Written by Alec Verch. Alec was a ManUp leader and spokesperson for ManUp at Longfields High School in Ottawa. He went in to work with Justin Trudeau as part of the select National Youth Council.
“When I reflect upon the meaning of the term ‘man up’ as a colloquial phrase, I can’t help but to think about how the connotation of these two words has traditionally been thought to invoke hegemonic gendered constructions of masculinity that place the qualities of courage and strength as central to the masculine identity. Where I think that this social construction becomes particularly destructive is when boys are being taught that the appropriate way to achieve masculine status is by imitating the archetypal behaviours that are embedded in our collective understanding of what it means to be a man. I would argue that one of the most important themes I learned as a member of ManUp is how limiting this conventional gender regime is on the overall growth of young men in a contemporary context, and the importance of being self reflexive when it comes to how we imagine ourselves as male.
Prior to my involvement with ManUp, the lack of meaningful conversations about my own understanding of masculinity and what it means to be a man had effectively narrowed the scope of possibility that anything other than hegemonically masculine traits could be evaluated as manly. Given the opportunity to not only question what it means to be a man, but to evaluate the role that my individual actions have on others has ultimately allowed me to feel as though my experience with ManUp has broadened my own sense of self, and enabled me to recognize the responsibilities that are associated with being a young man.
As a university student, I will frequently find myself thinking back to the conversations that were facilitated through our ManUp group in high school whenever I am confronted with a situation that requires me to assert myself and take responsible action. I think that this sense of responsibility that we as young men have to the fellow males and females in our lives is something that ManUp has not only imparted on myself, but on my fellow peers as well.
I distinctly remember visiting Longfields this past year with a couple of my buddies from high school when we came across several ManUp posters from when we were seniors. The thought that my poster remains visibly plastered to the wall of Longfields’ cafeteria gave me a great sense of pride, but more importantly, it reminded me of how I am accountable to the inscription on that poster everyday that it hangs before hundreds of young men to see. To me, this particular instance served as a meaningful reminder of the responsibility I have to serve as a role model for others and for myself, something that I believe is at the essence of ManUp.
To define ManUp as a single imaginary state of being is quite frankly an incomplete assessment of the term as a social movement. To be quite honest, I think that as an idea, ManUp is what one choses to see as. Wether it be considered a call to action, a social engagement platform, or an organization of young men, the word itself is not necessarily what’s important, rather it’s the meaning in which individuals absorb that is relevant to it’s overall purpose.
To conclude this thought, I would like to reflect on the phrase that I believe strongly characterizes ManUp’s overarching message, and that is that no one is perfect, but everyone is capable of being better. This is true in all aspects of our lives. It is a universal truth that humans are flawed and that no one is immune from making poor decisions. I believe the difference, however, between a man and a boy is how one learns from said mistakes and recognizes the accountability one has to his own actions by proactively being the change in one’s own community. “
MINDS ON MEN – QUESTIONS TO PONDER
- What are some destructive stereotypes that are being perpetuated through common cultural practices and media? How have these ideologies added to or taken away from our development as men?
- How and when do we have the opportunity to confront these toxic stereotypes? How can we, as ManUp men, work to offset these messages with messages of positive masculinity and healthy male mindsets?