Boys will be boys: it’s a phrase I first heard on the playground as a 4-year-old in kindergarten and one that I have continued to hear all the way through to adulthood. I guess it’s been kind of constant: the notion that guys are just going to act like guys (light shrug).
Lately, a lot of people have been denouncing the phrase, but I’d argue that “boys will be boys” is actually a great concept that I adore.
The Phrase Is Nothing New
The saying “boys will be boys” can be traced back over several centuries, first being recorded in English writing in 1589—which is the same time Shakespeare was writing plays, for context.
The phrase, which was originally written in Latin and translates into “Children are children and childish things.” Over time, the phrase changed to fixate on males.
I Kind Of Love Gendered Differences
As someone who has both male and female friends, I think it’s interesting to look at ways men and women act differently when socializing with each other.
To me, there are many great ways that “girls will be girls”—we become best friends with a stranger in a bar and fawn over how pretty she is, or we consult each other on whether we’re wearing heels or not before going somewhere. They’re just things that are unique to interacting with other women.
Men Just Act Differently Together
One of my favorite things, when I used to go to a party with my guy friends, was that, whenever they got drunk, they would try to stack all the chairs they could into a giant tower for no clear reason. And my best friend’s boyfriend does a camping trip with his friends each year that’s literally just them taking the bare minimum into the middle of nowhere and messing around while trying to survive.
These are not things I could ever see my female friends doing, but the guys just get together and start acting in silly, fun ways.
I Think That “Boys Being Boys” Is Totally Normal And Good
The truth is that when a group of guys gets together, their idea of fun or their mannerisms are not quite the same as when women are around or when they’re specifically hanging out with women, and that’s totally fine.
In fact, I love the ways that guys will just wholesomely do dumb stuff together and have a good time with it.
The Problem Lies In How The Phrase Has Been Used
I guess for a long time, the phrase “boys will be boys” has been used less as a signifier for guys just hanging out and enjoying things differently than women, and has instead been used to excuse inappropriate behavior by boys and men.
It starts as early as the playground days when boys would pull girls’ pigtails; teachers would shrug it off as “boys doing boy things” and not really address the fact that it was harassment.
It Makes Light Of Serious Actions
As I grew older, “boys will be boys” was said in response to more and more concerning issues, absolving the men involved from the responsibility. Things like cat-calling, sexist remarks, and times that men would directly negatively impact the women around them were shrugged off as “boys being boys.”
In extreme cases, the phrase has even been used in response to sexual assault allegations, making it seem as though the violent actions taken are something to just be shrugged off.
In A Way, It Has Forced Women To Take More Responsibility For Men’s Actions
The phrase tends to absolve boys from having to acknowledge the wrong they’ve done, which naturally means that girls end up having to learn to work around it.
It’s no surprise that culturally, we’ve developed the narrative that women are more mature at a younger age; in reality, we just tend to excuse the inappropriate actions of boys and men for a longer period of time. For example, we get mad at girls for “showing skin” in school and distracting boys rather than saying that boys shouldn’t stare at their female classmates.
We Should Stop Associating Boyhood With A Lack Of Accountability
At some point in our human history, we decided to let boyhood be an excuse for mistreating others around them and being reckless, often at the expense of the women in their lives.
I think that there are so many other things that we could positively associate with boyhood, testing out experiments (like good old Coke and Mentos), trying to build things with no instructions (like a skate ramp), and just generally being down to do silly things.
I Think It’s Time We Reclaim The Phrase
I think it’s time that we collectively reclaim “boys will be boys” to mean what it should: guys doing things together with their pals that are just wholesome fun—goofy things that girls wouldn’t think to do together.
I believe that we should celebrate the ways that male friendships function together and the joys that come from it, but that also means that we need to address the negative aspects of male socialization that have allowed “boys will be boys” to stand for what it does.
I’m Putting The Ball In Men’s Court
Men, it’s essentially up to you to take the reins and help redefine what boyhood and manhood look like respectively. Don’t condone behavior you know is wrong by shrugging it off, and hold each other accountable.
I would like to see a day where “boys will be boys” will only be used to describe guys hanging out and having fun, and I think it’s very possible that, as a society, we’ll get there.