Why We Can’t “Let Boys Be Boys”
America’s problem with “gender norms”
By Tegan Geary
“Letting boys be boys” teaches men their actions are acceptable and excusable.
When did the idea of “letting boys be boys” transform from pulling hair on the playground to an excuse for sexual assault? Whether or not we realize it, societal norms are imposed on girls and boys from an incredibly young age. If a boy is “picking on” or teasing a girl, the girl is taught it is because he likes her. This encourages the idea that women should receive male aggression as acts of emotional expression.
This is an example of “toxic masculinity.” Toxic masculinity is a cultural idea where manliness is determined by strength or status while stereotypically feminine traits are seen as weaknesses. Toxic masculinity, paired with the notion of excusing male behavior under the “let boys be boys” argument, leaves us with a potentially dangerous outcome. If boys are taught that they need to be strong and powerful to be men and that they need to be men to survive in our society, why is it a surprise that they grow up to be men who use their power to abuse those around them?
We see it all the time. An allegation is made against a man who holds some kind of power, but the alleged assault happened many years ago, and much of society writes it off as typical teenage behavior. What is society learning from these events, and how have these problems affected the way we treat young men?
When “Let boys be boys!” is used in response to a victim reporting their assault, it is not used to imply that the victim is making a false accusation. It is a claim that lends itself towards sympathy—not on the side of the victim, but on the side of the accused. “Letting boys be boys” undermines victims of violent crime and perpetuates the idea that men are excused from their behavior simply because it is a “natural” aspect of their gender. If men believe their actions are automatically excusable, what would stop them from continuing to commit more aggressive assaults? Excusing toxic masculinity is just as bad as encouraging it.
Victims have to live with the emotional and sometimes physical scars of their assault forever. The length of time that passes between an assault and a report does not diminish the victim’s trauma, and it should not diminish the fault of the abuser. No one should be allowed to ruin someone’s life with zero consequences, yet that is essentially what happens when society “lets boys be boys.”
The phrase, when used in reaction to situations of a possible assault, is problematic because it teaches women that they are never guaranteed justice and men that their actions are always excusable.
We have to do better for those who have been victimized. We cannot just “let boys be boys.”