Last week, shortly after publishing my post on violence against women, my dad posted on Facebook expressing some level of distress over the brokenness of boys and men in our society. I couldn’t believe that my dad and I being on the same wavelength was a coincidence so I took the opportunity to talk about how we talk about violence and what a disservice it is to everyone. I was pleasantly surprised when my comments garnered some positive attention and I’m hopeful that the line of thinking I presented last week will carry through to my post today.
For several years now, I have been somewhat distressed at the language we use when talking about boys and young men. “Boys will be boys,” is an oft-heard refrain when boys and young men, or I should way white boys and young men, engage in poor behavior. It’s used to excuse them as we conspiratorially chuckle to ourselves feeling pleased that this behavior is going to turn them into “real men”. These are boys who will never be called a pussy, bitch, or a pansy. Nobody is ever going to tell that male to “grow some balls.” A person who grows up hearing the refrain “boys will be boys” will never behave in a way that will call his masculinity into question.
There is, of course, a problem with the way we speak about the mischievous ways of boys. It means that the Margaret Atwood quote “’Men are afraid that women will laugh at them. Women are afraid that men will kill them” will continue to ring true in our world. Using phrases like “boys will be boys” means that the regular childhood struggles of learning boundaries will lead our boys to feel entitled to behave in any way they want. But this phrasing also means that when parents see their children’s boundaries be violated we might be afraid to confront the behavior lest we are told to just “chill out”. After all “boys will be boys.”