Arts & Culture Life

“Boys will be boys” is an outdated expression and a toxic idea

Dismissing violent, harassing or non-consensual behavior as just a part of being a boy isn't going to fly anymore.

The Brett Kavanaugh case is a prime example of why the excuse of “boys will be boys” is not going to fly anymore. Kavanaugh was accused by Christine Blasey Ford of pinning her down on a bed as she struggled to get away, when the two were teenagers. Ford testified to congress that he tried to forcibly remove her clothes and held his hand over her mouth when she tried to scream, as another boy in the room turned up the music to cover the sounds. On CNN, Gina Sosa, a former congressional candidate reacted to the story by saying, “We’re talking about a 17-year-old boy, in high school, testosterone running high. Tell me what boy hasn’t done this in high school?”

Kavanaugh went on to be confirmed to the United States Supreme Court.

Because people use this horrid excuse, many younger boys will look up at these men and think “it’s okay for me to do this, because I can become a successful person in the future and no one will care.”

The idea that “boys will be boys” oversimplifies bigger issues. There is a cycle that goes on because of this. Boys are taught that some minor misbehavior is easily dismissed by this gendered excuse. For some, these habits continue to grow and develop into an attitude of entitlement. If a teen boy were to sexually harass or sexually assault a girl, he is able to rely on this excuse, knowing others will come to his defense and counterattack by questioning the accuser’s motives, perhaps, as in the Kavanaugh case,  accusing the woman of ruining his reputation and career. And if the man gets away with it, then boys may see this as further justification and proof–both that they will not be held accountable and that women lie. As this happens, the cycle repeats all over again. If no one is questioning this dismissive rhetoric, it is detrimental to everyone involved, men and women.

This cycle begins at the beginning in elementary school. I have memories of elementary school when our classes would go to our little buddies’ classrooms to help with projects and activities. Many times they would be given playtime and I recall a particular boy that would constantly knock over other children’s castles that they had built. The teacher told that boy not to do it again. However, the child kept knocking over the other children’s castles, and the behavior was excused because “he couldn’t help himself,” or “he was just going through a phase.”

When teachers, parents, and public figures dismiss non-consensual behavior in boys, it reinforces it. A boy may think after hearing “boys will be boys” so many times that it might be excusable to do other things such as slapping girls butts because that’s just what teenage boys do to teenage girls. It is past time for us to be clear about what crosses into the area of sexual harassment, and that these behaviours will not be excused or condoned.

When boys are not taught that it is not okay to harm other people in physical, emotional, or mental ways, such as knocking over their castle without consent, it is likely to reflect in the way that they treat others. Consent in bigger situations, such as having sex, will not cross the boy’s mind if he has not been taught the simplest levels of consent. Here, the excuse of “boys will be boys” is still used to dismiss this behavior. When boys aren’t held accountable for these crimes, it leads to the normalization of sexual assault and rape.

Tom Nichols, former Senate aide and professor at the US Naval War college defended Kavanaugh by tweeting “what you did… as a boy suddenly becomes you’re a man like that”. Nichols clearly stands behind Kavanaugh by effectively saying that he should not be held accountable for the crimes he committed as a 17-year-old. The arguments that came back against Christine Blasey Ford are not based on the allegations, but on the fact that it happened when Kavanaugh was a “boy.” Based on this, they are not denying that it happened, but denying that it matters.

Oversimplifying the issues that are brought up by the young boys’ behavior displayed in schools, at home, and in public places is not okay. There are many factors that contribute to the way that people behave, not just biological factors, but also external factors: parental influences, school influences, peers, social media influences, celebrities, TV shows and movies, and stereotypical roles, party culture, and the effects of drinking and drug use, the list could go on and on. But when you address one or more of these issues you can help stop the vicious cycle.

Women are not taken seriously with the multiple accounts of sexual assault that are thrown back at the men who committed these crimes. The unwanted sexual encounters reported by Jessica Leeds, Rachel Crooks, Natasha Stoynoff, and Mindy McGillivray and many others against Donald Trump back in 2016 were not taken seriously and did not stop Trump from being elected into the highest office in the land, the same way that Kavanaugh was elected into the Supreme Court despite the claims made against him. This exposes the falsity of the idea that women ruin any chances that they have in careers and wrecking their reputations.

The only solution to this vicious cycle is for the cause to stop. When we reject the rhetoric that dismisses young boy’s misbehavior we can contribute to the stopping of this cycle. The boys need to be taught that harassing girls is not okay whether they are children, teens, or adults. The consequences that follow the actions must be severe enough that they, and future generations, will not repeat these offences, and start the cycle all over again.

Cover Image: Pexels/Brian Schneider

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