Boys will be boys.
Every time I hear it, my heart breaks. No harm intended by the speaker, after all, boys will be… what?
I don’t know the answer.
I had a new thought beyond the way the conversation often plays out when I challenge this assumption, when I mention that I was more active, louder, climbed more trees, than both of my boys together, that each of them, around the age of three, asked me to tie a bandana around their shoulder like a sling, then walked around nursing and nurturing a baby doll for days.
Last night, blanketed in darkness, eyes glistening as my heart traveled back in time, I remembered the pain my older son experienced when he found out he would not be the mother of his own children. He has always been closer to my husband, and is far more like him than me, but he was looking forward to the day when he could nurse his own child (how many fathers wish they could be this close to their babies?).
My sons like tools, play with trucks, build with Legos obsessively, talk about weapons and battles and love to run at the park, but if there’s a sand box, within an hour of arriving, my older son has begun building and digging with a plan (little brother at his side). Their energy and purpose always attracts other children. Both my sons invite the others to help in whatever way fits the age of the newcomer. Countless afternoons and early evenings, I’ve been treated to this joyous scene, approached by delighted parents who compliment my sons for being so gentle with their son or daughter, for making them feel welcome and needed.
“There are exceptions of course,” I’m assured, as the usual conversation (about boys just being the way they are and all that nonsense) winds down. To this, I have no answer that I know how to express politely. I’m working on it.
There is a danger in saying, “That’s just like a boy.” It too often excuses unacceptable behavior, like being destructive or violent, or simply playing ball in the house (behaviors that are not gender exclusive). Honestly, if I had been born male, I would have been regularly called All Boy, and my tendencies to rough house with little consideration for the limbs of my companions may have been encouraged rather than addressed (or at least not so sternly dealt with), because boys, we’re assured, need to get it out you know. I do know, as most children need to let off excess energy and strong emotions, but why the double standard?
And what about the feelings of the boy being labelled, especially when the speaker sounds disapproving. The boy is stuck being a problem solely based on his gender.
Here’s the piece I thought of last night:
I would not think of saying to any of my in-laws, “Girls will be girls,” or “That’s just like a girl,” when one of my nieces cries longer than I’m used to a child crying, when they’re feelings are hurt by something that seems to be no big deal to me, and probably wouldn’t even be noticed by either of my boys, when they giggle excessively at the antics of one of my children, or preen before a mirror, hairbrush in hand. I wouldn’t make such a blanket statement period, because it’s ridiculous, hurtful, limiting, and in this enlightened age, most of us are aware that girls need to be empowered, not defined by their gender.
We need to be just as careful with boys.