Boys will be boys.
A statement echoed playfully around the world. Usually said with a chuckle and a twinkle of nostalgia, warmly turning a blind eye to otherwise unacceptable behaviours. Fighting, yelling, vandalizing, wolf whistling. Adorable, scruffy little things covered in dirt and grass stains. Fueled by boundary-pushing adrenaline rushes and Sunny D. They’re boys, it’s what they do! Come on, relax, they’re fine.
I’m “Mom” to three little boys. I can’t count how many times well meaning friends with little girls have made jokes. “You better keep that rascal of yours away from my baby!” They chuckle at the idea of my infant son courting their daughter. He would pull his rusty turd of a car into their driveway, greeted by his beaming crush and her scowling, pink-faced Dad.
It’s a joke! It’s funny!
Because boys will be boys.
I cradle my newborn and try to force myself to respond to these “jokes” in the way that I’m expected to. With an easy smile and passive agreement about what a jerk my infant is sure to be. This time I just can’t do it. The trivial, generic statement that has been said millions of times about millions of little boys suddenly feels like a blow to my stomach.
This is my baby; my sweet, blank slate, all cheeks and potential. He is pure perfection that I built myself and suddenly these common hypocrisies are a revelation. We say them only because we always have. We laugh without really digesting the message. He doesn’t even have teeth and is already caught up in our misjudgments. Stereotypes stacked against him from day one, standards laid out so low that disrespect and sexual deviance is seen as an expectation of his gender.
I see you rolling your eyes, sighing as you read. This is all just so ridiculous, right? It has been taken way too far. We can’t even make jokes anymore.
This is your problem, whether you like it or not. This is a problem for the “good guys”. The guys that have never hurt a fly yet find themselves lumped in with the monsters, just because they share an incriminating appendage. It’s the responsibility of the women that beat the odds, that escaped being a statistic. The women that can’t quite understand the pain of their peers, so they remove themselves from the conversation because they think it isn’t their place.
But it is. It’s your problem, it’s mine. It’s ours.
Our world is in full pendulum swing. Traversing across the spectrum of what has always been accepted without question, shifting towards a kind of awakening. Ideas are being challenged and dynamics of equality are shifting. The pendulum will swing wide, as pendulums do. Sexist women parading around as “feminists” with no respect for the title. Burning bras and wielding pitchforks at anything with a scrotum. Fighting the good fight, but only for the side that they want to win. Middle aged men that have seen more locker rooms than classrooms, making cringeworthy jokes at the expense of anyone deemed weaker than them. Excusing revolting behaviour from their pals, little boys that should have long ago morphed into “men”.
We are reaching the summit of our pendulum swing. It is intense and uncomfortable. The wounded are striking out and the guilty are laughing cruelly to hide their fear.
As a mother I’m more aware of this pinnacle than ever before. I’m painfully cognizant of the responsibility I am blessed with in raising three young men. The pressure of leading by example, every day, in all of the simplest ways.
Our most important jobs as parents is to prepare our children for life, not just protect them from it. We need to stand beside them while we still can, helping them manoeuvre their way through the torturous chapters that so many of us end up hiding from.
I hope to encourage my babies to stand strong, even when they’re tempted to slink into the background. To ask “why” instead of laugh without cause or joy, just because everyone else is. I want to teach my boys to respect. For themselves and others, freely and without question. Honing their instinct and judgment, allowing the actions and choices of others to be the only factor that will lose that respect.
Thankfully after the upward swing, the pendulum always eventually slows and settles to its place in the middle. The spot where new norms are formed and clear boundaries are placed. This is the equation for lasting change, and these upcoming generations are going to bring it home. But first we have to show them how.
Mommy’s Inside Voice is a biweekly column by Amie Jay, a local mother of three.