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  • Writer's pictureThe Gaudie

Misinterpreting Manhood

Why we should be proud to man up.

Image Courtesy of Free-Photos, Pixabay

by Dean Richards

To many, the phrase ‘man up’ feels archaic, even sexist. There are various articles cropping up discussing the phrase - including one from this paper’s last edition - bringing the debate surrounding it back into the limelight. An increasing number see the phrase as one used to intimidate and bully men into not expressing their emotions, one which exacerbates the already dire mental illness epidemic surrounding men. Their concern is, of course, understandable. Just over 4,000 male suicides were recorded in 2017, making up three-quarters of the overall count. Male suicide has become the biggest killer of men under 45 years old. 

However, the phrase is not designed to belittle or demean men. On the contrary, “to man up” is a phrase of fortitude and stoicism. To “man up” is to brace oneself, control oneself, to be brave in the face of adversity, and to take responsibility for one’s actions.

This begs the question: do people really know what to ‘man up’ actually means?

The phrase may actually not be so injurious and distasteful as some perceive.

As young boys, many of us remember being told to “man up” when we scraped our knees, or got caught on a thistle. This was not intended to discourage us, or invalidate our pain. In fact, it meant quite the opposite. We were being told to be brave, control how we reacted, and lift our spirits. The phrase has also been said to men who have encountered an unforeseen pregnancy, are very anxious and want out. In this situation, to ‘man up’ is to take responsibility, to provide for the child and do for it the best one can. To ‘man up’ is therefore to understand and control our pain, so that we can push past it and overcome it.

Unfortunately, however, there are those who tell men to ‘man up’ to suppress their emotions, rather than overcome and control them, especially those pertaining to mental illness.

Using ‘man up’ to try and suppress these emotions would be a misapplication of the phrase. 

Instead, men should try to communicate in order to encourage fortitude in the face of adversity, to control one’s outward emotions and not to bottle them up, but instead to seek help from GPs and mental health services. It is the duty of all men, and women, to look after their mental well-being, and to deny each other this fulfilment would be ludicrous as it would further spoil our betterment.

Why is it that some perceive the phrase to be wholly sexist? Is it because it specifically refers to men, excluding women? Possibly. But, more likely, it is perceived as sexist because its roots are embedded in traditional masculinity, which is not surprising. There is no denying the phrase is gender-specific. However, just because its roots are not something you admire or appreciate, that does not mean it is wrong to say ‘man up’. As time progresses, so do the meanings of words and phrases. The phrase is perhaps relevant now more than ever in the age of outward emotional expression. 

The phrase ‘man up’ has been misunderstood by both users and recipients and has, as a consequence, been misappropriated. Perhaps the issue lies with those who have never been told what it really means to ‘man up’, leading the phrase to be thrown around with little forethought and understanding. But the phrase ‘man up’ is not intended to cause emotional repression or exacerbate emotional illiteracy and is not equivalent to ill advice such as ‘walk it off’. On the contrary, to ‘man up’ is to act according to one’s own internal discipline, to overcome destructive emotions, and to allow reason to prevail. This cannot be thought of as damaging to men and shouldn’t be – not if we’re to become the best men of any generation, that is.


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