How to Man Up and Do the Right Thing

The phrase man up is a zinger that’s caught on with women who pride themselves on being strong, irreverent, and post-feminist. Men have been using the phrase as well. It’s a challenge that implies a lack of courage and empowers those who use it.

The Republican candidate for Senate in Nevada, Sharron Angle, challenged her opponent in a recent debate. “Man up, Harry Reid,” she said. “You need to understand that we have a problem with social security.” In the Florida race for Senate, the two male candidates told each other to man up and stop the spread of negative rumors about each other.

A challenge to man up assumes the speaker is tougher than the other person. It suggests a lack of manliness and strength. It still contains a certain sexual overtone because men can use it in a different way than women. After all, it would be hard to imagine a male candidate suggesting that a female opponent needed to be more ladylike to be qualified for the office.

Women Can Man Up Too

Women are starting to shelve polite sensitivities and this is a trend among women of all ages who are post-feminists.

They’re not afraid of losing their feminine qualities by being tough and resilient, traits that have been mostly associated with masculinity.

But the challenge to man up also encourages us to muster the courage to do what is right. In this light, it’s a phrase that can be used without sexual overtones by both men and women.

Man up is an exhortation to do the right thing.

This is a quality that doesn’t belong to any specific gender. Man up means that you have the grit to do what needs to be done without making excuses for yourself or blaming others for your situation. Ouch—those words can hurt. No more free passes in life.

You may think that, as a female FBI agent, I manned up to be accepted as one of the guys. It’s true that there was no place for a delicate prima donna on the squad, but my feminine traits and qualities were never discouraged. They were simply put in perspective.

I trained alongside male agents as an equal. There was neither the time nor the inclination to play the gender game. We all had a job to do and we did it.  We found ourselves in life and death situations where the meaning of man up simply meant digging down to find the strength to face the situation in front of us with courage.

Do the Right Thing

This not about being a man or a woman—it’s about doing the right thing.

Let me share with you ways the FBI taught me to man up:

1) Strength

Strong people do not need to be aggressive because they know they have the power and skills to take over a situation and bring it to a close. Naked aggression can hide cowardice and be a sign of weakness. In many situations, toughness of mind and gentleness of spirit need be mixed to be most effective. For example, in an arrest situation, FBI agents need to be strong to slap handcuffs on a criminal. They also need to be gentle and treat the person with dignity—only a jerk kicks a person when they’re down.


To be strong does not mean you need to be aggressive.

2) Competence

We are competent in those areas in which we’ve spent time in training. I’m a competent shot because I’ve spent hours on the firing range. My scores went up because of my training, and my repeated experiences led to success. Otherwise, I would just have a very used firearm in my hands. I had the training to lean back on when confronted with an arrest situation and I knew I had the competence to shoot my weapon with accuracy so that fewer people were endangered.


Training leads to competence.

3) Confidence

I had many doubts about my abilities during my first few years as an FBI Agent. I’d hear this nagging voice that told me I couldn’t do it, and it took me a few years to realize that these unhelpful ideas and thoughts only lived in my head. Do the right thing for yourself. It takes courage and open-mindedness to try new strategies that will make you feel uncomfortable, but this is how you over-power those negative voices. After all, if someone can do it, why not you?


Monitor internal voices that cause you to doubt yourself so you can ignore them.

“Do the right thing. It will gratify some people and astonish the rest.” Mark Twain

How would you define “doing the right thing?” How do you man up for a tough situation? What have you found helpful in over-powering nagging voices that cause self-doubt?

LaRae Quy is former FBI Agent and Founder at Your Best Adventure
She helps clients explore the unknown and discover the hidden truth in self & others
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One response to “How to Man Up and Do the Right Thing

  1. Some good suggestions on finding the courage within ourselves to do what needs to be done but I will also say that as a woman I believe there are better ways to express the concept without using the phrase ‘man up”. Equating courage and strength with the masculine form implies it is lacking in the feminine form – a flawed premise leading to a flawed perception of women that should not be perpetuated by our usage of the phrase .

    Further, It is not only what we say but how we say it. The underlying intent with this phrase is clear and flinging zingers at each other is anything but skillful communication . Those who use the phrase tend to think the best way to elevate their position is by diminishing another. In my eyes, they diminish themselves by doing so

    .You will never find me using the phrase ‘man up” other than to object to it and I sincerely hope other women (and men) respond to it as I do.

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