It’s a phrase uttered throughout movies, TV, and music. It’s not just pop culture, it’s pervasive throughout all of modern culture across multiple generations and continents for nearly the last half-millenia. The turn of phrase used to excuse the actions of boys from childhood all way through to the elderly. An excuse uttered to cover for social disgrace or a devastating lack of control, many are not even being sexist when they say this phrase but they unknowingly are.
This phrase, where there is no equivalent for women, is said to originally be used to explain the youthful energy of childhood. This too, did not include girls, who were too often told to be seen and not heard. Yes there are phrases for girls such as ‘big girls don’t cry’, ‘some girls’ and ‘girly’ but none of these phrases are ever used to excuse and explain away disgusting behavior. Frankly, no, the kids will not be fine hearing it. Kids are not born inherently looking to violate another persons boundaries, this behavior is taught and conditioned into adulthood.
Most often times, we see it uttered by parents to state and then brush off improper behavior displayed by a male in public. Sometimes it’s boys roughhousing around with a group of other boys and while this isn’t alright either, the more unsettling aim of this phrase has been to outright justify assaults perpetrated against women.
Regardless of age, or frankly, gender, assault is assault. No amount of boys being boys, or the girl asking for it, or how one is dressed or acting gives implicit permission to act against the stated wishes of another person. This phrase, so often used to end a conversation therefore explicitly indicates on some level that the speaker is aware of this socially unacceptable behavior and is giving license to continue this tradition of toxicity. Frankly, no, the kids will not be fine hearing it, accepting this vision of normal.
Rather than teaching tolerance and acceptable behaviors, parents are teaching their boys that their bad behavior will be excused away while simultaneously teaching girls that the world will work against them at every turn. Some mothers, not even aware of what they are perpetuating, go one step further to tell their daughters that not only is this behavior alright, but is promoted as good relationship etiquette.
This promotion of gender exclusivity changes how little boys and little girls will think of themselves. This his versus her idea from childhood, will lead on into adulthood where teen boys will happily snap girls bra straps thinking they’ll get a slap on the wrist while girls learn that they are once again seen as an object, rather than having a state opinion.
The idea that snapping a bra strap in any setting, let alone a school setting, gets a more lenient punishment than a girl punching a boy afterwards for defending herself is frankly appalling. To speak nothing of other cultures but this idea is not a fiction in modern American culture, it is fact. Girls grow up to be women with great intuition they say and yes some of it great intuition but it is also a paranoia born of experience with assault.
Out there, someone has taken the time to compile statistics of how many women out of 5 or 10 is ever assaulted. Even less compiled, is how many women are assaulted and come forward. Many of them know that reporting someone may end up with greater retaliation against themselves so they remain silent. Calling someone a victim reduces the strength of the survivor, taking something from them that they never get back.
The fact that such a statistic exists to be compiled and calculated into percentages takes away the human element, the pain suffered, and the scars that never heal. Regardless of gender, assault is assault. Defined unwanted physical and verbal behavior perpetrated against another person, a majority are men acting against women, with men successfully getting away with it.
He has a bright future they might say, depending on his race. She deserved it, depending on if she fit the description. That issue of utter inequality aside, it’s even more prevalent for men in positions of power and celebrity to get away with it. Swept under the rug by the media and a pack of lawyers, a popularity contest, and a tirade of loyal-if blind- fans excuse behavior away all the time.
Yet knowingly or otherwise, we shouldn’t. What does it say for our culture, that a female bartender is an especially tempting target for assault because men know she’s female and has cash tips. What does it say about our culture that a female law enforcement agent is seen as less aggressive than an average man on the street. Even more insidious is the female nurse that deals with this trauma as a matter of course for her job. Regardless of whatever statistics can be found, these ideas stay with us because they are the reality.
As a culture, we should teach more tolerance and equality. Some cultures teach their young women how to handle their liquor as a way to defend against unwanted attention but this is only part of the battle. Other young women stay on the phone with friends and family while walking home late at night, ready to shout their location to be rescued in case anything untoward should be happening to them. Those lucky enough have a ride or can afford a ride home to safety but many cannot.
These strategies are measures used to combat the expectation of assault. In a world where the perception of possible assault is the reality of assault, a change needs to be made. This cannot be a singular move, a singular aspect that changes such as safety, sports, wages, and throughout all of culture. It’s fine and healthy to have a positive gender identity but not to the exclusion and detriment of everyone and everything else.
It is not enough that a woman is seen as merely strong, they are in fact already that and so much more. An example to illustrate this example is that in books, all a woman has to be is physically strong and beautiful while her male counterpart gets the lions share of the other compliments. Similarly, in video games, we see where male armor adds to the hulking figure of the character but the female armor is merely a bikini with some arm guards.
The reality that needs to change starts with the parents of today. The perception from generations past, once the standard by which all parents thought, is slowly but surely going away. Already, shifts have begun in the wave of female political figures and a decrease in gender wage gaps we are seeing. Movies, music, food, and the rest of culture will come around eventually but this is an uphill war, not simply a singular battle.
So no, the phrase ‘Boys will be Boys’ has no place in the future culture of American Society. It cannot, if we are to ever have any true measure of equality. Out there, someones’ wife, mother, aunt, cousin, sister, or friend is pondering their safety as they walk home. They are wondering what the next hit might be, or the next unwanted advance they’ll have to dodge. They’ll rely on their intuition and hard-won skills to survive what society has deemed merely acceptable behavior. Until the day we get rid of that phrase and another one doesn’t replace it, equality isn’t a possibility, it’s a pipe dream.