Spoken word artist Guante has it right. The phrase "man up" sucks. Big time. It's riddled with sexist connotations, homophobic notions, and is generally damaging - in my view - to anyone who doesn't conform to gendered norms. In fact, I'd argue it's really all about conforming. All about creating a hostile environment for male-identified people.
“Man Up” assaults our self esteem by suggesting that competence and perseverance are uniquely masculine traits. That women—not to mention any man who doesn’t eat steak, drive a pickup truck, have lots of sex with women and otherwise conform to gender norms absolutely—are nothing more than, background characters and props in a movie where the strong, stoic, REAL man is the hero. More than anything, though, it suggests that to be yourself—whether you, wear skinny jeans, listen to Lady Gaga, rock a little eyeliner, drink some other brand of light beer, or write poetry—will cost you.
So, what does this have to do with spiritual practice? Well, in my opinion, everything. Buddha taught about the perils of attachment. And of the numerous attachments, gender is high on the list.
It's no accident that monks and nuns of Buddha's order shaved their heads, wore patchwork robes, and abstained from sex. Among other things, this was an attempt to help cut through attachments to both one's biological body form, and also the socially constructed narratives around gender.
At the same time, it's impossible to ignore how difficult it was for the men of the Buddhist sangha throughout the centuries to break from their attachments to patriarchy. Even as they taught the perils of attachment, they themselves demonstrated a deep attachment to gendered narratives about wisdom and enlightenment.
In the minds of many Buddhist men historically, and even some still today, enlightenment was a man's domain. And any man who wanted it better "man up" in his practice. The obsession with marathon meditation retreats and hardcore, "balls busting" koan studies you see in some convert Zen communities reminds me a lot of this ancient mud.
On the one hand, "man up" is a pop culture phrase that probably is rarely heard in Buddhist circles. On the other hand, we do not live in a vacuum.
Growing up in sexist societies only increases the potential level of attachment to gender a person can have. Not only do you have the biological sex components to work with, but all the warped stories about what a woman is supposed to do, or what a man is supposed to do. Notice there is no room for a healthy gender spectrum here. Little wiggle room to explore and be flexible about identity. This is starting to change, but for every step towards more openness, there seems to be two going back.
If you take anything from this post, please consider this: gender is an important realm of practice. The path to awakening ultimately will take you through your beliefs about being a man, a woman, or gender non-conforming. Certainly, many never examine it at all. Being a "man" or a "woman" is simply a given. Others choose to ignore or bury such concerns, afraid of what they might find.
Don't be like that. Leave no stone you are aware of unturned.