Much has been said about how damaging it is to live in a culture which tells boys and young men to “man up“. By continuing to use this kind of language, we unwittingly perpetuate the myth that not only is “manning up” preferable, but that it’s not good to show any signs of weakness or emotion. Most commonly, the phrase is used when someone – male or female – is admitting to a weakness. Not feeling well because you’ve got ‘flu? Man up! Worried about going into work tomorrow? Man up!
The idea that “manning up” can fix all manner of ills is actually doing the opposite. First and foremost, it’s a statement that invalidates the feelings of the person who is struggling. Rather than sympathizing and listening to their concerns, we’re essentially telling them that their feelings are not of any use; that they’re invalid. It’s also positing the idea that if you can add an extra dose of masculinity – whatever that is meant to mean – then you can fix any problem.
Both conclusions are incorrect.
Given that we know the statement to be inherently flawed, it’s worth taking some time to examine what happens as a consequence of suggesting that any problem can be fixed by being more manly about it.
#1 – Mental Health Problems
According to a UK study, women are far more likely to seek help for mental health problems than men. This kind of statistic is a direct consequence of what happens when someone tells a young boy that he should just “man up” his concerns, but “manning up” doesn’t fix them.
It’s impossible to “man up” and cope with depression or anxiety disorders – they’re biological in nature. What is really needed is professional guidance from the likes of Anthem mental health, but that’s not what a lot of young boys hear. Instead, they are told that it’s their weakness, their inability to man up, that is causing the problem. So they feel like a failure for both having a mental health issue, and then again because they can’t just breeze past it.
#2 – Detachment
If someone experiences a non-stop onslaught of popular comment that invalidates their feelings, they often turn to one of two options:
- Fall into self-medication and unhealthy coping strategies
- Absolutely detach themselves from their feelings
Neither is good. Detachment leads to real problems in forming relationships, as well as impacting the amount someone can enjoy their life. After all, if they detach from the bad emotions that society has taught them they should be strong enough not to feel, then they inevitably detach from the good ones as well. Boys and young men find themselves in a vicious trap, and can teach themselves to feel little – all because they once felt too much.
#3 – Behavior Problems
This applies all through the ages, all as a result of the feeling of boys being constantly invalidated. If someone continually tells men and boys their feelings don’t matter, they are going to be (justifiably) angry.
It has often been suggested that depression is anger turned inward. If a boy has constantly been told the way he thinks or feels is “wrong” or “unmasculine”, then that’s going to naturally make him angry. None of us respond well to feelings of being ignored; our opinions and thoughts being dismissed as worthless. Over time, that anger becomes depression – which, as discussed, men are notoriously bad for seeking professional help with. The snake eats its tail.
When there is no outlet for all this pent up emotion, it has to be unleashed somewhere. Poor behavior is usually the result, be it in school or amongst older men who “act out” against the rules of society as we see them.
All of the above – which lead to miserable, unfulfilled lives – are the direct result of the idea that “manning up” is both possible and preferable. The only way that we can prevent future generations being doomed to this kind of vicious cycle is to reject the idea out of hand. Always ensure that you validate the feelings, experiences, and opinions of any boys and men in your life and truly listen to what they have to say. Anything else is just stacking up problems to be dealt with at a later date.
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