UPDATE (2022): Check out this link for a “classroom-friendly” version of this poem (with high-quality video/audio), plus reflections on its ten-year anniversary, plus more resources!
UPDATE: This is the newest version of this piece. The Button Poetry version has a million+ views (plus 10 million more on Facebook, which maybe speaks to how these ideas are striking a chord with people right now), but I think this one captures a more polished performance.
New piece. I really hate those Miller Lite commercials, but it’s definitely bigger than just that. Felt good to talk about it on stage.
On a side note, I know there are a ton of spoken-word pieces out there about masculinity. I’ve got this one too. But I think it’s important to keep talking about these issues, especially if you can do it in a creative way, or at least have a new angle or hook. I think there’s a bad tendency in spoken-word circles to dismiss any poem that covers well-trod territory (like “here’s another hip hop poem,” or “here’s another domestic violence poem”) and while I completely understand where that’s coming from and agree that we should be pushing ourselves in terms of subject matter, I ALSO believe that certain topics deserve the attention. Especially as someone who works with young people–particularly young men– I like to have three or four of these kinds of poems in my pocket.
Anyways, hope you like it. Might be a bit of a “preaching to the choir” piece in some ways, but that all depends on with whom we all share it. Any FB posts, tweets, tumblr posts, re-blogs and whatever are much appreciated, as always.
UPDATE: A few more thoughts:
I see a lot of comments informing me that the phrase “man up” actually means “to take responsibility and handle your business.” And it’s like, yeah, I know that. The point of the poem is less to question that advice (although there are times when it should definitely be questioned), and more to question why we *gender* that advice, why we don’t just literally say “toughen up” or “handle it” instead– why we always seem to equate competence, strength, and resolve with maleness.
It’s also about what the implications of that are.
Because there’s a bigger point here about the inability of so many to make connections, to see beyond the specific. This is not a poem about one specific phrase that I happen not to like. It’s a poem about language, and habits, and how the “little things” we don’t always think critically about connect to larger realities of harm and violence. If to be male means to always be strong and in control, what happens when we aren’t? Or what happens when are, but that “strength” and “control” become violence? What percentage of mass shooters are men? What percentage of killers, abusers, warmongers, and exploiters are men? Why is violence so often associated witih masculinity– in pop culture, in policy, and in everyday experience?
The poem doesn’t have room to answer all those questions, but it’s trying to point in a particular direction, and trying to make some connections. It’s also trying, if nothing else, to encourage us all to think a little more critically about the messages we receive about gender– where they come from, who benefits from them, and what kind of world we might be able to shape without them.
1. Fuck you.
2. If you want to question my masculinity, like a schoolyard circle of curses, like a swordfight with lightsaber erections, save your breath. Because contrary to what you may believe, not every problem can be solved by “growing a pair.” You can’t arm-wrestle your way out of 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. 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 ordered around by commercials, magazines and music is dehumanizing. When will men figure that 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 pickup 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, listen to Lady Gaga, rock a little eyeliner, drink some other brand of light beer, or write poetry—will cost you.
7. How many boys have to kill themselves before this country acknowledges the 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, yellow, chartreuse, 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.