Politicians, especially women, apparently missed the memo yesterday that the phrase is "human the fuck up." Telling your male opponent to "man up" just has a better ring to it, apparently, judging from its overuse lately.
Last night, two women told their male Senate opponents to man up: Sharron Angle to Harry Reid in Nevada, and Robin Carnahan to Roy Blunt. Carnahan, a Democrat, was so proud of saying it in a Thursday debate that her staffers headlined the press release with the phrase.
Variants include: Asking whether the male candidate is man enough (Jane Norton in the Colorado Republican primary) or telling him to put on his man pants" (Christine O'Donnell in the Delaware Republican primary.)
Men do tell each other to man up sometimes. One user of the phrase this season was Kendrick Meek, fighting a quixotic battle for Florida Senate, who said of Charlie Crist, "He needs to man up and leader up and run his own race." He then proceeded to brag about his own height and weight (see video). And we find it in man-oriented advertising as well, as The New York Times pointed out in its language column on the phrase:
Advertisers courting young male consumers are spreading the manly message. The Web site for the No Fear energy drink smacks the "Man Up" slogan across the screen, accompanied by an aggressive rock soundtrack. Meanwhile, Miller Lite has been running television commercials featuring a voice-over that growls, "Man up, because if you're drinking a light beer without great pilsner taste, you're missing the point of drinking beer." (Light beer ads often amp up the masculinity, perhaps to compensate for their watered-down product.)
But when women do it, there is a snarling, mean-girls aspect that crosses the aisle. Alleged liberal Maureen Dowd has made a career of questioning the masculinity of male candidates, always Democrats from the so-called "Mommy party." This is a woman who coyly called our current president Obambi and wrote the following passage in 2006:
Which would be a greater handicap in a presidential bid, gender or race?
The answer will depend, of course, on how manly the woman, and how white the black.
The headline to that story? "Will Hillzilla Crush Obambi?" Of course, "Hillzilla" never told Obama to man up. That was Dowd's job, as it had been in the 2000 election, when she taunted Gore in a similar fashion. It's the sort of comment that flaunts a reverse form of sexual privilege: Any man responding in kind would be rightly scolded, although given the difference in gender stereotypes, it's hard to imagine a real equivalent — "be a lady"? More like, "Stop being such a girl."
In either case, the implication that the worst thing to be is not-a-man — weak, lacking in courage — is left unchecked. If only women would realize that implicitly reinforcing that hurts everyone, and not just their opponents.