Boys will be boys– it is one of the most outdated, ugly, and superficial adages. This phrase is as old as dirt and should be tossed away like a moldy hot dog. It has never been complimentary or helpful and the implication of gender being an excuse for violent, aggressive behavior is wrong on many levels. More importantly, it reduces men to a stereotype that they don’t deserve.
Just so you don’t think that I am some asshat on the internet lecturing other people about how amazing my parenting skills are, I want you to know that I’m figuring things out day-by-day. Parenting is rough! My daughter, after taking a karate class, once body-slammed another kid into the ground. And I laughed. There is no such thing as perfection in this world. But I truly believe that the catchphrase boys will boys needs to be removed from our collective expression-library and replaced instead with explanations on why specific conduct is not correct.
Let me explain why:
We Are Doing All Men A Disservice
When we imply that boys will be boys is a valid excuse for inappropriate male behavior, we are doing all men a disservice. Instead of teaching them from a young age that their actions have consequences, we are telling boys that certain actions are excusable due to their gender.
Let me give you an example: my daughter was playing with a little boy who was about two-years-old. He kept kicking her in the shins. She came over to me and said, “He keeps kicking me! I asked him to stop and he won’t!”
The little boy’s mom rolled her eyes at me and said, “Boys will be boys, right?”
Um, what? If your kid is acting like a douche, then you should teach him not to. The fact that he has a penis does not give him reason to act badly. This is a teaching moment and should be used to tell your son that kicking isn’t a nice to way to treat another person. Furthermore, you are also training my daughter to think that this is an acceptable way for a boy to treat her. Nope, sorry. That’s not the kind of example that I want to set for her.
I also have two little boys, and let me assure you that they have done their fair share of kicking, biting, and pushing. And each time, just like sister before them, they have been informed that this is not acceptable and they have been given consequences.
It Discounts Their Intelligence
I want my sons to grow up to be gentlemen. I want them to be kind and courteous. They are smart enough to know the difference between wrong and right, and telling them that boys will be boys is insulting to their intelligence.
We’re basically saying, “Hey dummy, you aren’t smart enough to realize the effect that your words and actions have on others. Like a baby, we are excusing your actions due to your mental incapability.”
This is sad and pathetic enough when it is used as a defense for children, but the problem is that these children are growing into men. And to reiterate, men are smart. They don’t need us to undermine their intellect by talking down to them. Menfolk of all ages are out there making choices, and they need to know that there are direct effects from their actions.
It Sets Them Up For Failure
Setting boundaries and teaching all children, regardless of their gender, about consent is essential. We cannot give a little boy a carte blanche to do whatever he wants because he’s a boy being a boy. Because guess what? The boy will grow. He will grow, and he will grow, and he will grow. He will grow until he is a 23-year-old man-child who will think it’s OK to rape girls on his college campus because he still doesn’t understand that no means no.
That is unacceptable. The male gender is no less capable of understanding consent than female; we need to be honest with boys, who will grow up to be men, about our expectations from them. It should be clear from a young age that there is no justification for treating someone poorly; hurting another person with your actions or with your words should be made unacceptable.
This Is Not A Feminist Issue
Listen, this is not some feminist bullshit that you can roll your eyes at and walk away from. This is real. This is happening. And I know there are men out there, reading this, who are thinking but boys are different. They’re more physical than girls. They express themselves differently.
I agree. Boys are different than girls in many ways and the purpose here is not to lump the genders together and pretend that they are the same. But having male genitalia is not a pretext for bad behavior. We are validating this conduct by writing it off as “normal”. It’s not normal. Your sons, and mine, should be not be excused for the way that they treat other people because of their masculinity.
Lessons To Our Daughters
This, if anything, is one point that I cannot stress enough–if we’re telling boys that they are not held to the same standard as girls, this is also what we’re teaching to our daughters. We are subtly telling them that boys’ aggressive behavior is par for the course.
We are laying the groundwork for their expectations of boys—and men. Picture this; there’s a precious young girl in Kindergarten who gets pushed by a boy on the playground. It’s OK, we assure her, he’s just being a boy! In the 6th grade when a boy touches her in the hallway and she doesn’t want him to–are we still comfortable telling her boys will be boys? When she is at a High School party and a boy kisses her even when she says no, are we going to reaffirm to her that boys will be boys? When a man slips a roofie into her drink at a bar and takes her behind the dumpster—what then? When her husband smacks her around and she looks to us for guidance—what will we say?
What will you say?