"Boys will be boys". Recognise the expression? You may have heard your grandma say it, come across it in an old film or sung the very words to yourself after listening to The Ordinary Boys. This old saying may seem innocent, but it’s actually a very lousy way of excusing male behaviour. As loud and aggressive as we blokes can be, the last thing we need is to be pardoned for our actions. If you ask me, it just encourages us to misbehave.
I have been, and always will be, a mischievous guy. As a child, I was constantly hatching schemes and running riot in the playground. Nothing aggressive, mind, just innocent hyperactivity. Once, I got my head stuck in the school railings, and on another occasion put shit in a drinking fountain. Oh, I got in trouble alright, but, like others boys of my age, was free to act up.
No mum in their right mind would ever dream of letting their six year old daughter do such stuff. Girls are traditionally raised to be well mannered people-pleasers who develop fast, look good and perform well at school. Boys, on the other hand, are expected to do sport, take risks and be brave - all of which amounts to a lot of calorie burning, but very little actual growing up.
With that, comes the cliche that boys are more action-orientated and less good at communicating. I can think of various examples in my teen years where, rather than verbalise a problem, I would simply run it off, so to speak. Straightforward, maybe, but was it healthy?
By adulthood, many guys continue to act as they did as kids: throwing tantrums, acting irresponsibly, and not cleaning up after themselves. Or, at least, that’s what the stereotypes would have us believe. Part of the reason men never grow up is because they’re expected to fuck up. To stay out late, to cheat, to get in fights. Some of us might do that, but we shouldn’t all be tarnished with the same brush, and, even then, the expression ‘boys will be boys’ overlooks any mental problems that a guy might be experiencing like depression or feelings of inadequacy.
Entrapping men in this way makes it easier for us to conform, in the knowledge that our 'devilry' will be tolerated. Why act sensibly when you can get away with murder, you ask? This behavioural trap reduces men to a primitive set of attributes that make us lazy and predictable. I might be 28, short-tempered and still living at home, but my character doesn’t end there. Yes, there are certain childish aspects of my personality that I still retain, but, in many ways I’ve also developed a lot as an individual.
In her article, Four Words I'd Ban: “Boys Will Be Boys", writer and mother, Stephanie Keenan says schools are partly to blame for encouraging stereotypical male behaviour:
"Currently, we face the danger of focusing too much on the routine denigration of girls and women (of which we are all too aware in this Brave New Trump World), at the expense of the perhaps invisible, patronising stereotyping of boys and men."
She notes: "They are all around us in advertising: the hapless husband, the hopeless dad, the messy or untidy boy, or more dangerously, the boy who just can’t control himself physically or verbally." I'm messy and untidy. I’m also prone to outbursts. Could it be that I go on to become a hopeless dad as well?
While I don’t completely buy the whole “men are inherently reckless” argument, I do think there is some degree of truth to it. It goes to explain offending rates, the mid-life crises and incidences of domestic violence. We blokes are hot-blooded, there’s no getting away from that, but that doesn’t mean that bad behaviour should be expected of us. If we’re not going to get rid of the ‘boys will be boys’ slogan, then let’s at least throw a ‘girls will be girls’ equivalent into the mix to balance out the scales. The last thing I want to be labelled as for the rest of my life is a big kid, but, so long as this preconception remains, I may have to put up with it.