‘Boys will be boys’ excuse holds no water

I’m sure we’re all well aware by now of the latest drama from Selborne High.

Allegedly, 15 boys got into an altercation with another which left the one with a split lip.

A picture of his injuries did the rounds on social media and, eventually,The 15 boys were suspended after the intervention of education MEC Mlungisi Mvoko.

I’m not here to discuss the incident itself. It’s still too early and we don’t have all the details as of yet. Yes, one boy ending up bloody because of a fight is terrible, but the reason for the fight is still unknown, and trying to guess the situation with such little information available will only do more harm.

Instead, I want to focus on a related matter which I have found equally – if not more – disturbing: the response of many parents to the news, specifically those who try and brush this matter off as “boys will be boys”.

There are two examples on Facebook in particular, that caught my attention.

The first one says: “Boys will be boys, it happened in my time and it will still happen in the future, let’s not raise sissies, it was a one on one as per the comments”.

The second says: “What a load of [emoji]. That boy is a cry baby, maybe he should rather go to Clarendon and do typing and home economics”.

I’d hope that I wouldn’t need to explain why these two comments and the many more like them are problematic, but the fact that real people [both men, go figure] wrote these without a shred of self-awareness proves otherwise.

In both of these comments, we see the toxic blend of hypermasculinity and misogyny that continues to infect our society and contributes to the unhealthy attitudes many men continue to harbour towards themselves and women.

Let’s start with the first one.

According to this person, schoolboys beating each other up (regardless of the reason) is okay because, say it with me now, “boys will be boys”.

The quickest way to prove how bad this argument is, would be to just point to all the boys who manage to go through school without punching each other in the face. If boys really will be boys, as this commenter suggests, then schools like Selborne should be active war zones with each student constantly fighting their peers.

Needless to say, this isn’t the case and the majority of pupils manage to coexist peacefully, so this claim that violence is somehow inherent to boys, holds little water.

The comment then goes on to say that since these sorts of fights happened when he was at school, and they will presumably “always” happen, then we shouldn’t worry about it.

On that note, I assume the commenter is in favour of abolishing laws forbidding other crimes, since they too have always happened and will probably continue to happen for the foreseeable future.

Finally, he declares that not wanting your children to punch each other is somehow turning them into “sissies”. Remember when I mentioned hypermasculinity earlier? Yeah, this is what I meant.

Hypermasculinity is the excessive and abnormal obsession with stereotypically masculine traits such as physical strength, aggression, and so on.

Saying that it’s not only okay for boys to beat each other up but that not allowing them to do so is somehow a bad thing, definitely qualifies. It plays into the outdated idea that boys need to be big, tough, and violent and that if they aren’t, then they’ve somehow failed at being a man.

As a proud queer man who enjoys make-up and other more “feminine” pursuits, I can safely say this is absolute rubbish. You don’t need to be some sort of muscle-head jock to be a “man” and anyone who says otherwise is either lying or dangerously deluded.

And now let’s look at the second comment. The misogyny is on full display here. First, the commenter calls the boy a “cry baby” for . . . . not wanting to be beat up? Okay, then. Not much different than the first comment we looked at.

“. . . maybe he should rather go to Clarendon and do typing and home economics”

And there it is, the classic “he’s acting like a girl!” retort. I would say this is childish, but I know children who are more mature than this.

The commenter says that a boy who doesn’t want to fight or who complains about being beaten up, is not actually manly and should instead be treated as a girl. Embedded in the insult, of course, is the misogynistic assumption that “girl things” are somehow inferior to “boy things” and that no real boy should ever want to associate themselves with such activities.

Like the first comment, this is also an example of hypermasculinity in that it obsesses over stereotypically masculine traits and activities to the point that anything that doesn’t match up is openly scorned.Such attitudes are harmful in that they deny young boys the true freedom to express themselves and explore who they are and want to be. Such narrow thinking has no room for deviation and frankly, that is just sad.

Just to be absolutely clear: no, I am not saying that masculinity is itself bad. There is nothing wrong with boys and men liking “boy things” just like there’s nothing wrong with boys and men liking “girl things”.

The problems arise when you decide this ultimately meaningless binary is sacrosant and that everyone must adhere to it at all costs. It’s that sort of attitude that believes “boys will be boys” is an appropriate response to a story of a boy getting beat up. It’s that sort of attitude that smugly asserts that boys are not manly enough if they complain about mistreatment. It’s that sort of attitude that continues to treat women as inferior to men. It’s that sort of attitude that imprisons men in a cage of unrealistic expectations and then offers nothing but humiliation and shame when they inevitably fail to meet them.

It’s high time we do away with such harmful ideas and move forward towards a world that fully embraces people, regardless of how they choose to express their gender.


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