Don’t tell me to man up.
You can tell me to step up, or buck up, or cheer up, but don’t you dare tell me to man up. And here’s why.
1. “Man up” is often used in correlation with masculinity in society or the church. “Just man up and ask her out” or “man up and get your hands dirty” or “man up and take charge!” It reinforces the typical stereotypes that all men must be sports-loving, aggressive, action-oriented, visual, Bob-the-Builder-type handymen that go at it and constantly assume authority. Not that men can’t love sports or fix things or be action-oriented. But by pairing those qualities with the phrase “man up,” the implication is that such traits are actual requirements of being a man and attaining true manhood.
2. Furthermore, masculinity is not something that can be lost; it’s not something that fluctuates. “Man up” implies the need to do something in order to keep or further your masculinity. Like, in order to be a man, you’ve got to take one more step up and ask the girl out. Or initiate the first kiss. Or fix that leaking drain pipe without complaining. As Sarah Sumner says, “The challenge ‘Be a man!’ doesn’t rattle a woman, but it grips the very soul of a man. Even in the church, it is not a given for men to feel like men just because they are men. Yet I know it’s not from God when men fall into the trap of wanting desperately to prove themselves as men on worldly terms.”* If manhood truly does go up and down that much, if it’s really a roller coaster that can be lost or gained or proved in a heartbeat, then I have no desire to step on board.
3. You never hear anyone telling girls to “woman up.” Why? Because if we used the same logic that people use when carelessly throwing out “man up,” it’d go something like this. “Come on! Woman up and make me that sandwich!” or “just woman up and follow!” or “woman up and let your emotions run wild!” According to cultural stereotypes, women are seen as housewives, mothers, submissive, emotional, irrational, gentle, and relational. And by creating little cardboard molds for men and women, carefully balanced on these shifting standards, absolute chaos ensues if one gender tries to step out of his or her box. So, if the man decides to stay home and raise the kids while the woman works to provide for the family, according to these conditions, they would be losing a condition of their masculinity or femininity and taking on a condition of the other’s masculinity or femininity. Talk about an identity crisis.
4. If these definitions of masculinity and femininity, centered on what we do rather than who we are, truly are definitive, then I don’t want to have anything to do with that culturally-prescribed identity. Instead, I’ll take the identity I’ve found in Christ. With this new identity, I don’t strive after tough, aggressive manhood, or even “biblical” manhood. I strive to be like Christ, to imitate him in everything I do. I fully believe that if that happens, if we surrender our entire being to God and allow him to shine through us, true manhood or womanhood will emerge. It’s not based off our likes or interests or gifts or how well we lead or how often we cry. True identity is rooted in how well our lives line up with the character of Christ and the fierce and gentle, logical and emotional, action-packed and radically relational life he’s called us to live as Christians. “Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children” (Eph. 5:1).
So don’t tell me to man up.
You can tell me to step up, or buck up, or cheer up, but don’t you dare tell me to man up. There’s why.
*Sarah Sumner, Men and Women in the Church: Building Consensus on Christian Leadership (Downer’s Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2003).