Man Up

“Man Up” still animates me.

Granted no one has said that to me in a very long time.

And, I’ve not had the occasion to say it (if I ever did) since college football. 

But, simply typing it out sends electricity surging through my body.

I know “Man Up” has a bad reputation.

But, here’s what it meant to me:

  • The circumstances suck. The odds are overwhelming. But, we (the team) have expectations. And, you are gonna meet them. So, get up. Get back into the mix. Give it your all.

It did not mean to me:

  • Suppress your emotions, get hammered, punch something and go get laid.

I wonder what phrase non-male athletes say to one another to accomplish the same thing.

I don’t know.

So, what do I do with this phrase “Man Up”?

I mean, it carries a lot of baggage (here, here, here and here). 

Indeed, everything points to tossing its anachronistic-ass into history’s language dustbin. 

Maybe, we should.

I’ve flirted with doing so.

But, not anymore.

I think its worth reimagining it.


For years, I have watched young men stroll in and out of my classrooms doing their best to navigate a cultural moment where everything feels in flux – traditional roles are being questioned, norms are being overturned, and the ideas around manhood, masculinity, and being a man are being heavily scrutinized as the source for a number of social ills.

And, honestly, I’m all right with this scrutinization.

This moment is long overdue.

Too many men for too long have abused (and continue to abuse) their power in politics, economics, arts, education…you name it.

But, for my male students, I think it is fair to say that a lot of them feel confused, lost even.

I commiserate with them.

I do too. 

They are sort of trapped in an extended adolescence. 

They are looking for guidance on how to become men. 

Hell, I would go so far as to say that they are starving for guidance. 

But, we are not providing them with it.

And, when I say “we” I mean older men (that includes me).

For thousands of years, it was the responsibility of older men all over the world to come for the boys in their communities and instruct, induct, and walk them across the cultural threshold into manhood.

I’m not sure when we stopped doing that as a culture; but, we did. 

I know the older men in my life did not formally instruct me in manhood. 

Now, I’m not trying to throw the older men in my life under the bus. I’m pretty sure that the older men in their lives did not come for them. So, I think its reasonable to assume that they were unsure of how or what to do when it came time for them to instruct me. And, right now, when it comes to my son, I’m in the same boat as them. I am not sure how or what to do. 

Like most other boys in our culture, I was left to figure out how to be a man on my own. So, I learned by modeling the behavior of older men around me and other men I saw in public, on television and in advertisements.

My male friends and I did our best to teach each other.

As you can imagine, this was not always the best strategy. 

Our young men are doing the same today.

That worries me. 

Too many men my age and older are being poor role models.

Let me put a finer point on it.

Too many men my age and older are acting like boys.

Now, I can hear some asking “Why not teach them just to be a good human?” 

At one point I thought the same thing.

And, maybe, that should be the goal.

But, I don’t think that’s enough. 

Not for the current moment.

I may be wrong.

But I don’t think stripping away all the expectations that attend being a man is the answer.

I identify as a man. I want to be a man. I want to be held accountable to the standards that attend being a man. I want to be called out when I fail to meet them. I want outside judgement from society as a whole, other men and older men in particular.

“Man Up” is a tool that men use to hold each other accountable.

Yes, it has been and continues to be used as a tool for ill.

But, it may be possible to transfigured it into a tool for good.

When another man says to me “Man Up!” he’s telling me to hold the standard.

What we need to do is modernize the standard.

For example, I was taught that a man does not shy away from competition.

Now, instead of getting rid of this expectation, we could reimagine it. 

Here’s one possible way:

If men thrive on competition, then it is incumbent upon men to take active political and/or practical steps to support equal opportunities for all others in all aspects of our society. That’s competition. That’s what a man does. So, if you are taking active steps to thwart equal opportunities for all others via legislative action or by telling others indirectly or directly that they are not good enough, that they don’t have what it takes, or that they should stay in their place then you are shielding yourself from competition.

You are hiding.


That’s the kind of reimagining that I am thinking about.

We are in need of a modern-day “Man Manifesto”.

Now, of course, its going be extremely difficult to arrive at an agreed upon understanding of what it means to be a man.

But, I believe its worth the effort. 

There’s a lot of young men looking for answers.

And, if we do not step forward to do it, others will.

Others are.

And, the answers that some of the thought leaders in this space are supplying are laced with misogyny and homophobia.

As an older man, I have a responsibility to my son and other young men to walk alongside them into a deeper and more complex exploration of manliness. But, honestly, part of me feels like I’m not up for the task.

I have a lot to learn, consider and contemplate.

I’m gonna need some help with this.


If you enjoyed this blog, you may enjoy my Man Manifesto newsletter.

Thanks. – shawn