Recently, I’ve used this blog to talk about things we should say more often, phrases that mean something important and words that roll off the tongue beautifully. Today, though, I want to talk about the other side of that coin, about a phrase that I think has no place in our world, a phrase that, if I had my way, would be struck from the language entirely. Today I want to talk about “boys will be boys.”
First off, the phrase is too often used to excuse actions that shouldn’t be excused. 7th Grade boys slapping the butts of their female classmates even after being asked to stop? Boys will be boys. High school boys creating a Facebook page in which they rate girls based on attractiveness and make a game out of sleeping with as many as possible? Boys will be boys. College boys taking it a step to far at a frat party with a girl too drunk to say no? Boys will be boys. Perhaps the phrase was once a way of telling young boys to embrace the innocence and fun of childhood for as long as they could before the world turned them into adults, but nowadays it has become a justification for the unjustifiable.
Second, saying “boys will be boys” assumes that certain things are integrally part of what it means to be a boy, that all boys are like this. Yes, there are undoubtedly boys who enjoy acting mischievous, playing pranks, a generally being boisterous, and these boys are wonderful. But there are also boys who prefer an afternoon reading to a morning playing tag, boys who enjoy the company of their parents more than that of other boys, and boys who take more joy in having Legos in their hands than any kind of ball, and these boys are wonderful as well. Furthermore, the phrase also implicitly assumes that only boys enjoy these kinds of activities, while plenty of girls all over the world love mischief and roughhousing just as much as boys do. The phrase is simply too narrow minded to have a place in our diverse world.
It’s when we combine these two problems with “boys will be boys,” however, that the phrase becomes most dangerous and frightening. If we use the phrase to excuse inexcusable wrongdoing, and if the phrase implies that what it excused is integral to being a boy, then we’re saying that such unjustifiable wrongdoing is simply part of boyhood. We’re saying that when it comes to girls, boys have no more control over themselves than animals. We’re saying that boys can’t truly be blamed for sexual assault because it’s hardwired into them. We’re saying that, no matter what you teach them, no matter how you raise them, boys will always cross a line when it comes to girls, simply because that is their nature, simply because they cannot do better.
I refuse to take part in this. I refuse to believe that my gender cannot help itself, that an inability to understand the word “no” is embedded in the Y chromosome. We cannot to demean and insult young boys by telling them they are incapable of treating women with the respect that they deserve, and so we need to stop saying “boys will be boys.” We need to stop saying “boys will be boys” because some things are truly inexcusable. We need to stop saying “boys will be boys” because young boys must be taught from an early age that they are capable of being far more than the worst of their gender, and that they will be held accountable for their failures to do so. We need to stop saying that “boys will be boys” because they won’t always be boys. One day they will be men, and we need to do what we can to make sure they grow up to be good ones.