How many times have you heard the phrase “boys will be boys?” Probably too many times to count — and if you are like most people, you probably simply accepted it as just one of those things that people say. You might have even said it yourself when you saw a young boy acting unruly. But if you stop and think about it, that phrase is really troubling.
As Jackson Katz put it, “the argument that ‘boys will be boys’ actually carries the profoundly anti-male implication that we should expect bad behavior from boys and men. The assumption is that they are somehow not capable of acting appropriately, or treating girls and women with respect.”
The logic of Katz’ argument is simple, yet it is one that far too many people will reject. As a culture, we have gotten used to excusing boys’ behavior with this phrase, with the result being that we have actually lowered our expectations of how boys and men should act.
This plays out in a number of ways. Take school dress codes, for example. When girls are sent home from school for exposing their shoulders or their legs, they are often told that it’s because they are a “distraction” to the boys in the class. Putting aside the fact that the girls’ education is being disrupted to ensure that boys are not distracted, think about the implications of these statements. School administrators and teachers have essentially decided that boys are so incapable of focusing — that they are nothing more than their most base instincts — that entire dress codes must be devised to prevent them from being distracted. What does that say about our faith in boys and their abilities?
Similarly, when people warn women that they need to dress in certain ways, or else men will be tempted to assault or harass them, it again makes the assumption that men are incapable of controlling their actions or impulses. Why do we assume that men are incapable of acting appropriately unless women are completely covered at all times?
Men and boys alike are more than up to the task of treating women and girls with respect. They are more than “boys will be boys,” and can rise above “locker room talk.” We believe that men deserve better than this, and should be treated as such. Lowered expectations for boys and men are harmful because they assume that boys and men will act badly. We reject them. Let’s hold everyone to a high standard — and let’s work together to end violence.