“Boys will be boys”. It sets my teeth on edge even to write, let alone hear, those words. Up ‘til now, whenever I’ve taken issue with the utterance of this despicable expression, I’ve been shut down with, “What do you know? You don’t have sons.” Well, no more. I call BS on that. Because I’ve thought about it and deconstructed it, and we all know what happens when I start thinking and deconstructing: I’m about to blast your myth wide open and send it packing. Ready to unpack it?
What behavior prompts us to remark, with mock resignation, “Boys will be boys”? It’s always undesirable behavior. Think about it: Have you ever witnessed a boy exhibiting admirable behavior and someone remarking, “Boys will be boys”? No. Because "Boys will be boys" is always used to excuse undesirable behavior.
It begins in early childhood with boys being rambunctious. We more or less tolerate rambunctiousness; after all, it’s just a stage, right? Well, it depends. We claim to approve of it, but do we really? We “approve” of it the same way we “approve” of babies defecating into a diaper instead of a toilet: because we can’t expect any more of them, and we know that they must reach a certain developmental stage before we can begin teaching them the socially acceptable way and place to defecate. But we do agree it must be taught; ceasing to defecate “wherever” with no show of control is not likely to just happen by itself; in other words, it’s not just a stage that’s going to pass, like teething; it requires our active intervention.
As does rambunctiousness, which if not contained or properly channeled in early childhood, emerges later in the form of frat boy behavior (which among others, occasionally involves defecating…wherever). So at what point do we stop excusing undesirable behavior with "Boys will be boys"? I say it should never begin; those words – as well as “boys and girls: different” – should never be uttered, because both are used for the same purpose: to excuse antisocial behavior on the parts of boys.
By antisocial behavior I mean behavior that is unacceptable for an adult. This is why I draw a distinction between rambunctiousness and rowdiness. Frat boy behavior = rambunctious. It’s 12yo and even toddler (see above) behavior being exhibited by individuals who are biologically men but whose upbringing undoubtedly contained utterances of "Boys will be boys". Do we adults tolerate rambunctiousness in each other? No. If and when it’s exhibited, we reflexively recoil and distance ourselves therefrom. Not so with rowdiness.
Rowdiness differs in its connotation from rambunctiousness. Rowdiness 1) has its time and place; and 2) is engaged in by both genders and all ages, even octogenarians. Unlike “getting rowdy”, we rarely if ever hear of girls being rambunctious, and that’s not a coincidence: It’s because the latter is a behavior of which we disapprove, if not in little boys, then ultimately in all socialized adults.
After rambunctiousness, boys who hear "Boys will be boys" move on to undesirable behavior that involves only boys: fistfights, lack of impulse control, destructiveness, viewing pornography*. Subsequently, "Boys will be boys"-eliciting behavior starts to involve young women: snapping girls’ bra straps in elementary school; peeking into girls’ bathrooms or locker rooms in junior high. Then it progresses to relating to and treating young women as prizes or objects; and after that it’s not respecting “No”; overpowering women, assault, abuse — all behaviors that we simultaneously condemn explicitly and condone implicitly every time we say "Boys will be boys". And notice: All behaviors that elicit "Boys will be boys" have a perpetrator and a victim.
Like Soraya Chemaly, I’m not saying that the son of every parent who has ever uttered "Boys will be boys" is destined to become an abuser; I’m saying that these words do nobody any good: It’s time we excised them from our vocabularies. I for one will no longer be silent when I’m told I have no standing to oppose them because I have “only daughters”. On the contrary: I precisely have standing to oppose them on behalf of my daughters, and all daughters, everywhere.
* I know this last is viewed by many as proof of healthy sexual development; whether or not that is true, it can’t be argued that it involves objectification of women, of which we (hopefully) disapprove.