Man Up

What does the phrase man up mean and in what context do we use it? The Cambridge dictionary defines it as a word “used to tell someone that they should deal with something more bravely”. Used in a sentence it could look like this: you need to man up and admit you were wrong. Synonyms for man up include valiantly, fearless, and knightly.

The phrase man up is highly gendered.

Gendered words are very common and many linguists, feminists and activists have spent the last few decades trying to combat them. For example, occupational titles like chairman, fireman, and policeman have been replaced by chairperson, firefighter and police officer. Gendered phrases are also common, including don’t be such a girl.

Amanda Montell, a feminist linguist, has written an entire book on deconstructing the English language and its gendered imbalances (it’s called Wordslut, I highly recommend checking it out).

The phrase man up is used to tell people to be tougher, or “fearless”, according to Cambridge’s synonym suggestions. To me, this suggests men have to be tough and fearless. Although we don’t give much thought to phrases such as this (I’m guilty of saying this phrase in the past), we should.

Associating the act of being tough with being a man can be extremely damaging. Creating this image of masculinity as tough and fearless leaves men feeling like they can’t be anything less than this. The same can be said about the phrase don’t be such a girl when a man (most commonly) is crying. This phrase assumes only girls cry, and that men shouldn’t cry because it isn’t manly.

Some of you are probably rolling your eyes or saying I am overreacting to a simple phrase that doesn’t have a deeper meaning, but you’re wrong. We are socialised through language and culture and there’s a connection between what we say and what we believe. So, if we continue telling young boys who are trying to express their emotions to man up and don’t be such a girl we are leading them down a path that discourages them from expressing themselves and showing true emotions.  

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