“Boys will be boys” is one of those phrases that people think is harmless. Boys are rough, silly, and mature slower than girls. And girls are expected just to be okay with it because, like it or not, that is the way it is. Violence and anger should never be regarded as signs of affection, but they are. So, I wonder, did that boy upgrade from pulling hair to pulling skirts? Did he go from innocent name calling to slut-shaming? I wonder if he still gets away with it.
If boys will be boys, then what will girls be? Perfect? Silent? How do we set an example for boys when the sitting president of the United States refers to sexual assault as ”locker room talk” or when the former first lady is judged more on her appearance than her political prowess? It can seem almost impossible to combat this toxic mentality when hyper-masculinity is everywhere in popular culture. Girls are often left wondering why they are told to be silent in the face of abuse.
A mother of two, Lisa Senecal, wrote an article for USA Today about raising sons in today’s society. She writes, “Until recently, I thought the greatest good I could do in raising my sons was to focus on how they will interact with women. I now believe that I was wrong. It’s terribly important, but it is not what will cause a sea change in society. When we instill the admirable character trait of courage in our sons, it must include the courage to challenge the words and actions of other men and boys.”
She continues, “‘Guys, you need to stop. That’s not cool,’ is bold for a high school boy to say to friends who are harassing a girl. ‘Hold on a minute, she wasn’t finished speaking and I’d like to hear what she has to say,’ is a brave statement in professional settings dominated by men. ‘Come on, man, she said no, she doesn’t need to explain why,’ is an act of courage when confronting the bro in the bar who’s become hostile toward a woman who rejected his advance.”
We kid ourselves into believing that we don’t live in a gendered society anymore when, really, we thrive on this dichotomy, and any kind of fluidity makes us uncomfortable. Instead of letting our differences control us, we should be calling each other out when we do something wrong. Men especially, as Senecal says, have a responsibility to use their privilege to try and correct a sexist society from which they currently benefit. By acknowledging this, we can work towards change.
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