In the classic 1940 film “The Bank Dick,” W.C. Fields‘ character Egbert Souse (“accent grave over the “e,” he constantly instructs) urges his prospective son-in-law, Og Oggilby, to embezzle $500 from the bank where he works to invest in shares of a “beefsteak mine.”
When Egbert encounters resistance from Og, he exhorts Og, saying: “Don’t be a luddy duddy. Don’t be a moon calf. Don’t be a jabbernowl. You’re not those, are you?”
The gauntlet thrown, Og relents and “borrows” the money from his employer — which leads to all manner of consternation and difficulty until all turns out well in the end.
That scene came to mind this week after I heard that St. Louis County prosecutor Robert McCulloch had challenged Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon to “man up” and make a decision about whether to ask McCulloch to recuse himself in the Michael Brown case. Some have suggested that because of personal and family considerations, McCulloch might favor law enforcement’s side.
Nixon drew McCulloch’s wrath because Nixon, while not requiring that McCulloch step aside (which the governor has the power to do), said he would not object if McCulloch chose to do so.
Here’s the full context of McCulloch’s use of the “man up” phrase, which he wheeled out in a radio interview that later aired on CNN:
“Stand up, man up — stand up and say, ‘I have this authority — I am not removing McCulloch,’ [or] ‘I am removing McCulloch,’ and move on with this.”
But McCulloch didn’t stop there; he proceeded to say that Nixon’s comments about recusal were “typical Nixon doublespeak” and “a distraction,” which hampered the process from moving forward.
Now, I’ve always thought Nixon is a bit of a wuss, but I would not have imagined that a lower-level elected official, like McCulloch, would have the gall to tell Nixon to “man up” and then accuse him of “typical doublespeak.”
It seems to me that that’s like the bad boy at school telling the principal, “Go ahead and kick me out of school; I dare you.”
To me, not only is McCulloch an idiot for openly challenging the governor, but he’s an idiot because he resorted to the lame, hackneyed “man-up” phrase.
The main problem with the phrase — other than the fact that it just sounds ridiculous — is that it can only be directed at a man. It is strictly a challenge to masculinity — “Do you have the balls to….? — rather than a call to dial up one’s courage, regardless of gender.
Much more appropriate, not to mention interchangeable, are terms like, “Be decisive!” or “Show some guts!”
I found at least two high-profile instances when women leveled the term against men.
In the 2010 Nevada senatorial race, Republican candidate Sharron Angle told Sen. Harry Reid to “Man up!” during a debate. (I guess he did well enough because he beat her by six percentage points.)
More recently, Senate Intelligence Committee Chairwoman Dianne Feinstein called on Russian President Vladimir Putin to “man up” and acknowledge his government’s complicity in the downing of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17…Needless to say, Vlad has not.
In researching the hated phrase, I stumbled upon a blog called “The Art of Masculinity,” which addressed the phrase at length in 2013.
Brett McKay, founder and primary writer of the blog, said the problem with women telling men to “man up” is that “there isn’t really an equally shame-inducing phrase that men can level at women that implies the same thing but won’t get the man criticized for being sexist or patronizing.”
McKay went on to say:
“I’ve heard the phrase, ‘put on your big girl panties,’ said by other women, but if that were to come from a man, it would not likely be received very well!”
McKay rightly concluded that the term “man up” has become such a cliche that it is meaningless.
So…coming full circle, if I were Nixon, I would call McCulloch and say: “I have decided to man up…You are OUT!”