Saturday, 8 November 2014

Why the phrase "man up!" makes my blood boil

Image from timeshighereducation.co.uk

Recently I got reminded of something that irritates me so much that I couldn't help but take to the Internet to have a good old rant. The subject of my disdain? The phrase, "man up!"

This all started when I was watching X Factor the other week. One of the contestants had been poorly the week before and took to the stage to sing. When he was done and Dermot turned to the judges for their feedback, one of them kindly reminded the contestant that we all get ill but he just has to get through it and "be a man".

I've deliberately not named names because I don't want the focus of this blog post to be an attack on the individual that uttered the phrase. Instead, I want to highlight how, in this day and age, people still find it acceptable to invalidate another person's experience based on their gender and this happens both ways.

Men cry, men get scared, men sometimes lack in confidence. As does everyone. However, phrases like "man up!" belittle these normal human experiences as being almost shameful because they do not adhere to "manly" gender stereotypes. Just as men wolf whistling at women on the street reinforces stereotypes of women as objects, using the phrase "man up" reinforces stereotypes of men as tough and bolshy, which they cannot be all the time.

I would call myself a feminist because I strongly believe that, as a woman, I should be offered exactly the same opportunities in work, in the home, indeed in life as my male counterparts.  I think most women and men I know would agree with this principle, even if they do not actively define themselves as "feminists" or have their own take on what the word "feminism" means. However, there is still a lot of work to be done, no matter what anyone says, in the name of feminism. As this shocking article reports, according to a UK study, women earn 15% less on average than men, which is totally unacceptable. However, as I hope I have shown, women are not the only ones suffering from restrictive gender stereotypes. While women often feel like they have to choose between their career and their family, men often feel like the don't have the choice, as their paternity leave is limited and they are expected to play the role of a strong, tough-skinned "manly" man, who provides for his wife and family.

To stamp out sexism once and for all and to offer everyone equal opportunities, we need to eliminate traditional gender stereotypes which hold back women in the workplace and put unfair pressure on men to be relentlessly bolshy, self-confident and tough-skinned. And a good place to start would be by abandoning ridiculous phrases such as "man up". 

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