My daughter and I drive to school together on my way to work. It is our connecting time – no screens and lots of time to pass.
We were discussing a boy in her class who was always difficult. At the end of her story, she concluded “Well, boys will be boys.”
My reaction of a gut-felt NO was so fast that she turned to look at me instead of the road. “No,” I repeated, “that is one of the most dangerous beliefs you could have.”
I explained to her how that sentence excuses behaviour that shouldn’t be ok. I told her this story about a boy snapping a bra strap and how it was ignored by a teacher because boys will be boys. Worse, the teacher told her to accept the behaviour too.
Here is a summary of how the girl’s mother reframed “boys will be boys”:
“She defended herself against a sexual attack from another pupil. Look at them; he’s nearly 6 feet and 160 pounds. She’s 5 feet and 84 pounds. He’s a foot taller than her and twice as heavy. How many times should she have let him touch her? If the person who was supposed to help and protect her in a classroom couldn’t be bothered, what should she have done? He pulled her bra so hard it came undone.”
My daughter understood quickly. We discussed how some of those behaviours continue in men if no one shows them other values. We discussed the great uncles and cousins she had as role models of people who took responsibility for themselves and how they treat others.
I was transported back to a time when I was in school and a boy wrestled me to the ground, put his hand on my jeans over my vagina and told me not to move. A crowd of boys circled us to see how this would go. I was on the ground feeling shame, and very angry. My anger won and I was able to kick him in his groin and get up.
Did I tell an adult? No. By then I had learned that boys will be boys and to blame myself for it happening.
So, I call on all of you as parents, role models, and people: let’s not perpetuate a culture of permission by allowing boys to be boys. If a boy teases a girl, don’t tell her it’s because he likes her. Language reflects belief. Let’s be impeccable in what we believe, say, and do.