Any individual not currently living under a rock has probably heard the expression “boys will be boys.”
It’s an expression used when we decide to shrug our shoulders, roll our eyes, and chalk up the behavior of boys and men to their sex. It’s no secret that the same concept doesn’t quite apply to women (there’s no “girls will be girls” expression floating around, last time I checked). From an early age, girls are taught that they will be held accountable for their actions, and often for the actions of men (more on that later). When it comes to boys and men, on the other hand, we continue to remain hesitant to ask much of them, particularly when it comes to relations between the sexes. Oh, he hit her on the playground? He probably just likes her. Boys will be boys! Oh, those men are making that woman feel uncomfortable by catcalling her? Boys will be boys!
I decided to write an article about this lovely expression and the implications contained therein because of something I recently witnessed in Colombia, where I am currently teaching English. Allow me to share it with you.
A few weeks ago, two women came to the vocational institute where I teach to give a lecture on “family planning.” Prior to their talk, they asked my co-teacher if the class primarily consisted of women, because what they were about to discuss was mostly for the girls to hear. The women went on to give a slide show presentation on “family planning,” during which they mostly addressed the women in the class, and even told them that if they had more than one sexual partner, they were “promiscuous.” Somehow I doubt they would have said something like that to the male students, given that we celebrate men’s sexuality and shame women for theirs.
A couple weeks after that talk, more women came to the school where I teach, to give a talk on “family planning,” and once again asked my co-teacher, who is completely fluent in both Spanish and English and had been translating for me, if the class mostly consisted of female students. After their presentation, I decided to ask him about it: “Twice now people presenting on “family planning” have asked if we mostly teach female students, because they would mostly be addressing the girls in the class. Why is that? Why shouldn’t this talk also be directed towards the boys?” He responded with something along the lines of, “Because we always just expect that men will want to have sex. Women, on the other hand, can say no to sex.”
I couldn’t help but think that that was the biggest load of bullshit I had heard in a while. Um, how about teaching young men that if they aren’t ready to be fathers, they shouldn’t have unprotected sex? What kind of message does it send to young women if “family planning” talks are so obviously directed at them versus their male peers? You, and you alone, are responsible for avoiding an unplanned or unwanted pregnancy. Once again, women have to bear the most responsibility in a case involving both sexes. Not only that, but teaching “family planning” in a way that essentially excludes young men and lets them off the hook tacitly condones a cycle of neglectful fathers, should unplanned pregnancies occur.
When my co-teacher said something like, “we always just expect that men will want to have sex,” I couldn’t help but be reminded of the phrase “boys will be boys.” Why are we so quick to just expect certain things of boys and men, and so willing to excuse them in cases where we ask so much more of women? I understand that I witnessed something occur within the realm of a different culture, but I can’t help but feel frustrated with something that I perceive as being fundamentally sexist. Furthermore, it’s no secret that this sort of mentality is far from being unique to one country. It’s widespread throughout the world.
Our society is more focused on telling women to avoid getting raped than telling men not to rape. We are more focused on why women stay in abusive relationships than why men abuse women in the first place. We are willing to teach “family planning” in a way that unfairly favors men over women and reflects our tendency to expect and propensity to celebrate the sexuality of one half of the population over the other. We need to get over our hesitancy to ask anything of men in such a wide variety of situations. Boys and men need to be held accountable for their actions, just like girls and women are.
Enough with the “boys will be boys” thing.