I supervise trainees as part of my life as a medical professor. Some are quite timid. While I am always eager to be present to provide close supervision, it is important to me as a teacher that they have the courage to take a stand in public on what they think matters and what ought to happen. Until they risk embarrassment they will never learn how to watch people closely enough to make diagnoses. I do try to use levity to make this transition into something like adulthood a bit easier for them, and for a while I would tell them to “Man Up” and take a public stand on what they think the diagnosis is or the treatment should be. One morning, all the trainees were being timid again, and I was about to encourage them to Man Up when I realized that they were all women, and I remembered the famous truism that “the opposite of man is boy, not woman.”
So I told them to “Woman Up!” This was simple enough to do and say, but it made me stop and think just exactly why I would prefer to use the standard idiom. Did I really mean that courage is just a matter of the hormone testosterone? What about the fascinating data suggesting that men (particularly young adult men) are the least able to bear pain? What about the incredible women I have known in my life who are bold, courageous, and righteous? So now I’ve started using “Woman Up” to encourage men or women who need to be stronger in a positive way, and I like the effects that I’m seeing. There is real power in language. I’m even trying myself to woman up when I find myself in a difficult position where a little more courage–the kind I see in my mother, my wife, my sisters, my daughters, and so many of the other woman in my life whom I love–could improve a situation.
I’m aware that this may make me susceptible to accusations of being “PC,” a bizarre term that doesn’t even make sense to me. If that is really, really your problem with my modified idiom, God bless you and keep you.