The power of the spoken word cannot be overstated. Now this might be my inner literary nerd speaking, but that to me is an uncontestable fact. Words have the ability to literally shape our lives. While we may recognize that to some degree, we often overlook the latent meanings behind words. The power an everyday idiom can hold. The fact that once you utter certain words they are not dead, they have only begun to truly explore their power as they continue to linger, embedded in the minds of their recipient.
I recently came across an Always advertising campaign that had gone viral – #LikeAGirl. While I have a very complicated relationship with mass consumerism cloaked in benevolent public service, I liked this campaign. Not because it struck a chord with my childhood of extreme tomboy-ism, but because it reminded me of an all-time favorite spoken word poem – “Ten Reponses to the Phrase Man Up” by Guante.
Now a tatted up, beanie wearing, muscle man may not be who you have in mind when you think of someone defying gender stereotypes and breaking down barriers of purported “masculinity”. But Guante does just that.
In this incredibly passionate and raw poem, Guante tackles one of the most common, every day idioms – “man up” or in our context, استرجل . By exploring hypothetical responses to the term, he manages to break down and examine the underlying meanings behind this phrase.
Is disregarding your emotions and detaching from your feelings being a man?
Is grunting loudly while you bench press X kg being a man?
Or is it a scruffy beard and unkempt hair being a man?
Is hitting on a girl in front of your boys being a man?
What about sexual harassment? Sexual violence?
Is forcing yourself on a girl in the street being a man?
I may be extrapolating here and some might think I’m reading too much into it, but I believe the culture of machismo in this country is rooted in one word – استرجل . I am not coming to the defense of certain indefensible acts committed by men in this country, but we must take a step back and examine the sociocultural pressure put on them from a very young age.
Young boys are exposed to a culturally constructed norm of masculinity, asked to live up and fulfill a specified role or suffer the consequences – everything from ostracization and social stigma, to violence and abuse.
We can go into numerous tangents and lines of argument from here – the effect of one’s environment on their behavior, the idea of free will, the effects of socialization, etc. But that’s not what I’m here for. That’s not what I’m writing this for.
All I want is for us to realize the power of our words. When you tell a boy to “man up”, when you tell a girl to “act like a lady”, you are indoctrinating them with certain gender ideals that may prove nothing more than shackles that stifle their growth and render their future predetermined.
You are stripping them of their opportunity to define themselves. You are assuming they must have certain traits – strengths and weaknesses, respectively – rather than truly looking at them as individuals.
I don’t know about you, but I’d rather have a generation of young boys and girls with the freedom to express who they are and define themselves on their own terms. I want to see boys who aren’t afraid to sing and girls who want to get their hands dirty.
I want to see young men not boasting about their conquests, and young girls confident enough to love themselves away from the mirror. I want to see men who view strength as a multidimensional trait beyond the numbers emblazoned on their weights.
I want to see women who embrace their unique role in family and society, but never once allow that to be used against them.
You can watch the poem below:
Read on below for a transcription of the poem:
Ten Responses to the Phrase “Man Up”
1. F*** you.
2. If you want to question my masculinity, like a schoolyard circle of curses, like a swordfight with light saber erections, save your breath. Because contrary to what you may believe, not every problem can be solved by “growing a pair”. You cannot arm-wrestle your way out of chemical depression. The CEO of the company that just laid you off does not care how much you bench. And I promise, there is no lite beer in the universe full-bodied enough to make you love yourself.
3. Oh Man Up? Oh that’s that new superhero, right? Mild-mannered supplement salesman Mark Manstrong says the magic words “MAN UP”, and then transforms into The Five O’clock Shadow, the massively-muscled, deep-voiced, leather-duster-wearing super-man who defends the world from, I don’t know, feelings.
4. Of course. Why fight to remove our chains, when we can simply compare their lengths? Why step outside the box, when the box has these bad-ass flame decals on it? We men are cigarettes: dangerous, and poisonous, and stupid.
5. You ever notice how nobody ever says “woman up”? They just imply it. Because women and the women’s movement figured out a long time ago that being directly explicitly ordered around by commercials, magazines and music is dehumanizing. When will men figure it out?
6. The phrase “man up” suggests that competence and perseverance are uniquely masculine traits. That women – not to mention any man who doesn’t eat steak, drive a big truck, have lots of sex with women – are nothing more than background characters, comic relief, props. More than anything, though, it suggests that to be yourself – whether you wear skinny jeans, or rock a little eyeliner, or drink some other brand of lite beer, or write poetry – will cost you.
7. How many boys have to kill themselves before this country acknowledges their problem? How many women have to be assaulted? How many trans people have to be murdered? We teach boys how to wear the skin of a man, but we also teach them how to raise that skin like a flag and draw blood for it.
8. Boy babies get blue socks. Girl babies get pink socks. What about purple? What about orange? What about green? What about cerulean, black, tie-dyed, buffalo plaid, rainbow…
9. I want to be free, to express myself. Man up. I want to have meaningful, emotional relationships with my brothers. Man up. I want to be weak sometimes. Man up. I want to be strong in a way that isn’t about physical power or dominance. Man up. I want to talk to my son about something other than sports. Man up. I want to be who I am. Man up.
WE SAID THIS: This is not an attack or a commentary on gender roles, for that is not something to discuss in a few hundred words. But the repercussions of these gender roles must be taken into account. With an epidemic of sexual violence ravaging our streets, maybe its best our boys don’t find their elusive رجولة . Or better yet, maybe it’s time we redefine it.