“Boys will be boys” refers to an expression to view mischievous or childish behavior that comes typically from boys or young men. We hear it tossed around far too often. It originated in 1589 from a Latin proverb: “Children (boys) are children (boys) and do childish things.” Children, in fact, do childish things and that’s to be expected to some degree. However, like a bad game of telephone, the phrase has morphed over the years into a flippant way to excuse the actions and attitudes of boys and men of all ages.
Unfortunately, people have also used it to explain away things like sexual assault allegations and other serious crimes. The phrase doesn’t hold individuals responsible for their behavior and choices. However, it infers that all males were preprogrammed to act in such ways. Aside from being a problematic concept, it also promotes gender stereotypes. Not all boys like to get dirty. And, thankfully, most men are not violent.
People need to understand “boys will be boys” is a problematic concept, because just like what Dua Lipa sang, “girls will be women.”
People use the phrase as an excuse when something really requires an apology. But, when people say “girls will be girls,” it implicit expectation that girls shall act like ladies. It’s like when my three-year-old niece volunteers to help with cleaning after dinner. “Girls will be girls” doesn’t really roll off the tongue the same way. People expect girls to be automatically kind, conscientious, and well-organized. Aside from that, people also teach them lessons by chastising them every time they yell too loudly or run too quickly through the house.
Both groups shouldn’t even face backlash when they deviate from prescribed gender stereotypes. Whether it’s a young boy teased for wanting to play dolls or a girl called bossy when she asserts herself on the playground. People also implicitly tell them that there is something wrong with these desires. A lot of adults teach young boys confidence and risk-taking. Then, reward them for it. The same adults also teach young girls conscientiousness and people-pleasing, and we reward them for it, too. With straight A’s and praise… until they join the workforce.
“Girls will be women.”
Dua Lipa had a song that revolved around the said phrase. And, it was my first time listening to it earlier this week. To be honest, I can agree with everything she sang there. Listening to it very carefully, I could recall the first time I experienced being catcalled. At twelve years old, I was walking home alone wearing my high-collared, long-sleeved, knee-length uniform. Practically my whole body was covered, except my face, palms, and a small part of my calf. Even when that’s the case, an adult man had whistled at me and called me sexy.
Just imagine a twelve-year-old girl being called ‘sexy.’ Looking back, it feels disturbing and disgusting. At the time, I didn’t know what had happened. I only realized that I had been sexualized when I learned about it while watching a news report a few years later. A girl was raped and murdered by a man who had catcalled her. Then, the reporter continued to define what catcalling meant. Instantly, the memory flashed in my mind. And, I almost vomited in my mouth.
All in all, “boys will be boys” perpetuates negative ideas about what we expect from boys, particularly when it comes to aggression and sexual consent.
It’s similar to locker room talk. As a woman, I am prohibited from the space of a men’s locker room. It becomes mysterious, something men can define. All I know is that the phrase is deployed to excuse aggressive sexual acts that do not involve consent. I respect the boys and men in my life too much to have such low expectations for them. Their biology doesn’t demand that they become assaulters. Aside from that, their biology also doesn’t necessitate that they speak about women in such vulgar ways.
The boys in our homes deserve better. And, as adults in their lives, we must work to dismantle the cultural messages and societal structures that promote toxic masculinity.
Angela Grace P. Baltan is a Communication graduate from Colegio de San Juan de Letran. She doesn’t hesitate to be opinionated in analyzing movies and television series. As a writer, she uses her articles to advocate for feminism, gender equality, and mental health among others.