When Manning Up Leads To A Man Down

by Linda Marshall

Posted November 16 4 min read

‘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?

2 comments on “When Manning Up Leads To A Man Down”

Niell Becker 2 years, 11 months ago

A thought provoking article Linda, thanks. "Between us girls" is another one we hear and are sometimes guilty of using - your point about perpetuation of gender stereotypes is important as i look forward to when my daughter enters the workforce in a decade it would be great if we've gotten to the point where we're truly acting as well as speaking as equals.


Nick 2 years, 11 months ago

It's international mans day, and it seems that it's been used as an opportunity to infer that the opposite sex/gender know what all men mean when they use phrases, their motives and that men are wrong if they do so use some expressions. I can't help but think that on international mens day, men having the platform to voice their thoughts would have been the prerogative instead of a extremely popular feminist ideology being presented to say that men need to be more effeminate, or at least ditch any masculinity. Being a strong woman is seemingly ok, being a strong man, seemingly less so. As a man who has repeatedly dealt with my own mental health problems stemming from an abusive upbringing, who has received significantly profound support from men who would in some circumstances use those phrases above, not to try and infer something negative about the opposite sex / gender.. but to try and snap the person out of what could be an over reaction to try and begin picking them up and giving them the grace to be reflective of how to utilize their thoughts and emotions in a positive way I think it's missing the point of motive. This criticism of "manning up" is critical of language used, not motive. Which completely deflects from the point of the people interacting. I think on Mens day, celebrating helping men cope with life is significantly more important to be praised than taking opportunity to criticize how someone might speak at moments of pressure and inferring there must be misogyny and sexism ingrained in them for acknowledging that.


Linda 2 years, 10 months ago

Hi Nick. Thanks for the comment. It is great to be able to explore and discuss topics raised. Certainly, a significant part of IMD is about raising awareness of mental health issues and exploring how we can better support men. It is not a case of women saying what men should or shouldn't be. It is true that both men and women use examples of phrases in this article, and I agree with you, that in most cases the intention will be positive. What I wanted to be able to highlight was that language can sometime inadvertently influence us to reinfoces ideas that may get in the way of men being able to talke to each other and access support to mental health issues.


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