"Boys will be boys"

So while this post is partly about the Gillette ad… still. It’s also not because the ad and all the conversations around it are about so much more than a razor advertisement.

Some view it as an attack on men and all things masculine. Some see it as a call to action for male accountability and respect. I already shared my thoughts on it. This one is about that old adage, usually accompanied by a laugh or a sigh, “Boys will be boys.”

Now, I’ve heard the argument from others, but Matt here does a pretty good job articulating what I’ve heard before, so I’m gonna quote him.

“Boys will be boys” is not a rationale for bad behavior. In my entire life I have never once heard anyone, ever, offer “boys will be boys” as an excuse for rape or bullying. I have never seen a bunch of men standing around watching a kid pummel another kid while they all nod in approval and say “boys will be boys” to one another, like programed automatons. ...

In any case, “boys will be boys” does not generally function as an excuse. It is a cliche but, like many cliches, it contains great wisdom. Boys will indeed be boys, and should be boys, and should be allowed to be boys without their natural boy-ness being constantly suppressed. Boys are energetic, aggressive, creative, competitive. They need safe and accepting outlets for these impulses. Incidentally, rolling around and roughhousing is one such outlet. The ad shows an enlightened man swooping in to stop a couple of young boys from wrestling around in the grass, which is exactly the wrong approach. As long as it’s all in good fun, and nobody is getting seriously hurt, and it is not a case of assault or actual bullying, then the fatherly instinct to step back and let the boys be boys is correct.

There are only, in the end, two options. Either we let boys act like boys or we force them to act like girls. But the latter option makes as much sense as forcing girls to act like boys. You wouldn’t demand that your daughter stop playing with dolls and go out and wrestle in the grass instead. Why should we demand the reverse of boys? That’s the point of “boys will be boys,” and God help the boys cursed with parents who don’t understand this point.
— Matt Walsh - https://www.dailywire.com/news/42190/walsh-5-reasons-why-gillettes-toxic-masculinity-ad-matt-walsh

I am so glad that some people have never heard “boys will be boys” used as an excuse for bad behavior. But let me just say, it doesn’t always come in the form of “boys will be boys”. Maybe you’ve heard some of the others. I reached on in a couple of groups for phrases others have heard and I got more than 75 responses (in just a few days). This is just a small sampling:

  • Well, he’s a guy, what did you expect?

  • Teasing you and pulling your hair or pushing you is just how they show that they like you. Guys are like that sometimes.

  • They can’t help it. That’s just how they are.

  • It’s locker room talk.

  • Boys only have one thing on their mind. Yes, all boys. (When I was a teenage girl, I heard this one - a lot.)

  • Boys need to ____; it’s in their nature.

  • He’s a man’s man.

  • Girls mature faster than boys.

  • It’s just puberty.

  • You should take it as a compliment.

  • He’s thinking with his other brain.

  • You shouldn’t be so sensitive.

Now, I don’t know about the rest of you, but those sound like excuses to me. And usually when people roll their eyes and mutter “boys will be boys” it’s because the kid has done something deemed “in their nature” possibly even inescapably so.

In raising my 6-year-old son, I believe the last time I said it was because he got in trouble for making fart noises in school. Do I really think it’s just a boy thing? No. My friend’s daughter comes up to me giggling while she makes fart noises too. I explained to him that there’s a time and place to be silly and joke and that during class time was not it. I said it because I honestly was not surprised he got in trouble for that. It’s in my son’s nature to make those jokes and noises, and we’re working on teaching him when it’s appropriate and when it’s not. But really, I could have just said “Kids will be kids.”

So, when people say “boys will be boys” and when they use any of the other phrases above - they are, at the very least, saying that - “it’s in their nature”… and that sounds an awful lot like an excuse to me. Not always excusing bad behavior, but excusing the behavior.

I can agree with Matt Walsh in that there’s nothing wrong with a little roughhousing when it’s all in good fun. We had no real point of context for the ad, so who knows if that was “fun” or a fight. I know that when I was little, one of my favorite things to do was wrestle and roughhouse with other kids. Kids do have a lot of energy. Some kids do thrive off competition and need creative outlets. I am all for helping them find these nourishing healthy outlets to do all of that. I don’t believe that these behaviors or actions are limited to boys or girls, sorry Mr. Walsh.

”There are only, in the end, two options. Either we let boys act like boys or we force them to act like girls.”

Uhm, why? Why are those the only two options? Why is not excusing inappropriate behavior equal to forcing them to act like girls? Why is behavior classified as boyish or girlish rather than respectful and not, considerate or not, nurturing or not, empathetic or not? How does holding boys and young men responsible for their behavior force them to act like girls? The idea that curbing some toxic behaviors means emasculating men is incredibly narrow-minded.

“Boys will be boys” is an excuse. Plain and simple. By saying it, and phrases like it, we are saying, “Of course they acted that way, it’s just the way they are.” It might be good behavior (finding my kid covered in mud because he was exploring for bugs) and it might be bad (punching someone in an expression of anger) but it is always an excuse.