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Why Can’t Boys Be Boys?

Let’s accept boys who don’t behave like typical boys and
those who do.

A friend was telling me about his 4-year-old grandson who,
at a bookstore, wanted my friend to buy him a book in the Pinkalicious series.
As the name implies, these are definitely not in the typical genre of boys’
books. My friend immediately bought it for him.

We had a similar experience with one of our grandsons, who,
seeing a bunch of toys, asked for one that was very colorful and
delicate-looking. “I know it’s a girl’s toy,” he said, “but I want it.” My wife
and I bought it for him at once, without for one second giving him a hard time
about it.

I am totally on board with the idea that boys shouldn’t be
shamed for showing an interest in “girly” things. But they shouldn’t be shamed
for showing traditional gender preferences either.
And these days this is the case in many circles, as shown by the attack on the
expression: “boys will be boys.”

The onslaught against “boys will be boys” goes hand in hand
with the concept of “toxic masculinity.” Take a look at the 2019 APA Guidelines for Psychological Practice With Boys and Men;
the highly controversial 2019 Gillette
commercial
—extolling, among other things, a father breaking up a “fight”
between two boys who look to be no more than five; or Peggy Orenstein’s recent
piece in The Atlantic, “The Miseducation of the American Boy.” The
message is this: There is something very wrong with what has long been assumed
to be typical boy behavior. 

Today many feel that this behavior – including aggressiveness,
competitiveness, and stoicism– is far more a product of social conditioning
than it is of nature. But there is no solid evidence for this. The most
reasonable assumption is that virtually all human behavior derives from both
nature and nurture. 

To be consistent for boys as a group, let’s assume that some
don’t fit into the usual boy mold, and let’s be fully accepting of them; but
let us be equally accepting of those boys who do fit into the classic
archetype.

Myriam Miedzian in her 1991 book, Boys Will Be Boys:
Breaking the Link Between Masculinity and Violence, wrote: “It cannot
be assumed that what children were allowed, or even encouraged, to do in the
past was good for them or for society. When we are told not to worry, that boys
have always played with toy soldiers, guns, tanks, and bows and arrows, we must
not forget that many of those same boys, when they became men, enthusiastically
went off to or supported wars they knew little about, got into barroom brawls,
and battered their wives and children.

What she doesn’t say is that many, probably most, of those
same boys did not do any of those things as adults. I played with toy soldiers
as a boy, I drew tanks and guns, and I am about as non-violent as you can get.

The saying boys will be boys does not excuse
excesses of masculine behavior. The world doesn’t need bullies or sexism. But usually when I hear
that expression it isn’t applied to those extremes, but rather to the kinds of
behavior that most parents and grandparents of boys know all too well: the
crudeness, the roughhousing, the wildness.        

But even about those behaviors, when parents or grandparents
of boys say, boys will be boys, it’s rarely said with admiration or
even approval, but rather a sense of loving resignation – as shown by the word
that so often precedes the phrase in everyday discourse: “Well.” It’s almost
never simply: boy will be boys. But rather: Well, boys will be
boys. Again, this does not mean we should tolerate violent behavior.
 But it does mean we should accept so-called boyish behavior. To do
otherwise is to pathologize the boy who wants to read Captain
Underpants
 while fully accepting his brother, who might be more
interested in Pinkalicious

They are both boys whom society should welcome and accept.

This article first appeared here.

Photo by Robert Collins on Unsplash



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