Once and for all, let’s stop saying “boys will be boys.”
“Boy, you’re gonna carry that weight…Carry that weight a long time…”
-The Beatles, Carry That Weight
Boys are getting a bad rap.
They are being reduced to the lowest common denominator.
They are suffering the permissibility of low expectations.
They have no self control. They have violent urges. They have uncontainable sexual tendencies.
Boys will be boys.
What does this oft cited phrase even mean? Does it mean that because they were born with the Y chromosome that they are inherently impulsive and helpless to their own actions? Does it mean that it is natural for them to be more violent, more sexual?
Or is it an excuse trotted out to dismiss unsavory behavior?
Is it an antiquated notion that keeps boys boxed into a hyper-masculine role while putting the burden on girls to keep order and civility intact?
I know a few boys.
I am a sister, a wife, a mother, a daughter. I’ve been blessed with some amazing boys and men in my life. Most of the boys I have known and encountered have been sensitive, intelligent, thoughtful people. Very much in control of their own actions. Yes, I have known some jerks. But they truly are the exception in my life, not the rule.
I love men.
I always have. I grew up having more guy friends than girl friends. I sometimes felt more comfortable and at ease with my guy friends. I love masculine, strong men and I love sensitive, artistic men and I love that these traits aren’t exclusive of each other. I don’t look at men as adversaries. I don’t view them as opposition. I view them as friends, as neighbors, as fellow parents- as people full of good and sometimes a little bad but mostly just human and trying to do their best.
Let’s stop saying it…
Let’s stop saying “Boys will be boys.” It is said when little boys fight on the play ground. Instead of breaking up the fight and teaching them that there are other ways to problem solve, some people use this phrase as an excuse. Let them get out their anger, let them blow off some steam. It’ll toughen them up. Does this not seem an antiquated notion? Doesn’t it send messages that are hard to undo? Hurt and damage young boys who don’t necessarily enjoy fighting?
Let’s stop using it as an excuse for boys to grope girls. To say demeaning things to girls. Let’s not speak this phrase to imply that boys cannot control their urges around girls. To imply that it’s natural for boys to be misogynistic. It’s not. Misogyny is taught.
Let’s stop saying it when enforcing a dress code that is mostly thrust upon girls. Shorts must be a certain length. Skirts must be a certain length. No spaghetti strap shirts. Why? The reasons I’ve heard all seem to point to a few disturbing notions. Either that little girls will be viewed as too sultry or sexual when wearing shorts or tank tops or that it will put boys in the uncomfortable and impossible position of having to control their sexual urges. They will be too distracted by the show of flesh. So girls are all sultry sirens of the sea luring poor dimwitted boys to jump in the ocean, devoid of any self control?
Let’s stop saying it when men make lewd or inappropriate comments towards women. When men make crude and laviscious cat calls at a woman walking down the street.
And, dear god, let’s stop saying it when a boy sexually assaults a girl.
‘Cause here’s the thing…
Not all boys or men do these things. These are not behaviors inherent in the male species. Not all boys are violent. Not all boys are lustful. Not all boys view girls as objects. Not all boys are distracted by an exposed shoulder or an extra inch of thigh. Not all boys want to demean girls. Not all boys believe that they have rights to a girl’s body and privacy and sense of safety.
I don’t think any boy is born with these tendencies. They will have more testosterone, yes. And surges in testosterone can lead to feelings of anger or sexual urges. (And let’s start admitting that girls have sexual urges too.) Boys can be taught how to deal with these feelings. They are beyond animalistic instincts to act without regard to others or themselves. They are more evolved than that. To dismiss bad behavior with “boys will be boys” implies they have no control. It implies that they are subject to their worst impulses.
It is insulting.
The line of thinking that goes along with the “boys will be boys” mentality is an insult to boys. It is just as insulting as assuming that women are uncontrollably emotional and irrational because their bodies produce more estrogen. It only teaches boys that not only is bad behavior ok, it is expected of them. That it is evidence of masculinity. This is ridiculous. You know what’s masculine? Being honest about your feelings, showing emotion. Being respectful of others. Honoring other’s rights and needs. Understanding those around you.
I believe in setting high expectations, not shrugging away boorishness.
I believe that most boys don’t want to have to fight on the playground.
I believe that boys are completely capable of self control.
I believe my son doesn’t need to “prove” his masculinity any more than my daughters need to “prove” their femininity.
I believe that boys are capable of functioning around girls, even scantily clad girls, without succumbing to hormonal fueled hysteria.
I believe that if we stop dismissing behaviors and excusing them and expecting them, that we will raise strong, masculine men who respect themselves. Who respect women. Who want to be productive and not destructive. I believe that we can raise boys who won’t grow up to grope women. To make insulting cat calls. Who won’t say misogynistic things to women, to female senators. Who won’t assume rights or ownership to a woman’s body. I know it’s possible. I know many of these men. Many of whom grew up to be great men in spite of society’s banal accommodation of “boys will be boys.”
So let’s give boys some credit. Let’s assume they are capable of the best. Let’s expect more and in doing so imply that we know that they are more than able to do more. Let’s allow them to be who they are, not what society deems as masculine.
And once and for all, let’s stop saying “Boys will be boys.”
Photo: tiffany terry/Flickr
This essay originally appeared on Gretchen’s blog, Drifting Through My Open Mind.