“Man up, bitch… it doesn?t hurt,” he laughs, as he jabs a fist into my shoulder. This is the only context in which I have heard the phrase “man up”… until now.As reported in last week?s issue of The Quad, a new student group entitled “Man Up!” (don?t forget that exclamation point!) has been deemed an official student organization. Its welldistributed flyer states that the mission of “Man Up!” includes challenging, among other things, “the stereotypical perceptions of males in our society.” Preceded only by the administrator-led Men?s Issues Task Force, now underrepresented men finally have an official student group to address “our” issues as men. Spectacular.
I have a few issues that I would respectfully request “Man Up!” to address: their name, their lack of inclusiveness, and their definitions of “man” and “men?s issues.”
The name “Man Up!” does not work against negative images of masculinity because men proliferate that phrase in the first place. It is not the same thing for men to “take back” the language of dominant culture, because we ARE the dominant group in this patriarchal society. When the editors of Bitch magazine chose that word for their name, they were taking that word away from men. When Randall Kennedy wrote the book “Nigger,” he was taking that word away from white people. If “Man Up!” is trying to reclaim this phrase, who are they trying to reclaim it from? Themselves?
“Man up” is used in contemporary United States culture to remind boys and men that “true men” don?t cry, aren?t sensitive, and above all, aren?t feminine. Think Ernest Hemingway meets Wesley Snipes, with a dash of John Wayne for flavor. Using such a blatantly stereotypical symbol of aggressive masculinity for a group that asserts challenging those very stereotypes as its mission is counter-productive.
The use of this phrase only re-inscribes dominant culture ideology back onto itself. That their flyer states that they “intend to challenge people to MAN-UP!,” phrasing their whole purpose as a “challenge,” intones masculinist competition as opposed to productive cooperation and collaboration.
What I also wonder is who exactly the “men” are that will fit into this “new” conception of “good” men and “positive” masculinity. So far, there is no mention in any “Man Up!” literature, about, including or addressing the issues of gay, queer, bisexual, transgender, transsexual, or gender-queer individuals. There is a beautiful (or is it “handsome”?) range of diversity in the ways men choose to identify themselves or perform their gender.
If “Man Up!” wants to distance itself from negative images of men and masculinity, they need to work towards inclusiveness.
Though “Man Up!” seeks a woman representative for its senate to get, as The Quad states, “BOTH perspectives on issues,” and included a session on black masculinity for Men?s Issues Day, there has been no mention whatsoever of men?s issues with sexuality, homophobia, or masculine performance.
“Man Up!” president Steve Brenoskie said in last week?s Quad, “We hope to help everyone realize that a “true” man is someone pure, kind, yet courageous, a person who takes careof business, respects others, and thinks for himself.” This politically correct definition comes off as bland and vague. “Man Up!?s” flyers do not define what men?s issues really are; and although I very much enjoyed Dr. Michael Kimmel?s keynote speech on Men?s Issues Day, all the men?s issues he mentioned were explicitly defined in relation to women ?s issues. If a woman?s issue is violence against women, the men?s issue is now what men can do for violence against women.
Because more and more women are struggling to balance families and careers, Kimmel said men need to be better husbands and fathers. Not only is this heterosexist (assuming all men are straight), but it narrows the field of “men?s issues” to a regurgitation of women?s issues and what we can do about them.
Of course it is absolutely essential for men to engage in feminist and women?s issues, but men have issues that need to be addressed unto ourselves. I would like to see programs on men?s struggles with heterosexuality, specifically about their supposed role as the aggressive initiator. I would like to attend a discussion on our fears of homosexuality.
I want to hear a speaker address men?s violence against each other. What about our denial of emotional needs from female/male/other partners, or our terror of performing any action that is not “masculine”?
If “Man Up!” is seriously interested in changing and reinventing the current state of oppressive masculinity, then I agree with Brenoskie that men need to be “courageous” – by dressing in skirts and combat boots, donning lip gloss with shaved heads, or (gasp!) holding their partner?s purse in public. Are there men reading this and cringing? Sure.
But “Man Up!” must examine this resistance to being aligned with anything remotely feminine, girly, sissy, or, as we so often call each other, “gay.”
We men need to ask ourselves why we feel the need to “man up” in the first place. Isn?t using this phrase to represent us effectively asserting our masculinity all over again? “Yeah, we?re sensitive, interested in talking about our feelings and including women… but we?re still men!” Truly, it is important for men to come together and discuss, seriously, safely and unabashedly, our struggles with masculinity and maleness. But, let?s not do it under the guise of the very image with which we?re struggling.
Tyler Bradway is a junior majoring in literature and women?s studies.