“Boys Will Be Boys”: Socializing Children and Setting Up For Failure
Who here has seen the movie “He’s Just Not That Into You”? I’m linking the opening scene here-~-if you’ve never watched it, take a look, because while this may be a silly chick flick movie, I think the writers make an excellent point in the first two minutes of the film that I’m not sure I’d seriously considered before.
What’s this message I’m talking about? I’m pretty sure that at some point, just about every little girl is told that a boy is being mean to her because he likes her. Maybe this is true, maybe it’s not. If it is true, then we really need to work on how we socialize guys-~-because I’m pretty sure that mentality is what helps lead to people justifying domestic violence as a show of love. But part of the problem with this socialization is that we teach little girls to accept this (which tells little boys this is acceptable). We teach little girls that guys being jerks is a good thing, and that girls should just accept this.
I think it’s pretty apparent that we need to re-examine what it is we are teaching kids.
The reality is that this is often our first lesson in interpreting the behavior of the opposite sex. And it sets us up for a lifetime of accepting people being jerky to us, because we’ve been taught to make excuses. I’m sure my mom and dad meant well telling me that the guy who kept messing with me in seventh grade just had a crush on me, but whether or not he liked me, the fact is, this kid was harassing me and people were making excuses for him. Instead, someone should have been telling me how to deal with it: what to say to get him to stop, how to talk to teachers if it was really bothering me…a solution which, I admit, probably wouldn’t have worked because those same teachers would have given that same excuse.
In this particular example, we are teaching women to accept mistreatment, and to interpret it as a sign of affection, which is pretty clearly flawed and potentially dangerous. But that’s not really the end of it. Because “he likes you” isn’t exactly the only excuse that people make for bad behavior among children-~-or even young adults.
Which brings us to “boys will be boys”. This excuse, all on its own, manages to write off mistreatment of women, negative and potentially dangerous aspects of masculinity, and elements of rape culture…and we have GOT to stop using it. I’ve been thinking about this one since SlutWalk, when one of our speakers here in DC shared an anecdote about a boy harassing her at a bus stop, which prompted her to speak to his mother. The mother simply replied “boys will be boys”, and the speaker regarded this as a betrayal. Why? Because instead of doing the responsible thing-~-in this case, teaching her son not to harass women-~-this mother simply wrote off his behavior as normal and acceptable, simply because he was a boy.
The real problem with this is pretty simple: it tells boys that they are right to be pushy, aggressive, and disrespectful of boundaries, and that it is both normal and acceptable for them to ignore the feelings and wishes of the women around them. This may not seem like a big deal when it’s a boy poking a girl on the bus or making fun of her glasses or standing too close to her on the lunch line, but at the end of the day, those boys grow up to men who are responsible for problems like sexual harassment, street harassment, overly aggressive behavior, and even rape.
On the other hand, if we taught boys to respect girls from the age of FIVE-~-if we taught them that no means no, that when a girl says to stop that’s exactly what they should do, that it’s not okay to hurt girls or push girls around-~-then those behaviors wouldn’t become normalized. Boys could be boys without being bullies. Sexual harassment wouldn’t seem like a logical extension of “boys being boys”, it would be glaringly obvious that it was a problem. We’d have better communication in relationships, and women wouldn’t think they have to accept jerky behavior as a sign of affection.
The way we socialize children sets the stage for what behaviors they internalize and accept as normal throughout their lives. We start using the excuse “boys will be boys” starting when boys are about 6 and use it up through the early 20′s. We start telling girls when they’re in elementary school that they should accept boys treating them badly-~-but they shouldn’t. Boys may be boys but enough is enough. It’s time for our society to take a good hard look at the excuses we’re offering for people’s behavior and whether or not that behavior deserves to be excused-~-and I, for one, think it’s about time that boys learned that a Y-chromosome doesn’t excuse poor behavior.
Who knows? We might end up with a safer, happier society if we stopped teaching kids that bad is okay and good is exceptional, and started demanding a lot more from the people around us.