When my youngest child was around the age of six, he was called a sissy by a neighbor boy’s dad. This man was angry and looked as though he would and could fight anyone in his path. His presence smelled of aggression. His son was bullying my son at school, so I contacted the school in hopes of getting things resolved appropriately.
Instead of waiting for things to be worked out between the school and us, the father came to my home and started to verbally attack me while I unloaded groceries in the driveway. The bully had a bully for a father. He was telling me that I needed to let these boys fight it out or I was creating a sissy boy (repeating that word several times). I disagreed and told him I would call the police if he didn’t leave, so he finally left.
After that incident, there was no way I was going to allow this type of behavior to be an example of how men handle conflict resolution. Since that day, I’ve tried to teach my son a healthier way to deal with feelings, emotions, anger, and conflict between friends and neighbors – even the bullies of this world. Learning how to respect people doesn’t make him a sissy, it makes him responsible.
I won’t say it has been easy; not all people see things the same way I do. Lots of people (both male and female) haven’t been taught how to deal with their emotions or conflict in a healthy way. Instead of being kind and respectful, people attack.
Here's why the phrase boys will be boys is so problematic, as well as other excuses for bad behavior and healthier ways we can all manage our anger and aggression.
Why Boys Will Be Boys is Such a Problem
When it comes to a boy's bad behavior, we often chalk it up to “boys will be boys.” When it’s a grown man, we say, “men just can’t control their anger” until that anger leads to domestic violence, sexual assault, or the loss of many human lives.
What Does "Boys Will Be Boys” Mean?
The Cambridge Advanced Learner’s Dictionary explains that boys will be boys is “said to emphasize that people should not be surprised when boys or men act in a rough or noisy way because this is part of the male character.” Sadly, that phrase is rooted in gender inequality. It trivializes male behavior as just something all males do, and have a right to do, without accountability or responsibility, because they are male. If anything it makes women the ones to blame for trying to hold males accountable or provoking their anger just under the surface.
The Problem with Boys Will Be Boys and Locker Room Talk
Boys will be boys has also been an excuse for locker room talk about women being nothing more than the sum of their parts, not worth any more than a body for entertainment and enjoyment. The #MeToo and #ChurchToo movements brought out the hidden stories of women being exploited by men, most times for male pleasure, by men in authority or with financial power. This is when many women, and men, realized that we need to be holding abusers and assailants accountable for all the ways they mistreat fellow humans.
Other Excuses for Bad Behavior:
1. Shouldn’t We Give Grace?
Even in the Church, among Christian where we’re seeing these same types of things happening, the excuse has been, “Sinners are going to sin. Forgive them! Give them grace!” This is no different from the boys will be boys excuse for lack of self-control and disrespect that all humans deserve.
And yes, we should give grace while seeking repentance and holding people accountable for their actions. We just can’t keep brushing things under a rug hoping it won’t be repeated; that abusers will stop seeking power and control over others.
As the Bible says, a man who is allowed to get away with his crime will think of other ways to do wrong. He believes he’s safe to continue to sin without consequences.
“There is a time when a man lords it over others to his own hurt. When the sentence for a crime is not quickly carried out, people’s hearts are filled with schemes to do wrong.” – Ecclesiastes 8:9,11 NIV
2. Aren’t We Expecting Too Much from Males?
Maybe we’re just not sure how to stop aggressive behavior or angry outbursts once they start. Maybe we’re not teaching boys that it’s okay to feel all the other feelings besides anger. We even may be untrained in conflict resolution ourselves so we just allow things to play out in unhealthy ways. Whatever the reason we need to find solutions to this problem.
There is a real danger in assuming all boys are created the same and only capable of anger and aggression. When we lower standards we say that boys aren’t capable of other things – like kindness, empathy, compassion, or communication. It might be surprising to learn but testosterone doesn’t limit boys from their full potential as humans just as estrogen doesn’t make women kinder or gentler. Instead, we need to be teaching healthier ways for all humans to handle their anger and other tough emotions we all deal with.
3. Isn’t Testosterone to Blame for Male Aggression?
As stated early, boys will be boys just reinforces the popular belief that males are more aggressive and exhibit risky behavior. But that popular belief has been refuted by many scientific studies over the last few decades. Even with that knowledge, it seems that the belief still excuses aggressive male behavior.
In one scientific study, published in 2009, research showed that men were more likely to be aggressive when they thought they were given extra testosterone even when they were receiving a placebo. Researcher and Economist Dr. Michael Naef, of the University of Zurich shared, "It appears that it is not testosterone itself that induces aggressiveness, but rather the myth surrounding the hormone. In a society where qualities and manners of behavior are increasingly traced to biological causes and thereby partly legitimated, this should make us sit up and take notice.”
Healthier Ways All Humans Can Manage and Handle Aggression:
Anger isn’t a dangerous emotion, but what we do with it is. The Bible shows us appropriate times that a person can and should be angry. Both God and Jesus were angry about sin, injustice, pain, and suffering. We should be just as angry at these same things ourselves.
What’s dangerous about anger, or more so rage, is that it can hurt individuals and damage relationships when it comes out as physical, emotional, or sexual abuse. Verbally abusive people use their anger as an excuse to tear down and attack other human beings. A sexual abuser uses their power to take advantage of someone else.
The healthier way to handle anger and desire is to not allow it to become sin. Ephesians 4:26-27 says, In your anger do not sin: Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry, and do not give the devil a foothold, meaning we, both male and female, need to manage and learn to resolve our anger in appropriate and healthy ways while not allowing it to knock us off the straight and narrow path.
The same is said about sexual desires. We are to have self-control, not to let it run wild and then make excuses.
“Flee from sexual immorality. All other sins a person commits are outside the body, but whoever sins sexually, sins against their own body.” – 1 Corinthians 6:18 NIV
What Can We Do to Teach the Next Generation?
My 16-year-old son just entered the world of dating, peer-pressure, exposure to seductive or pornographic images, and all the things that come with being a teenaged boy in this social media age. Now the bullies are bigger and have cell phones with unfiltered, unlimited, and unmonitored social media time.
1. We need to teach boys to stand up against those who threaten harm.
I believe we have to teach our children to not only do what’s right but also stand up against things that will harm them and their future. Or worse, bring harm to another human life. I try to teach my son that girls are human beings just like he is. I taught my daughters to not use their body to entice men.
2. We need to teach both boys and girls that a woman’s body is not for male enjoyment, mere sexual arousal, or to be used.
This is all while they’re being bombarded with the opposite message from music, movies, and other negative media messages.
In his new book, Raising Boys Who Respect Girls, Dave Willis states, “A boy who is raised to believe that porn is harmless fun will often grow into a man who believes that using women is harmless fun.” He suggests we should be “teaching our sons to have a deep and abiding respect for women.” I believe this is how we can teach boys not to use or abuse others. We need to stop the locker room talk before it starts!
3. We also need to be teaching our boys (and girls) healthy ways to handle and express anger.
We show them how to behave, what our standards are as humans, by how we behave in front of them. We are their biggest role models – they are watching even when we think they’re not. We all can step up to the plate to stop the cycle of toxic ways of handling aggression and anger by how we treat other people.
Jesus Is the Best Example of Perfect Manhood
Jesus is the Ultimate Manhood (and Person) example here on earth. He walked with both men and women throughout His ministry. Even when He was angry He was self-controlled. He didn’t take advantage of anyone. And He seemed more protective of women – knowing women were vulnerable just because they were women – during that time.
Women were seen as gifts to His ministry and calling, rather than gifts to Him or men in general. He did more to recognize, advance, and respect women than another person in history. I would even dare to say He was the first proponent for gender equality.
Writer Erik Jones, of Life, Hope & Truth shares, that positive messages are needed to solve this crisis facing boys and men. In his article, Jesus Christ: The True Model for Manhood, Jones states, “Christ’s example for men today is to respect all women and treat them with honor. Many young men—influenced by music, advertising, pornography, and movies—view women as sexual objects. Using derogatory words for women is common in certain genres of music. Real men have nothing to do with this and treat all women—especially their mothers and wives—with dignity, honor, and respect.”
What We Can Say Instead of “Boys Will Be Boys”:
From now on, instead of saying, “boys will be boys”… let’s start saying, “all humans can be responsible for their behavior and held accountable” according to their age. Men were not created to be angry and aggressive. We were all created to have the Fruit of the Spirit, including self-control.
Jen Grice is a Christian Divorce Mentor and Empowerment Coach, author of the book, You Can Survive Divorce: Hope, Healing, and Encouragement for Your Journey, a speaker, and a single homeschooling mom. She writes full-time at JenGrice.com and empowers women to survive and heal after their unwanted divorce on her YouTube channel as well. Jen believes that through God's healing, grace, and redemption that all Christian women can survive... and even thrive, after divorce. Navigating this foreign territory we call divorce? Feeling alone? Start here!
Photo Credit: ©Getty/chaiyon021
Originally published Monday, 02 December 2019.