The night before the election, Anderson Cooper remarked on one of the big trends of the 2010 Election season: “‘Man up’ is sweeping the country.”
He was talking about a clip in which Sarah Palin responds to unnamed Republican sources who reportedly don’t want her to run for president. She said they should “man up” and come forward so she could debate with them.
Palin’s remark was the latest in a string made by candidates this election year who told their opponents they were “unmanly” they needed to “man up,” “put your man-pants on,” or that they lacked “cojones.”
If a politician is going to criticize an opponent for not being strong enough or having certain skills, just say that. Man Up implies a candidate is not a “real” man because he’s weak, ineffectual and impotent. The slur is an attempt to undermine and insult him on the basis of what society thinks an ideal man is. It’s the male equivalent of what got California Governor-elect Jerry Brown in trouble when someone in his campaign called Meg Whitman a “whore.”
Man Up hurts women, too. It assumes masculinity is a qualification to hold public office. Equating “manly” with strength, productivity and integrity demeans women by excluding them from those characteristics. It doesn’t allow femininity to be powerful. That further marginalizes women in politics, which is something that the U.S. needs to improve.
In light of the testosterone litmus tests this year, it’s worth noting that presumptive House Speaker John Boehner cried on Election night. He wept when he spoke about spending his “whole life chasing the American dream.”
There absolutely nothing wrong with a man crying in public. In fact, it was actually fitting he did. In an election season when terms like ‘man up” and “unmanly” were thrown at candidates, the head of the winning party wept. Politics clearly isn’t immune from American masculinity’s soul-searching and attempts to figure itself out.
Boehner’s tears won’t stop the Man Up trend. It’s an easy soundbite to throw at a candidate. I do hope, though, that the next candidate who’s told to “man up” can call out the remark’s inherent sexism. If they win, they should feel free to rejoice and cry in victory.