Stop Saying "Boys Will Be Boys"
Updated: Mar 14
Content warning: R*pe, SA
Dear Asian Youth,
In 2016, Brock Turner sexually assaulted an unconscious woman outside a Stanford University fraternity house. The prosecutor for Turner’s case asked for him to serve six years in prison as punishment for the emotional and physical trauma he inflicted on the victim. The judge, Aaron Persky, sentenced the defendant to six months. He only served three.
The Guardian published a transcript of Persky’s reasoning. Masked by the judge’s flowering prose is a statement that downplays and makes excuses for Turner’s actions, depicting the incident as nothing more than a one-time mistake driven by alcohol. He emphasizes the defendant’s career as a decorated Stanford athlete and claims that a harsher sentence would cause unnecessary harm to Turner’s life. This is just one case out of many where those accused of sexual assault are let off with virtually no punishment, and the victims are unable to take comfort that justice has been rightfully served. Furthermore, it sets the precedent that there is a lack of accountability when dealing with cases regarding sexual assault. Turner’s abhorrent actions should have ruined his life, but Persky didn’t seem to think that violating another human being’s body deserved anything more than a slap on the wrist. This entire mentality can be summed up into one commonly used phrase: “Boys will be boys.”
This phrase gets thrown around more often than not, especially during our youth. Everyone from teachers to parents use it to excuse inappropriate behavior from boys while holding girls to a completely different standard. It allows boys to get away with being too rough, loud, or irresponsible by acting like aggressive behavior is biological and should be expected. After all, if a girl exhibited similar traits, adults would be shocked, ready to discipline, and prepared to examine the underlying reason behind such abnormal behavior.
One example of this damaging mentality is in the 1996 case of Nabozny v. Podlesny. In this case, an openly gay student named Jamie Nabozny was regularly harassed, beaten, spat on, and called derogatory slurs at his public school. In one of the alleged incidents, two boys subjected Nabozny to a mock rape in front of 20 other students. Despite constantly asking school officials to put an end to the abuse, his principal allegedly brushed off the issue by stating “boys will boys” and that Nabozny should have expected this harassment for being openly gay. This case shows that by leaving improper behavior unchecked and unpunished, others will inevitably get hurt. Although this is an extreme example, it is important to keep in mind when considering the consequences of normalizing the "boys will be boys" mentality. A much more universal case is when adults tell young girls that when boys are mean to them, it means that they like them and should be accepted as a sign of affection. This further normalizes toxic behavior, along with assault and rape culture. Instead, adults should be teaching impressionable boys to show others kindness and respect, and in turn showing all students the importance of speaking out against improper actions.
The older men get, the more people stop explicitly using the phrase “boys will be boys,” but the mentality still stands through the implementation of boys’ club culture. The boys’ club is a social network of male friends primarily found in corporate environments. These men exclude women in the workplace by frequenting stereotypically male-dominated spaces such as golf courses and strip clubs. In these situations men are able to construct valuable connections that encourage them to show solidarity to one another by exclusively providing opportunities and advice to those within this inner circle. This further perpetuates the saying “boys will be boys” as this showcases that girls are held to a different standard. The boys’ club sets an unfair precedent for women by expecting them to work for their achievements without the benefits of the boys club. Not to mention that because members of the boys’ club rarely show the same amount of support for their female colleagues, women in the workplace face double standards. An article in the Harvard Business Review looked through around 200 performance reviews within a company. They found that of the employees' reviews who described a colleague as “too aggressive,” 76% of them were attributed to women while only 24% were attributed to men. The thin line between a go-getter and a taskmaster seems to depend on one’s gender. Other examples include how many women cannot be vulnerable without being called “too emotional” nor can they stand up for themselves without accusation of being “too sensitive.” However, because the workplace is traditionally seen to be a male’s domain and many workplaces allow men to get away with this behavior. All in all, a boys' club environment prevents deserving women from gaining respect in the workplace and high leadership positions.
This way of thinking becomes even more problematic as violence and oversexualizing women become primary traits of hypermasculinity. As a result, sexual assault and harassment become common issues for femininity. Of course, women are also perpetrators of sexual violence and their actions should be treated with equal punishment and contempt, however the majority of perpetrators are male. In the 2010 National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey, 98.1% of female rape victims along with 93.3% of male rape victims reported only male perpetrators. Unfortunately, males are not only the leaders of rape, but they are also the leaders of sexual harassment in the form of catcalling and groping. These attitudes, along with the normalization of rape culture, have become so common that many women are increasingly warned to be prepared to protect themselves. This is closely associated with the history that men get away with these actions through the excuse that this is a normal part of sexual development. The response to various public sexual assault allegations is representative of the issue regarding toxic masculinity. For example, in 2018, Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh was accused of sexual assault by Christine Blasey Ford. The alleged incident occurred when Ford was 15 and Kavanaugh was 17. In her testimony, Ford stated that the two were at a party when Kavanaugh pushed her into a bed and groped her while putting her hand over her mouth to prevent everybody else from hearing her screams. The public immediately perpetuated doubt regarding Ford’s story. The Judicial Crisis Network went as far as to launch a $1.5 million campaign to defend Kavanaugh’s name against what they called “a last-minute smear campaign [to] destroy a good and decent man who has an unblemished personal record.” President Trump even mocked Ford’s testimony and asked audience members to “Think of your son. Think of your husband” as if Kavanuagh deserved sympathy for his situation.
Following these accusations were also members of the public who simply brushed off the issue as if it was not a big deal.
Image Description: Tweet from Matt Walsh, [at] MattWalshBlog that states: “If the story is true, we now have to decide whether a man is unqualified for the Supreme Court because he drunkenly groped a girl 35 years ago when he was 17. I’m going to answer “no” on that one. I don’t see how this has any bearings on his qualifications whatsoever.”
Image Description: Tweet from Rod Dreher, [at] roddreher that states: “I do not understand why the loutish drunken behavior of a 17 year old high school boy has anything to tell us about the character of a 53 year old judge. By God’s grace (literally), I am not the same person I was at 17. This is a terrible standard to establish in public life.”
It’s not just random people on the internet who share this line of thinking, individuals who are in high places in our society engage, condone, and even endorse the “boys will be boys” mindset. An anonymous lawyer close to the White House stated in an interview with Politico that Kavanaugh’s Supreme Court nomination would not be withdrawn and went on to state that “If somebody can be brought down by accusations like this, then you, me, every man certainly should be worried. We can all be accused of something.”
Indifferent and insensitive responses to rape and assault are not one-time issues. Ford is one of millions who never got to see justice. According to a Justice Department analysis of violent crime in 2016, 80% of rapes and sexual assaults go unreported, and of those, less than one percent result in a conviction.
Not only does society excuse men for their behavior, but women are often told that they need to adjust their lives to accommodate for these actions instead. Women are told to be wary of the way they dress, what parts of town they visit, and how late they stay out in order to avoid sexual harassment. Living out of fear of being sexually harassed should not be normalized for women. This plays into the mindset that men are uncontrollable and it is up to everyone else to act in accordance with their rules. That seems to be why parents will spend more time punishing their daughters for getting home late instead of teaching their sons about consent. Or, why schools think it's better to police female students on what they can or cannot wear, as opposed to telling male students that sexualizing their classmates is unacceptable. Luckily, the public has recently begun to fight against sexist dress codes that target and blame female students for “distracting” their male counterparts. For example, in 2018, Floridian high schooler Lizzy Martinez was dress-coded for wearing a baggy sweatshirt without a bra. She was taken out of class, forced to wear an undershirt, and bandage her nipples to prevent causing a “distraction” for the boys in her class. Martinez’s response to this degrading experience was to start a national protest that eventually convinced the administration to relax the dress code. However, over half of American public schools still experience strict dress codes. Some common examples include regulations surrounding the length of ones bottoms and the thickness of ones straps. These dress code enforcements not only teach male students that it is okay to sexualize their classmates if they are wearing less clothing, but it also comes at the cost of the female student’s education. Taking female students out of class so that they cover themselves up sends them the message that they are expected to adapt their own behavior to meet their male counterpart’s needs. This victim-blaming mentality carries into adult life as sexual assault victims often get asked, “What were you wearing?” implying that clothing is somehow consent.
We are the products of our environment. The continuous use of the phrase “boys will be boys” and the mindset that it creates only enables aggressive and improper behavior from men while expecting everyone else to adjust to their needs. While the phrase may seem innocent enough, complying with this line of thinking leads to serious repercussions. As we move forward, I hope we will be the generation that stops using the phrase “boys will be boys,” and that for those of us who have already internalized this sexist message, we begin to rethink what should be expected from our male counterparts.