Why is being told to ‘man up’ dangerous?

We’re slowly improving the conversation around mental health, but there’s one phrase we need to ban: man up. Writer Michael Handrick spoke to CALM to find out why being told to ‘man up’ is so dangerous to hear, and how there is no one way to be a man

What does ‘man up’ even mean?

Didn’t have sex on the first date? Man up.

Struggling at school or work? Man up.

Upset your relationship ended? Man up.

Bite your tongue, bottle it up, and carry on. Society has taught men that the expression of their feelings and seeking help is weak and shameful. Because feelings are for the weak, right? Wrong.

The perception that men must bottle their emotions is conditioned across the globe from a young age where we are taught that crying, talking about feelings or showing emotions is equated to weakness. Do you remember being told to be a ‘big boy’ and not to cry? This causes the belief that expressing emotion is wrong, that we have to deal with problems alone, and we must be ‘tough’ in the face of adversity. From childhood we are denied the option of dealing with emotions, which we carry through to adulthood causing mental and physical issues.

There is no one way to be a man

The ‘man up’ culture symbolises a stereotype of men being the provider, the hunter, and strong. Not living up to this image could result in criticism, mockery and disappointment for not being ‘a real man’. Despite the great progress made in breaking down stereotypes, this perception of man is still upheld resulting in many men not feeling like they can address the problems in their lives.

‘Man up’ is a toxic version of masculinity, another way of putting up and shutting up.

In a moment where men should talk to someone about their emotions, stress, anxieties or issues, ‘man up’ is used as a way to humiliate men for daring to open up.

Toxic masculinity and mental health

CALM, a charity dedicated to preventing male suicide, reports that 84% of men don’t open up about their feelings and two thirds of 18 – 24 year olds hide their true emotions. A huge proportion of men are bottling up what they’re feeling, which has a direct correlation to being told throughout life that this is what a man is supposed to do.

Hiding and denying your feelings or issues means that you are not fixing the problem, which over time can boil into something much worse. What can result from this is a range of mental and physical issues from anxiety, depression and stress; or turning to alcohol or drugs to try block out what you’re feeling.

Here are some startling facts:

One thing to take from these stats is that you are not alone in what you’re feeling. These issues are treatable through taking the necessary steps in seeking help, and by opening up we can start to change attitudes and perceptions, and avoid this destructive trend.

How can we stop the ‘man up’ attitude?

Being physically fit is seen as a sign of strength. We need to start thinking and believing that expressing our emotions and seeking help is the same. Through identifying and acknowledging that you are struggling you can begin to understand the reasons behind what you’re feeling, process it and learn from it. Taking the step to recognise a problem and seeking help to overcome it is strength itself. It may be one of the hardest steps you take, but the biggest towards a healthier mental wellbeing.

You could:

Find a way to overcome these problems in a way that works for you. Take baby steps until you reach a point where confiding in a friend or asking for help is natural instead of a hindrance.

My friend struggles with this, what can I do?

If you see a male friend that is looking down or struggling, take the step to show you’re there to listen. Making them aware that you’re there can make all the difference. We can create an open and safe space to support each other, cultivating a society in which we feel more comfortable to express ourselves and seek help. As well as changing the view of how men should be.

There isn’t one way to be a man, there’s no formula. Whether you’re a defender in football, a ballet dancer, in love with a man, or a woman, or both – the only way to be a man is your way. Not the way society says. As humans we need to communicate, express and feel. Our emotions need to be acknowledged and addressed. It’s okay to feel sad. It’s okay to cry; in fact it’s proven to release endorphins. It’s okay to talk. You’re not just a man; you’re also a human. You’re not weak, you’re human. Forget ‘manning up’ and open up.

Photo by Jesus Rodriguez

Next Steps

  • CALM is dedicated to preventing male suicide. Call their national helpline for free on 0800 58 58 58, 5pm-midnight, or visit their webchat service .
  • Being Mankind is a project creating conversations about the unique issues that men and boys face in the 21st Century.
  • Do you want to understand your relationship better? Love Smart helps you work it all out.
  • Chat about this subject on our Discussion Boards.
  • Need help but confused where to go locally? Download our StepFinder iPhone app to find local support services quickly.

By Michael Handrick

Updated on 08-Nov-2017

Sorry, comments closed