‘Hey guys, I need to tell you about Sam. He was
being such as drama queen over the project timeline. Instead of crying like a
girl about the supplier issues, I just told him he should grow a pair, man up,
and deal with it’.
Can you imagine this being said? Can you imagine saying it? What if you knew that doing so could lead to poor health, depression and even death? Would you still?
Our ideas of how men and women should be is tied up in our everyday language. We use language to represent the world. What we say reinforces the way that we see the world, consciously, or not. And, without even knowing it we are damaging the psychological wellbeing of those around us, and perpetuating rigid gender stereotypes that help keep gender based issues such as workplace discrimination, domestic violence, and inequality in place.
Really? I hear you ask.
Men are three times more likely to die as a result of suicide than women. In some parts of the world, it is the leading cause of death in men under 45. The purpose of International Mans Day (IMD) is to highlight positive role models for men, and to highlight issues involved in men’s social, emotional and physical wellbeing. This includes challenging the patterns that lead to issues with the mental and emotional wellbeing of men and women worldwide. For us to challenge ourselves, we have to challenge what we project about how men and women should be.
'Words and magic were in the beginning one and the same thing, and even today words retain much of their magical power'. (Sigmund Freud)
Let’s look at the phrase ‘man up’. It is used in response to signs of illness, injury, vulnerability, grief, complaint or dissatisfaction. It is an instruction with imperative. As if to be a man is to have no emotional intelligence. As if to be a man is to never to be sick, or scared. As if to be a man is to limit your ability to communicate.
If you go by these definitions, to be a man is to;
- Not complain
- Take risks because others think you should
- Be strong, silent and accept suffering
- Take control
- Not be ‘like a girl’
Up is an
orientational metaphor for force, control, more, better, status, goodness,
rationality and the future. In short, up is better. If men are up, then
the inference is women are…? Men who act like women are…?
And seeing as this phrase is not limited to men alone, this seems to be what we want for our women too. Or, based on the comparison, for all women to be, well the opposite. Needless to say, any inference that to be feminine is lesser, weak and irrational is an all too known message. To tell others to ‘man up’ is damaging to both men and women, because it limits us all. It reinforces boundaries about gender that are illogical and representative of stereotypes that continue to be pervasive and punitive.
There have been some attempts to redefine the phrase, such as the man up campaign looking to address gender violence (http://manupcampaign.org). There is also meaning attached to the phrase, suggesting bravery, leadership, taking responsibility and setting goals. When these become part of the bastion of ‘men’ we undo the work for equality of women by reinforcing the idea that to be any of them, you must be a man, or in doing so are behaving like one.
Think of the other kinds of phrases that can be heard in workplaces around the world on a daily basis;
‘grow a pair’ – infers that biology determines strength, power and resilience
‘crying like a girl’ – infers that to cry is reserved for women, and that it makes you less of man to show emotion
‘boys will be boys’ – permits negative behaviors that can promote aggression
‘drama queen’ – infers that women are overly emotional, and that to express emotions is unmanly
‘could one of you guys..?’ – infers that women are not part of a group, or that all groups are ‘guys’
Without too much effort, we can find many examples of how language perpetuates myths about gender that can be harmful for all of us. It seems therefore, that our words really do matter. On International Men’s Day, we all have the opportunity to challenge our views of the world, and how the language we use helps to frame the kinds of worlds we want. So, if you want to make a small change that makes a big difference, consider the words and phrases you tend to use. What else could you say?