Does Telling Boys To “Man Up” Encourage Conflict?

“Man up!”, “Boys Don’t Cry”, “You Run Like a Girl!”

I can’t tell  you how many times I heard these phrases growing up – they weren’t directed at me, of course, but they were directed at my brother, and his friends, and most of the boys with whom I hung out.

But, that was the ’80’s. These days, there’s an entire campaign aimed at discouraging these types of phrases (one University even banned them). And, it’s worth noting the reasons why: By telling boys to “man up” or “don’t cry,” we’re telling them to supress their emotions (fear, sadness, pain). And, without the ability to express their emotions in a healthy way, they’re often tempted to express their feelings in unhealthy ways – oftentimes through conflict.

I know it all sounds a bit far-fetched, but the research backs it up. In societies where boys are told to “man up,” and hear things like “you run like a girl,” there’s actually a higher incidence of violence, especially against women. If men are supposed to be big and powerful, and women are described as weak and inept, there’s a whole lot of potential for conflict.

As the mother of a son (and the wife of a Midwesterner with traditional values), it’s hard NOT to say things like “big boys don’t cry.” But, instead, I’ve started asking him why he’s sad and encouraging him to express his feelings.

“You’re welcome” future daughter-in-law!


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