Kyle Ashlee highlights the importance of Duke University’s #YouDontSay campaign.
Students at Duke University have organized a campaign to illustrate the power of language that they’re calling ‘You Don’t Say.’ The initiative highlights several commonly used derogatory phrases, such as “That’s So Gay” and “No Homo,” along with an explanation of why these sayings are problematic.
This initiative unearths some of the real oppression and hate that is ingrained in popular culture. Bias and discrimination are so deeply embedded that we can use phrases like “Don’t Be a Pussy” and not even think about what it implies for women and those who have vaginas. Additionally, the campaign includes faces of students who believe in these messages. In a world of anonymous comments and Internet trolls, it is rare to find a passionate group of activists who are willing to put a face to their words. Finally, Duke’s ‘You Don’t Say’ campaign features men. Male students at colleges and universities tend to get painted as either apathetic or a part of the problem, which ignores a great number of men who truly care. ‘You Don’t Say’ refreshingly highlights college men who are actively working to create positive change.
The Duke campaign also focuses specifically on men. Among the phrases deconstructed in the campaign is “Man Up,” a nasty insult often used to shame men and others for showing any sign of weakness. On the ‘You Don’t Say’ Facebook page, there are two student testaments dedicated to this particular phrase.
While this reasoning should be more than enough justification for purging this language from your vocabulary, we can go deeper. This particular expression is so damaging to men and boys that it deserves extra attention.
Here are 5 reasons I don’t say “Man Up”:
1. Strength and Weakness Have Nothing to do with Sex and Gender
As the folks from ‘You Don’t Say’ have demonstrated, it’s false to assume that a person’s gender is somehow an indication of their strength and courage. We are socialized to believe that men are strong and women are fragile, when in reality that belief couldn’t be further from the truth. Men and women are both strong. Men and women both have weaknesses as well. And what about those folks who don’t identify on the gender binary? Assuming that strength is inextricably tied to manliness is wrong and limits the conversation of who can and cannot be strong.
2. Shaming Doesn’t Work
The phrase “Man Up” is often used as an attempt to shame men for showing weakness. Whether it’s getting injured on the basketball court or grieving the death of a family member, men in our culture are forbidden from expressing the effects of pain. One way to enforce this rule is to make men feel ashamed of their feelings and force them back into the box of acceptable masculinity. Sadly, the negative impact of this shaming is seen all too often. Depression and suicide rates for men are through the roof, but we’re too tough to seek help. Substance use and alcoholism is prevalent, but we won’t reach out for support. Incarceration rates for men are nearly fifteen times higher than for women. Shaming as a way to protect men from weakness obviously isn’t working.
3. Vulnerability is a Sign of Strength, Not Weakness
Men tend to define strength in terms of brute physical force or the willingness to ignore logic and reason. Based on these definitions, many men are left feeling powerless to solve their problems. Bench-pressing 300 pounds won’t fix a marriage and denying a fear of public speaking won’t make it go away during a presentation at work. The real issues that men face on a daily basis require a different kind of strength. In order to overcome these challenges, we have to face our fears and that means admitting that we have them in the first place. Vulnerability is a powerful form of strength because it takes courage. Asking someone for help because we can’t handle something on our own is true vulnerability, and it might actually be the strongest thing we can do.
4. I Value Authentic Male Relationships
When someone says, “Man Up,” they want the other person to change their behavior. It tends to be an ultimatum that forces men to either change how they’re acting or be changed. When these are the rules, it makes developing genuine relationships extremely difficult. Let’s be honest, how many men share their honest hopes and fears with each other? How many men confide in one another when they need support? How many men cry with one another? Research shows that men need these kinds of authentic relationships with each other for support and vitality throughout their lives. Policing men to be tough and stoic seems to be a sure fire way to stifle genuine male friendships.
5. I’m Not a Bully
Bullies make their living by putting others down, but we all know they do it because they feel threatened and insecure. Shaming someone for not adhering to the rules of masculinity can be an effective way to affirm one’s own sense of manhood. If we adopt this strategy, however, we’re left either feeling ashamed or alone. Men need to break away from this destructive cycle of man-shaming in order to become more confident and more secure in our expressions of masculinity. One way to start this work is to abandon shaming language like “Man Up” and the underlying assumption that real men don’t show weakness.
The ‘You Don’t Say’ campaign at Duke University challenges us to reconsider many of the sayings we use everyday and urges us to go further. Each portrait effectively addresses one dimension of the assumptions and biases that accompany these phrases. If we are to truly understand the weight of our words, we must grapple with them and learn their real impact on others and ourselves. Language is a tool for communication and like other tools it should be examined and understood before being used. These brave college students have shown us what can happen when we don’t take that responsibility seriously.
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