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.
TEN RESPONSES TO THE PHRASE “MAN UP” (words are for the updated version)
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.
I heard this on NPR and loved it.Shared it and my appreciation of it on Twitter.
To Tony's comment: that line is about how so many (not all, but a lot) boys are taught \”what it means to be a man\” in ways that, whether on purpose or not, end up emphasizing things like dominance, violence, repression of emotions, etc. Hope that helps.
If comments are still read on this post, I'm not sure what is meant with the line \”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.\” Anyone able to help me out?
I can read and reread this poem over and over again and still be moved. Great work Guante.
Man up. Stop shining.
Let's lose dominance as a masculine trait and go for willingness to be vulnerable, to listen, to nurture, to be patient and to support human rights. Let's Lose the hypermasculine that says dominance, aggression, callous attitudes towards women and sex = manhood.
Stop it. We are in the women's muvement. We work with male allies. We teach compassion, respect and consent. We believe that masculinity should be tied to willingness to be vulnerable and on consistently standing for human rights, not to dominance and aggression and lack of empathy.
I want a man who is confident in and of himself, not because he compares well against other men, but because he fulfills his own needs and reaches his own goals. That is sexy. That is dominant. That is what I respect in a person.Thank you
Printing this out for my sons. Thank you.
Bryan– as long as it's credited, it's all good. Thanks.
Hey man, I absolutely love this! I am a spoken word artist as well and would love to cover this at my local open mic, is that cool? Peace and love always brother, thanks for spreading the good word.
it's interesting to read/hear the evolution of your lyrics from the original to \”the updated version\” printed here and forward. i like every version. i like the love you pour in to word. i like that you are a true story teller, not a poet, in that you deliver a different version every time if you listen. i like even that you're willing to be wrong, loud. if it's you. bless.
I love you, man. Thank you for this.
That was great. Thank you.Anyone who uses the phrase 'Man Up' is trying to control you, they are your enemy.
I agree with the earlier comment that \”the only change worth fighting for is to strictly widen the spectrum of acceptable masculinities, and never to remove anything from that spectrum.\”Guante, thank you for speaking out and pushing the boundaries of that spectrum with your thoughts & words. This piece – powerful, articulate, and succinct – is the first encounter I've ever had with your work. From this alone I will say – before I even watch a single other piece – that I'm a fan of your work; you are a craftsman.Much respect,~ H
Wonderful, ty Guante. As for Fidelbogen's comment, I think both you and Guante are right. The so called 'women's movement' of my younger years in the 1970's was deliberately and non-deliberately disrupted and infiltrated with corporate sell outs like the Steinem Ms-magazine bunch. Take it from a 55 y.o. woman who was phone banking for the E.R.A. in the 1970's. But don't throw out the baby with the bathwater, so to speak. The more truly egalitarian, better sectors of what I prefer to call radical feminism, that want liberation for men and women (see Selma James), are more what I think Guante is evoking.
I, a 56 year-old, hetero white \”man\”, just discovered you and this poem \”10 reasons…man-up\” and can only say right-on, my brother! I've been shunning the American machismo all through the Vietnam War, Ronald Reagan, the two Bushes, and all their attending hoopla and bunting.The poem brought me to tears of happiness and appreciation.
\”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? \”Actually, women and the women's movement are among the chief culprits in exploiting the \”man up\” meme for their purposes. And THAT is what men need to figure out.
I absolutely love this, this is my new favourite thing ever.I hate the phrase 'man up.'Brilliant, brilliant, brilliant work.
Well spoken and well said.
Thank you thank you thank you!!!
I just wanted to say, this really moved me, and it made unashamed to admit that, when you said, \”there are so many beautiful colors,\” I cried. Thank you.
This is amazing, astounding, beautiful and relevant. Powerful delivery. Thank you!!!!
<3 – Ya "gotta have balls" to be willing to be yourself, LOL. Courage to be yourself, especially outside cultural norms, is to be applauded. I applaud this! I wish more people both male and female, trans, etc could accept themselves as they are, and that their families could accept them as well.
I just want to congratulate you. This is so needed. Your attitude and voice reminds me of so many men I know or have known. I'm talking about ethnic minority and WWC men too. Who often on the downlow, sometimes comically hiding in plain sight say no.1 over and over again to playing hard man/masculine w/e and yes to BE-ing.
\”(…) too many men still live inside the pain of that cliche, whether it comes from the culture, their girlfriends or their viwes\”I sense a lot of \”manly is the new sissy\” kind of wrongness here.While focusing on the plight of the large absolute numbers of men for whom \”this cliche\” is a source of pain, we must not ignore the fact that those men, even if numerous, are still a minority among all the men who live through their whole lives never experiencing any significant discomfort with the norms of traditional masculinity. While the minority certainly deserve to be free from ridicule and shunning, neither do we want a world where traditionally masculine, stoic etc. is the new sissy – a world you guys seem to want to happen, I'm afraid.IMO the only change worth fighting for is to strictly widen the spectrum of acceptable masculinities, and never to remove anything from that spectrum. The latter is a goal of feminists, not of men.
Thank you for this. There should be some sort of legislation preventing this kind of verbal assault. Not only is it hurtful, but like you said, boys are killing themselves because of it. The executives responsible for this should be imprisoned. They can \”man up,\” there.
Here's a use of Man Up I really liked. He held that at our Planned Parenthood rally in Virginia yesterday.
Great work. These kinds of things cannot be said enough.Thank you.
Incredible – and never stop speaking your truth – too many men still live inside the pain of that cliche, whether it comes from the culture, their girlfriends or their wives. I shared this The Masculine Heart (http://masculineheart.blogspot.com/2012/02/guante-10-responses-to-phrase-man-up.html)Thanks for writing that!
Outstanding work, Guante. Thank you.
I love this. Don't be afraid to talk about soemthing that has been discussed before, because you will always bring your own unique perspective to it.
I came across this site by way of this spoken word piece being linked elsewhere on the internet, and just wanted to pop in to show my appreciation. (And to 'thank' you for reminding me of how much I loathe the Miller Light commercials).What's particularly interesting about those spots to me is that they're using the methodology of gender-shaming to sell something that the beer commercial world tried to shame us out of buying not twenty years ago. Real hypothetical gender constructs don't count calories and drink light beer, after all! I think that whole attack-from-weakness thing is a large part of why the Miller Light spots are so very aggressively crass.
Way rad. So down to film this with \”pro gear / pro attitude\”…man.