Important Reasons to Stop Saying Man Up

September 19th 2015

"Don’t be a pussy." "Stop crying." "Be a man." "Grow some balls." "Man up!" From a young age many boys (and girls) are told to match their behavior to constructs placed on their gender. This idea of "man up" in a simple term carries a multitude of prescribed musts that a man should be: strong, stoic, powerful, unyielding. All of these terms are valid in their own right, but as a construct tied to masculinity and encouraged for all genders is unnatural.

This singular phrase doesn’t cause hyper-masculinity in society. However, it is part of the cyclical problem. And maybe, just maybe, by sticking a cog in that cycle, boys can know they do not need to adhere to this "accepted" view of "manhood." Males of all ages can have the potential to impact injustice with a healthy perspective of what "manhood" really means.

Consider these few reason to rethink "manning up":

1. Mental health holdups

The term "man up" carries a certain connotation to deal with it, whatever "it" is. When the phrase is used in relation to the lurking, serious shadow of depression, anxiety, or another mental illness, the results can be harmful.

Men dealing with mental disorders are less likely to seek help than women; an estimated six million men suffer from depression. Eight and a half percent of U.S. men in a 2010-2013 National Health Interview Survey had daily symptoms of anxiety or depression, and less than half of these men had recently spoken with a mental health professional or had taken medication for the issue. This doesn’t account for the 65 percent of cases of depression in males that go undetected.

Another troubling statistic is that there were 41,149 suicides in the U.S. in 2013, and males represent 79 percent of all suicides.

While it would be nice to live in a world where a term like “man up” meant “take responsibility for your mental health, see a doctor and communicate openly,” but it doesn’t. Phrases like "man up," don’t encourage people to get the help they need.

When someone is told to "man up," they are often are being asked to change their behavior to not show emotion, weakness, or struggle. To make such changes is not authentic to how a person is actually feeling. Suppressing honest feelings and communication means the person is being inauthentic to themselves and those around them.

2. Escapist behaviors

Jennifer Siebel Newsom the filmmaker and brains behind the documentary, "The Mask You Live In," decided to tackle the issue of messaging and status quo that is placed on boys’ shoulders. One of the side effects of the gender-based speech, is the behaviors that it leads to.

"Compared to girls, research shows that boys in the U.S. are more likely to be diagnosed with a behavior disorder, prescribed stimulant medications, fail out of school, binge drink, commit a violent crime, and/or take their own lives," Newsom is quoted saying on the film’s Kickstarter page.

the mask you live in.jpg

3. Demanding gender

Terms enforcing "manhood" between and of boys are polarizing in context. To be a man is to say, don’t be a woman. By specifying one gender in the sentence the speaker is excluding other genders while also attributing a paradigm of attributes to them as well. When was the last time you heard the term, woman up?

Terms that define men are also excluding and un-supportive of gender fluidity, bisexuality, and persons who are transgender. By saying "be a man" to someone you’re saying subscribe to cisgender masculinity.

Vagina Monologues author, playwright, feminist, and activist Eve Ensler gave a TED Talk discussing so-called "girl cells" in all humans. She says there is an inner power in girls where creativity, courage, and cleverness lies while welcoming vulnerability, intuition and love. To "man up" is to squelch this.

Solutions in sight.

It’s not easy to change the cycle of limiting cultural stereotypes, but one of the easiest ways to start is making a conscious effort to recognize where gender-specific sentences enter daily speech. Instead of a directive like "man up," use more describing words. (I promise your vocabulary is better than two single-syllable words.) Depending on the situation consider positive phrases: "You can do it." "I believe in you." "What do you think about this?" "How do you feel?"

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