TW: Mention of Violence, Suicide and Sexual Assault
Boys Will Be Boys. This everyday phrase has sparked widespread, complicated debate. It isn’t very simple to explain all the problems that it causes and I’m sure there are fantastic academics that have discussed it further than I will attempt in this blog piece. However, I aim to spark thought and research into the problem, and even perhaps I will make some readers think twice the next time they fall into using this stereotypical phrase!
Gender studies is certainly not a new phenomenon or researched area, it is much discussed amongst academics and people on a daily basis. There are books and films on trying to fit men and women into boxes, how to figure out the other gender and the characteristics that we expect of each gender in various environments such as the workplace. Common stereotypes are represented, women are kind and more facilitative of the two genders, whereas men are the authoritative go-getters. And whilst many of these may challenge common gender stereotypes, there are still so many that uphold them. Whether indirectly or directly, the enforcement of gender stereotypes in turn justifies many behaviours that otherwise would be challenged, some of which can be violent.
Even in the modern era, this somewhat 'old-fashioned' term seems to follow the most bizarre displays of behaviour or language and even emotion. When a male is loud and violent, or on the other hand when a male struggles to convey his feelings, it is often followed by – well you know, boys will be boys - and in turn, justifying a behaviour or reinforcing a stereotype. This phrase is pushed onto young men and is then used by them too as they grow older. When young boys fight parents may say boys will be boys, or when a teenage boy is angry and hormonal teachers say boys will be boys and most of all when men catcall the victim is often told boys will be boys. In all of these instances, the term is used as a reason to why the particular behaviour happens, and the reason is supposedly their gender.
Being a boy doesn’t automatically make you violent, angry or sexually inappropriate, however, these stereotypes being repetitively reinforced from such an early age results in the validation of such behaviours, forcing boys into this gendered stereotype. For these young boys when they hear their parents say boys will be boys after displaying violent behaviour it reinforces it and shapes how they behave in later adult life.
When a young boy has a messy bedroom or is mean to a girl on the playground, the behaviour is brushed off as 'boys being boys', and many are never taught anything else. Many will then never learn basic domestic knowledge, expecting that throughout their life their inability to perform domestic labour will be brushed under the rug, and that negative behaviour is just the correct way to treat women.
The phrase needs to be challenged and stopped as it condones negative behaviours that affect all genders. Furthermore, recently men's mental health has been a growing topic of discussion, and with male suicide numbers sadly rising, we need to encourage young boys and men to talk about how they feel, that it is ok to cry and show emotion, that it does not make them 'weak'.
It may seem shocking, but the 'boys will be boys' mentality is also used in instances of sexual harassment towards women, which again doesn’t hold behaviour accountable, and enforces the idea that they are almost entitled to behave in this way because of their gender. One major recent example of this was within the reaction to the Brett Kavanaugh allegations. Within a televised panel of Republicans, one woman stated [in regards to allegations of attempted sexual assault] "What 17-year-old boy hasn't done this in high school?" whilst Donald Trump claimed his own discussions of sexually assaulting women in 2016 were just 'locker-room talk'.
I recognise that it is difficult to challenge and even stop the commonality of phrases that are so prominently used within society but it is important we acknowledge the damage it causes not only to the boys the phrase is pushed onto, but also to the victims of whatever the behaviour is being justified.
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Cover Image courtesy of Phoebe (@everybodys_invited on IG)
A lover of Wilde and Shelley, and a guilty pleasure for 80s music. I believe chocolate and tea can solve 98% of my problems, I am always up for new challenges and learning new things!