation reversed.
Michael Kimmel, a feminist scholar, spoke about the desire to be seen as a "real man". Stating that the "relentless rejection of femininity, the accumulation of wealth and power, reliability in a crisis and risk taking- can often stand in the way of being a good one". Continuing to say "I think that we are at the very beginning of a conversation in our culture that is eventually going to blow up this idea of the binary differences between males and females- our grandchildren will find this whole idea of Barbie and Ken sort of ridicule- but we're not there yet". Kimmel is right, we're not there yet, and we should all work a little harder to debunk these myths over what it means to be "a real man". By not calling out those who tell us to "man up" we are perpetuating this cycle, and our silence is acting as agreement.
Watch the incredible poet Guante talk about "ten responses to the phrase 'man up'" in the gallery above...
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Video Credit: YouTube Button Poetry
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