Wednesday, February 27, 2008

"Man up": What's Gender Got to Do With It?

I've been hearing people say "man up" for about a year now. Well, not "people" exactly as in lots of them, but more like twenty or thirty-something men and women. It reminded me of the phrase "be a man" that I often heard as a kid, so I became curious and did some "research" via Google.

According to Urban Dictionary, an online site where anyone can post a slang word or phrase along with its definition and then have it approved or disapproved by users (with potentially competing definitions) the following are the top 4 definitions for "man up":

1)Don't be a pussy, brave it, be daring.
Example:
"Hey man, finish this bowl."
"No dude, I'm baked as it is."
"Come on pussy, man up."

2)to fulfill your responsibilities as a man, despite your insecurities and constant ability to place yourself in embarrassing and un-manly scenarios.
Example:
Paul forcefully imposed the bet on everyone, yet he was the first to fail miserably on the very challenge he had conjured up.
Paul must now man up and meet his own challenge.

3)A reminder, usually to a man, to maintain or resume his assigned place within patriarchy. A reminder to a man never to show uncertainty, express feelings or emotion, display lack of skill, give any indication of empathy, give voice to pain or suffering, or otherwise act like a human being rather than an automaton.
Example:
Sergeant: Kill those people, Private.
Private: But they're all unarmed civilians - mostly women, old people, and children!
Sergeant: MAN UP, Private!
Private: Yes sir! *opens fire*

4)Be strong
Take control, take control of a (the) situation, be strong, rise to the moment


I found these definitions pretty interesting and consistent with the context in which I had been hearing them. Yet I was still curious about the origins of the phrase. I dug a little deeper and found additional information about "man up", even a book with the phrase in the title. The book: Man Up: Nobody is Coming to Save Us by Steve Perry is described on Amazon as: "...a hard hitting, introspective look into what the Black community must do to save itself. Finally, a voice speaks to the complex relationship between personal and community responsibility." I also found "Man UP Sweepstakes" offered by Mike and Mike on ESPN and an article from the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette entitled "It's time to 'man up' from Friday, February 08, 2008. The article reads in part:

I had a conversation with Lee Davis a few nights ago. Lee, 35, is an outreach coordinator with Community Empowerment Association. He works with about two dozen young people and their families to try to keep the youth on track. After last week's horrific violence, I wanted to get some perspective from someone has a nonstop close-up view of what's happening with our youth. It was just a conversation; I wasn't interviewing him for a story. But when I asked him where the fathers are in these kids' lives, his answer went straight into my heart, with no need to take notes: "The men are hiding," he said ... I've received at least three copies of an email from CEA head Rashad Byrdsong that reads in part: "Now, more than ever, we need Black men to 'Man Up', 'Take Your Place' and begin to address this issue of black on black violence in our community. There needs to be a collective strategy and purpose on how best to engage black youth and men who continue to perpetuate genocide against one another.

Instead of answering all of my questions, however, this research has only led to more questions. For example, when I've heard the phrase "man up" used by white twenty-somethings it has sounded more like the "be a man," of my childhood and somewhat like the definitions provided on Urban Dictionary. The book and the post in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, however, seem to use the phrase as a rallying point for black men, a different context and usage. Perhaps that is where the phrase has its origins, within the black community, as it seems is so often the case with "slang" that becomes mainstream. Maybe readers could clarify this.

Keeping all of the definitions in mind, I began to think about the ways in which any of this relates to mediation. Undoubtedly, gender plays a big role in court-related disputes, particularly custody and visitation disputes. While many argue that the court system has caught up with the times and judges are no longer biased against men, others will argue equally hard that judges always favor women. There are "father's rights" attorneys who share this very perspective that women are always favored. Such attorneys offer fathers something that they argue will not be an inherent part of the process but instead is something for which an attorney must fight on behalf of a client. As a mediator, I'm going to choose to stay neutral on this part of the discussion. I bring it up, however, because it fits into a larger conversation about gender and its relationship to mediation.

The increasing popularity of the phrase "man up" raises some questions of which mediators should be aware. There seems to be a blurry line between "man up" as a plea for one --usually a man -- to take ownership or responsibility for his actions or the actions of his community, versus the expectation of a man to be without feelings of fear or self-doubt (anger is okay) and/or to preserve his position at all costs.

What expectations or bias will the female disputant have within the context of the mediation process and how do we balance that during the course of the mediation? That is, what if the mother keeps throwing things out there like: "I carried this baby for 9 months and you didn't" or "A child needs to be with his mom." How do we as mediators create the space for other perceptions without appearing biased toward one party or the other? What if a father believes that if he doesn't fight for exactly 50% of the time with his child then he is not being man enough? Do we as mediators need to address gender perceptions that enter the room not just by remaining neutral ourselves, but also by somehow contextualizing the clients' experiences and assumptions? If so, how do we do that without appearing as though we are taking sides? How do we do it without actually taking sides?

Given that mediators ourselves are human, and that we don't live in a vacuum, we need to understand the foundation for our own perceptions so that we may be aware of where we sit in this continuum of expectation regarding male behavior. We need to understand this in order to better understand our clients. Do we expect men to "brave it" and "be daring" at all times? Do we believe men should always be "strong" and "in control?" Whether we are conscious of it or not, the way in which we were raised and the relationships we have with both men and women, inform our perceptions and expectations. If a man cries during a mediation session, will a female mediator have to respond differently than would a male mediator in order to keep from appearing biased? How might that inform the experience for both parties?

The main idea that resonates for me in considering the phrase "man up" is that more than anything it is a reminder. It reminds me that I grew up at a time when boys -- not just men -- were told to "be a man" and perhaps that was positive at times and perhaps at times it was harmful. It's a reminder that things haven't changed a whole lot. Also, probably most importantly, it reminds me that whatever exists out in the world always enters the mediation room in some form or other. Understanding "man up" seems essential to fully comprehending, challenging, and balancing expectations of men, particularly when it comes to parenting disputes.

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1 comment:

ankynan said...

Excellent. Food for thought. I'd always "heard" - & used - it as, "accept your responsibilities." (But I've had the great fortune of 44 years with an exceptional man.) Thank you for posting this.