My little daughter had an incident in kindergarten recently. During recess, my daughter was shoved by another kid. As probably expected, I was angry and upset, and wished to understand what had happened. The following day, I approached the teacher and asked her what caused the altercation. The teacher’s response infuriated me. She simply said: “Oh you know, boys will be boys.” When she told me that sentence I had to end the conversation because it left me winded. How can a sentence like that be acceptable in 2019? In my opinion, this sentence should never be used as it is very dangerous.
The expression attempts to explain away aggressive behaviors committed by boys by linking it with “natural” or “biological” impulses. What it doesn’t do is examine the other reasons behind that behavior, besides the kids’ sex, such as family, financial state, neglect of any sort, and many more. By linking it to their sex, we are giving men an easy excuse to fall on as they get older. If there is anything we learned anything from the enormous progress our society has made in recent years, its that men must be held accountable for their actions. Using this phrase allows harmful behaviors to continue unchecked and possibly worsen over time. Instead of making excuses, we need to make it clear that violent behavior of any kind is not tolerated, no matter your gender.
Also, by using this phrase, we teach children that certain behaviors are endemic and exclusive to boys alone. It makes us believe that there are boy things and girl things, when in fact it is a lot wider than that. We ignore the true wide spectrum and variety of behaviors that people can display. We need to be able to talk more openly and in a more complex matter about this spectrum, about children’s behaviors, instead of leading them down the path of socially constructed pink and blue scripts.
It is important to note that it can also be spotted in the boys’ category alone. See, not all boys are the same either. Boys will be boys is a trap. It puts boys in a box, making them feel they have to be tough, self-sufficient, interested in sports, etc., otherwise they won’t count as real men. This leads us to the subject of toxic masculinity.
‘Masculinity’ is a socially constructed identity. According to the New York Times, toxic masculinity has been defined by researchers, in part, as a set of behaviors and beliefs that include the following: suppressing emotions or masking distress, maintaining an appearance of hardness, and violence as an indicator of power. Toxic masculinity is what we see when we teach boys these lessons, when we tell them they can’t express their emotions openly or that they have to maintain a tough appearance at all times. We teach them that if they don’t follow these roles they will seem “feminine” or weak. We need to work on changing that, but not alone. The responsibility here lies on the men. Men should start holding other men accountable. No more “Boys will be boys”, no more “men club” mentalities.
Where do we come in? We have to come together as a society and change the definition of manhood and masculinity. We need to dig deep into our culture and take a closer look at the messages we illuminate. We have to stop using “Boys will be boys” as an easy way out, as an excuse. We need to condemn violence and bad behaviors. We need to remember that no behaviors are endemic or exclusive to girls or boys alone, but rather it is a wide spectrum of behaviors people can display. We have to be able to talk about children’s behavior in more complex and distinctive ways, rather than trap them or hold them down to socially constructed scripts of blue and pink, of dolls and race cars, of violence and tenderness. Boys will be boys is dangerous, and it is time something will be done about it.