The Problem With "Boys Will Be Boys"
How It Ends Up Hurting Women And Men
The phrase "boys will be boys" makes my blood boil. But I realized when I sat down to write this piece that I didn't know exactly why.
Was it because it's so often used as an excuse for poor behavior?
À la when a little boy punches another little boy on the playground and his mom chuckles, "Boys will be boys!"
Or worse yet, when a Supreme Court nominee is accused of sexual assault, and half of the adult population collectively rolls their eyes and says, "He was just a kid… boys will be boys, after all."
These are the more sinister applications of "boys will be boys" – the ones that reflect our society's tendency to forgive men's bad behavior because we believe it's somehow hardcoded in their DNA.
Don't get me wrong, I hate that we do this. I hate that we're so quick to accept that 50% of the population is simply wired to be aggressive and that therefore we shouldn't expect more of them.
But this isn't why the phrase "boys will be boys" makes my blood boil.
It makes my blood boil because it's society's way of using a cute, seemingly innocuous phrase to remind us all that men and women are inherently different. To reinforce the assumption that boys are wired to be a certain way, and therefore will be that way - no matter what.
When this cute little phrase is used to defend cute little activities, I find it's at its most dangerous.
In researching this piece, I came across an article by a mom defending her use of the phrase. In her words:
I'm pretty sure that whoever first said, "Boys will be boys," didn't mean it as an excuse for us to turn the other way when a woman is sexually assaulted….
On the contrary, I'm fairly certain that these words were originally intended in the most innocent of ways.
The truth is, as a mom of two young boys, I see this old adage being a part of my vocabulary for many, many years to come.
"Boys will be boys," is what I say as I watch my sons wrestling wildly on the couch with their Daddy before bedtime, while I try in vain to get them to wind down for the night.
It's what I mutter when I go to do the laundry and a pound of dirt falls out of the pockets of three pairs of scuffed up jeans.
It's what I'll let out in a startled scream on the day that one of my sons inevitably brings some sort of unwelcome critter into the house and asks if he can keep it for a pet.
Even she is aware of the intended innocence of the phrase. But what is innocent about purporting that there is only one acceptable way to be a boy? What is innocent about perpetuating the assumption that there is something inherently masculine about being curious, about wanting to go outside to play and explore?
Would girls not also bring critters home and show up with scuffed up jeans if we didn't admonish them so frequently to "be careful," and dress them in clothes that aren't very good for playing in?
As a girl who grew up playing outside each day after school, digging up worms and climbing trees, I've always resented the idea that my interests were somehow meant for boys. That I was doing something wrong or abnormal.
With "boys will be boys" comes the assumptions that "boys will not be girls" and "girls will not be boys."
Meaning that if a boy displays feminine traits or interests, parents panic and refuse to buy him the Barbie doll he fell in love with at Target.
And that if a girl displays a propensity for pranks, or a love of fighting or competing, then she must be a "tomboy," not merely a girl exploring her interests.
"Boys will be boys" hurts boys and girls because it implies that there's one way to be a boy, and one way to be a girl. Later on, it implies that there's one way to be a man, one way to be a woman, and no overlap in between.
It genders traits, interests, and behaviors that need not be masculine or feminine.
Strong. Assertive. Violent.
Nurturing. Weak. Organized.
We all know which set of words is associated with which gender. But men can be nurturing, and women can be assertive. And men and women can both learn not to be violent.
We use "boys will be boys" as an excuse when something really requires an apology, but no one says "girls will be girls" because it as an implicit expectation that girls will act like "ladies."
If your six-year-old daughter washes her plate after dinner, "girls will be girls!" doesn't really roll off the tongue the same way "boys will be boys" does when your seven-year-old son comes home with his shoes covered in mud and tracks it all through the house.
We expect girls to be kind, conscientious, and well-organized, and we teach them these lessons by chastising them every time they yell too loudly or run too quickly through the house.
We raise our boys and girls differently. We don't think twice when we have a gender-reveal party filled with ballerinas and pink cupcakes. Or when we buy girls dolls and boys legos for their birthdays. Or when we tell our nieces that they're pretty and our nephews that they're funny.
And slowly but surely, we manage to teach boys and girls that there is a right and a wrong way to act. And both groups face backlash when they deviate from prescribed gender stereotypes.
Whether it's a young boy who is teased for wanting to play house, or a girl who is called bossy when she asserts herself on the playground, we are implicitly telling them that there is something wrong with these desires.
We teach young boys confidence and risk-taking, and we reward them for it. And we teach girls conscientiousness and people-pleasing, and we reward them for it too. With straight A's and praise…. right up until they join the workforce.
Then things go a little haywire. When girls join the workforce, a male-dominated and male-built institution that heavily values the male characteristics we've historically dissuaded girls from displaying – assertiveness, confidence, risk-taking – they struggle.
At work, "boys are boys," and they're rewarded for it, and women are left trying to navigate the double bind.
They know that if they don't ask for a promotion like their male peers, they might not get one, but if they do ask… they could be reprimanded.
And then we all scratch our heads, asking ourselves, why don't more women ask for raises? Why don't women speak up in meetings? Why are there so few women relative to men in the C-suite?
Sure, there are biological differences between men and women. But there are very few meaningful ones between prepubescent boys and girls.
We teach children more than we know, and inequality in the workforce starts with "boys will be boys" and a million other "innocent" phrases that perpetuate implicit gender bias.
"Boys will be boys" turns into "men will be men," and that's not good for anyone.
Diversity Reboot 2021: The One Hundred Day Kickoff<p><strong>When</strong>: February 1-5, 2021</p><p><strong>Where</strong>: Virtual</p><p><strong>Price to register:</strong> Free!</p><p><strong>Where to register: </strong><a href="https://summit.powertofly.com/" target="_blank">Here</a></p><p>We had to include our own Diversity Reboot on our list of the best diversity and inclusion events to attend in 2021 because we know firsthand how the quality of 100+ expert speakers, the enthusiasm of 10,000 participants, and the cutting-edge tech that enables meaningful virtual networking and job fairs combine to create a truly epic five-day experience. This year, the theme 100 Day Kickoff harnesses the energy of the new government's first 100 days in office to help jump-start personal and professional plans to build more diverse and inclusive workplaces. </p><p>Following the February summit, we'll have a monthly series of smaller virtual summits on topics spanning everything from returnships to LGBTQ+ advocacy, so be sure to stay tuned for updates!<br></p>
The Future of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion 2021<p><strong>When</strong>: February 3-4, 2021</p><p><strong>Where</strong>: Virtual</p><p><strong>Price to register:</strong> Free</p><p><strong>Where to register:</strong> <a href="https://www.hr.com/en/webcasts_events/virtual_events/upcoming_virtual_events/the-future-of-diversity-equity-and-inclusion-2021_kcxf8glq.html#detail" target="_blank">Here</a></p><p>This virtual conference put on by HR.com focuses on how social movements like #MeToo and Black Lives Matter have pushed DEI at work beyond legal compliance and into a major factor of any company or brand's culture, employee engagement, and performance. Topics include how to uncover and resolve pay gaps across your team and hire top-level diverse talent.</p>
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Hire with Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion<p><strong>When:</strong> August 18, 2021</p><p><strong>Where: </strong>Virtual</p><p><strong>Price to register: </strong>$195</p><p><strong>Where to register:</strong> <a href="https://www.hci.org/conferences/2021-virtual-conference-hire-diversity-equity-and-inclusion-august-18-2021" target="_blank">Here</a></p><p>This conference put on by the Human Capital Institute is one of 12 virtual conferences that HCI has planned for 2021. This one focuses on fair and inclusive talent acquisition, including how to attract diverse talent, implement inclusive hiring practices, and addressing bias in employee selection. Other conferences will focus on optimizing talent strategy, engaging employees, and developing your workforce.</p>
Virtual Grace Hopper Celebration 2021<p><strong>When:</strong> September 26-29, 2021</p><p><strong>Where:</strong> Virtual, broadcast from Chicago, Illinois</p><p><strong>Price to register:</strong> Was $799 for regular access to the virtual conference in 2020; 2021 pricing hasn't yet been announced</p><p><strong>Where to register:</strong> <a href="https://ghc.anitab.org/attend/registration/" target="_blank">Here</a>, though 2021 registration wasn't live at the time of writing</p><p>Grace Hopper might be the best-known conference for women in tech. Through keynote presentations, networking sessions, job fairs, and community-building activities, vGHC reached over 30,000 women for their 2020 conference and are expecting even more in 2021! While not a conference focused exclusively on diversity and inclusion, many speakers plan to focus their talks on creating environments for women to thrive in the male-dominated tech field.</p>
Inclusion 2021<p><strong>When:</strong> October 25-27, 2021</p><p><strong>Where:</strong> Virtual and in person in Austin, Texas as of now</p><p><strong>Price to register:</strong> Hasn't yet been announced</p><p><strong>Where to register: </strong><a href="https://conferences.shrm.org/inclusion" target="_blank">Here</a>, though 2021 registration wasn't live at the time of writing</p><p>The Society for Human Resource Management's biggest conference of the year saw 1,200 DEI leaders participate last year; SHRM hopes to see even more come to learn, be inspired, and to walk away with a playbook of implementable strategies to create truly inclusive workplace cultures.</p>
AfroTech 2021<p><strong></strong><strong>When:</strong> November 8-13, 2021</p><p><strong>Where:</strong> Virtual</p><p><strong>Price to register:</strong> Early bird pricing is $149 for individuals and $249 for corporate attendees; regular pricing hasn't yet been announced</p><p><strong>Where to register:</strong> <a href="https://experience.afrotech.com/" target="_blank">Here</a></p><p>AfroTech is a conference hosted by Blavity, a tech media platform for Black millennials. It focuses on emerging tech trends, connecting Black talent with top tech recruiters, and providing networking and educational opportunities, with an overall goal of building a strong Black tech community. Over 10,000 people participated in 2020. While the conference isn't focused specifically on DEI, its main audience of Black tech talent is an important one to understand and to engage at work and beyond, and several speakers plan to focus on issues of race and inclusion at work. </p>
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