Preschool – Sam and Jeff are playing in a sandbox, when a little girl walks into the yard. The two boys approach her. Jeff leans in to give her a kiss. She turns away. Sam grabs her so that Jeff can give her a kiss, and they laugh as she runs away screaming … boys will be boys. Middle School -Some friends are hanging out at the local playground. Sam, Jeff, and Mike are tossing a football around. Jeff screws up his throw, and the ball drops like a brick in front of him. Sam and Mike taunt him. “You throw like a girl” … boys will be boys. High School – It’s his senior year, and Jeff is heading out to a movie with his girlfriend. His father, who has never talked to his son about respect or a woman’s right to her own body, meets him at the door. Handing him a condom, he smiles and says “have a good time, son” … boys will be boys. Marriage – Jeff gets married to the woman of his dreams. About a year into the relationship, he is growing irritated over the lack of sex in their relationship, the fact that she doesn’t clean as often as she used to, and her constant failure to live up to the standard of what he was taught a wife should be. Rather than evaluate how he might become a more attentive and loving spouse, or realize that his wife is a person rather than a possession, he resorts to beating and raping her into submission … boys will be … wait a minute. How did this happen?
From preschool through to adulthood, we are told that “boys will be boys.” This one simple phrase is used to explain away behaviours that, rather than being inherent like the phrase would have us believe, are learned. They are learned through our experiences, interactions, and relationships. Although not representative of every man subjected to these ideas, the fictional character of Jeff is all too real. The experience in preschool taught him that girls are weak and can be objectified for his amusement. The taunting over his botched throw in Middle School taught him that girls are not to be taken seriously, and are terrible at sports. The deplorable example set by his father re-enforced all of that, and taught him to assume that, as a man, he is entitled to have sex with any woman he takes out (her choice doesn’t even enter into the equation … she should want it). When it came to marriage, Jeff looked for a wife who embodied the qualities that he was taught he deserved. Pretty, obedient, submissive, a good cook, domestically inclined, and wholly dedicated to him. When those expectations weren’t met, he dealt with it in a way that he assumed was appropriate. If women are weak sexualized objects who are not to be taken seriously, and less valuable than men overall, then how else would he “keep her in line?” Given what he was taught about women, beating and rape seemed to him appropriate discipline and acceptable marital relations. The misogynistic, sexist, and egocentric ideals ingrained within him led to a worldview completely out of touch with reality. Like it or not, gender roles are no longer what they were in the 1950’s. We still cling to tradition though, don’t we? Boys will be boys, after all.
Rape culture is gaining in popularity, and with that overall abuse against women is on the rise. Modern Feminism is under attack by both men and women who subscribe to patriarchal ideals while claiming that the patriarchy doesn’t exist. The patriarchy, however, is a historical fact. One has only to open any history book to see that, and “boys will be boys” is the greatest method by which it stays alive.
Forget “boys will be boys.” Boys are not inherently anything in particular, and neither are girls. We are taught, depending on our physical sex, what is expected of us. Our gendered behaviours are learned. Boys will be what they are taught to be. If the phrase “boys will be boys” is to remain in use, I do hope that it someday looks something like this: Jeff and his wife, Mary, went out to dinner. While at the restaurant, they had a deep discussion in which ideas flowed and Jeff was reminded of the qualities that he loved most about Mary. Intelligent, independent, strong, caring, and beautiful. Having been taught that women are human beings with equal value and dignity, Jeff’s union with Mary was an exemplary model of love, respect, and commitment. She made him feel whole … boys will be boys.