I was about 14-15 when one day I noticed that a young male domestic worker at my house was trying to peep in from a window while I was having a bath. I complained to my dad, and he told me not to pay much attention to this since, ‘boys are like that’. Probably in his own way he was trying to tell me not to be too bothered by this. I didn’t say anything then, but I guess what troubled me was that he did not scold the guy (at least not to my knowledge.)
Years later, at my college, while attending a course on ‘sexuality’, I had a kind of eye-opening moment about the number of things we take in our stride and think that’s the way how things are. But no, that’s the thing, we don’t have to let things be as they are – we need to continue to protest and push things till they are as we want them.
So, when I went back home on holidays, I took my dad to task and asked him why he did not say anything to the boy, and why should I be the one to take this in my stride? It is my body and if he can’t control his hormones, he needs to find a way to resolve that – he cannot be allowed to invade my privacy.
A Harmful Myth
“Boys will be boys”. The phrase likely originated from a Latin proverb – “Children (boys) are children (boys) and do childish things.” In its original form, there is nothing harmful about it because children do childish things and are less mature than adults. However, over the years, the phrase has morphed into a way to justify unacceptable behaviors of boys and men across all age groups.
This pervasive myth, perpetuated by one and all, knowingly or unknowingly harms men, women and the society in equal measure. In some ways this phrase is the root cause of gender inequality. First of all, it sets different expectations from men than women, trivializes harmful male behavior and absolves them of any accountability whatsoever. It’s almost like a ‘Get out of Jail Free’ card and validates male entitlement! I won’t forget when a political party chief in India tried to trivialize rape by saying boys make mistakes!!! Globally also there are many cases when men have been let off lightly due to this mentality.
Secondly, this phrase sets a very wrong standard for what male behavior should be. It creates a stereotype that men and boys are rough, competitive, aggressive, don’t like to show emotions and so on. And this births toxic masculinity. Not only do we forget that boys are individuals with different likes, preferences and behavior, we start to believe that anyone who doesn’t display this behavior is ‘abnormal’ or ‘not a man’. It almost becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy as boys start to model themselves on expected behaviors. And boys who differ from the stereotype are often labeled sissies, weak and considered effeminate. Showing emotions is being weak and typically boys would be asked to ‘man up’. Most parents would think twice about buying a Barbie doll for their boys, afraid that they would somehow damage their sons’ masculinity.
What to do about it?
There isn’t much difference in men and women’s brains. When we link certain behaviors with a child’s sex, we tend to ignore the other influences – family, school, peer pressure, culture, media and so on. It becomes an easy excuse to not examine reasons for aggressive or inappropriate behavior.
It is quite unfortunate if we expect 50% of the population to be aggressive, less empathetic, dominating and so on. Their biology does not make them naturally aggressive. I believe we need to respect our boys and men and have higher expectations of them. We need to continue to enforce the fact that masculinity can be of various types.
We need to enforce a culture of accountability. Never ever tolerate any inappropriate behavior, just because ‘boys will be boys’. Just because ‘it was probably an innocuous comment’ or ‘a friendly touch’ or ‘a joke’ or ‘harmless pushing and shoving’. Whether you are a friend – male/ female or a colleague or a parent or guardian, remember that as a culture we need to stop thinking this, saying this and acting on this. We have to hold them accountable for their behavior – always.
As parents, educators, adults in general we need to tell our boys that the path to masculinity need not be aggression or a false show of ego. Direct conversations with both boys and girls about toxic masculinity will open their minds to societal gender constructs and their limitations.
It is a tough road ahead but one has to start somewhere, and nothing better than to start with our own boys.
I’m participating in #BlogchatterA2Z and this post is a part of it.