Boys Will Be Boys: A problematic phrase?

Boys will be boys

Most people will have heard the phrase ‘Boys will be boys’. Innocent enough, some would assume, describing how when the boisterous little shits are playing up, it’s because they’re just boys and that’s what boys do. However, this common phrase has been labelled as ‘problematic’ by some, thinking that it lowers expectations of boys and gives them an easy out for bad behaviour.

Some people believe this becomes ingrained into the male mind and allows them an excuse for bad behaviour beyond their childhood.

I have to preface this by saying it’s not a phrase I would personally use. Not for any major reason though, I just don’t speak in that way (too cool, obvs.)

I understand that ideally it should be ‘Children will be children’, because no matter their gender, children can play up or be a bit boisterous. However, having known many young children, I do believe that girls and boys play in different ways, and not only because of the way they are brought up. Take for example, my wrestling mad cousin who liked to throw me on the floor, or the boys who would play fight or break my toys, despite being brought up in a (mostly) normal decent family where the boys and girls were taught in the same way and were allowed the same toys. There is a whole psychological debate on nature vs nurture discussing whether it is the way we are brought up or the way we are born that makes us, and mostly I think it’s a bit of both.

Is the phrase harmful?

I don’t think the phrase was ever intended to be sexist or harmful. I don’t believe someone one day thought ‘Let’s let the boys get away with being naughty and one day they’ll be tough men’. I think it much more likely comes from parents who actually have little boys and find them harder work than their girls.

Another reason I don’t think the phrase can be all that harmful is because it would never be said directly to the accused or the abused. It is more likely an easy way to bond with another parent in the local park, again due to their own experiences. Little boys would likely never hear this phrase that grants them freedom to become a horrible adult.

I also don’t think that any boy or man that has caused harm has caused it as a response to this phrase being used. I’m sure most people it’s been said about did not grow up into misogynistic arseholes. People have tried associating the phrase with rapists and abusers, acting as if the phrase contributes to some sort of rape culture. And it’s just a step too far.

We are more than what is said about us.

We do not become what is said about us or what we do when younger.  If we did, I’m pretty sure girls would suffer this fate too. Calling a girl a princess will not turn her into a spoiled brat as some claim and saying boys will be boys will not turn them into monsters.

If anything, I think calling this phrase harmful actually excuses what some men do off their own backs. ‘Oh if only the phrase Boys Will Be Boys wasn’t said, men would realise their wrongs’. No. Just excuses the bullshit some people do or have had to put up with. You are responsible for your own actions. I realise that some things may affect you and your choices, but when you make those choices, you kind of have to own them. They’re yours.

The phrase in the media.

What brought this to my attention was a lady disgusted at Asda for stocking a child’s top with ‘Boys will be boys’ written across it. It has been shared on Facebook thousands of times with different opinions coming from people all over. Can I also just point out that bloody bargain?!

There is also a picture in Ikea doing the rounds for having the phrase across it. I understand there is some deep running patriarchy that everyone wants to punch in the face, but I don’t think any of our problems are a tshirt in Asda.  I’m not saying that if a boy does something bad it’s okay to brush it off with the phrase, but I do think there is a point where it’s okay to say it and it won’t have any repercussions.

If you don’t like the phrase, don’t use it. Maybe one day the people who still use it will stop too, but I don’t think not saying it will change the way some men become and I don’t think it’s something to be made a massive issue of. Despite me writing a whole bloody essay on it! I think people are looking for problems everywhere, when we have plenty (more important) ones already.

What do you think? Do you find the phrase to be problematic? Do you care? Let me know in the comments.

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  • Was basically screaming YASSS QUEEN all the way through this (especially to how much of a bargain the clothes are). My mum and next door neighbour used to say boys will be boys when my brother and the boy next door used to punch eachother in a fall out in school. Did that behaviour continue to adult hood? No. Was there also a lot of “at least when they fall out they just deck eachother and make up unlike girls where it’s all catty”. Absolutely. I think boys will be boys is used by parents who need to just look at another mum or Dad in the school yard and have a sense of unity in the fact their little man is being a little shit. The same as when we find out a family only has girls and the immediate reaction is “oh god I bet it’s a nightmare” because of all the falling out, bitchiness and trying to share a bathroom. It’s all stereotypical but I think it’s more of a unity thing, a little laugh at kids who are being abbot bratty. I don’t think anyone has ACTUALLY gone “oh well, boys will be boys” when trying to justify a rapist or an abuser or the like. Hit the nail on the head (so much so I’ve gone on a massive long rant comment haha)

    • Tina

      Haha thanks, I love these kind of comments! Exactly! I have a family of girls, but we weren’t offended every time people mentioned how difficult the house must be – mostly because that stereotype didn’t come from nowhere! Haha. I think people are trying to police innocent language too much.