At my district’s middle school, each grade is separated into four groups, known as teams. Each has its own name, logo, and other unofficial formalities. I don’t recall our name or logo. None of the details are actually very important. However, I do remember our slogan. Our team’s teachers had decided that our slogan should be “Man Up”. After the phrase was proposed, most students supported it. I am not most students.
Raised by an extremely feminist sister, I considered myself a feminist. It would be wrong, no, an injustice, to stay silent. The expression suggested that men were superior to women; however, the problem went deeper. Many people understand that homophobic slurs have intolerant undertones, but phrases like these are often seen as ‘just expressions’. I proposed we choose a different phrase without a misogynistic undertone. “How about ‘Man/Woman Up’ or ‘(Wo)Man Up’?” My mortal enemy (if it can be said that 7th graders have mortal enemies) retorted, “Do you see any girls offended by it? You’re the only one who thinks it’s offensive, and you’re a guy, so...”
His comment elicited a few chuckles around the classroom. I was slightly embarrassed, but even in 7th grade, I had my convictions, albeit trivial. The language arts teacher then decided he would assuage the tension by explaining the “logic and intended meaning” of the phrase.
“It’s not meant to be offensive. It’s meant as an expression to suggest one should be tough and stand up for oneself.”
Regardless of gender, nobody in the class agreed with me. Everyone accepted the explanation. The peer pressure mounted on me. Would I maintain my certitude, or accept the opinion of the majority?
Regrettably, I chose the former. Looking around the room to find everyone staring at me, I was rather embarrassed by my solidarity. I felt my clothes on my skin and the chair beneath me. I accepted the logic that the phrase was okay because ‘none of the females in the room were offended’. I sunk a little lower in my seat, partially to mask my embarrassment, and partially because I was ashamed with myself. If they were okay with the phrase, shouldn’t I be okay with it, too? I used this reasoning to cope with the defeat, but in retrospect, I know the truth.
Looking back, I see the irony. I tried to stand up for myself, as the phrase suggested, but instead, peer pressure forced me into submission. Middle school is often viewed as “the dark ages”. As students, our main priority is to fit the standard while also attempting to stand out. While I’m glad I recognize my failure now, the memory still makes me upset. Not only did it reflect poorly on me, but it also showed subtle sexism has become an uncontested norm in society, which begs the almost circular question: What ideas do we accept, simply because they’re accepted?