I have recently encountered a form of seemingly-benign male privilege that seems to have pervaded the minds of many of my friends (even the feminist ones). Last semester, I had a disagreement with a male teammate. He and I were both co-captains of a team, but he quickly abandoned the “boring” teaching or secretarial paperwork aspect of his captain duties, failed to communicate with me on decisions (when our team car didn’t start in the morning, he simply left with his other friend leaving me worried and stranded), dismissed all my concerns as being too “up-tight,” and even went as far as to tell me to de-wrinkle his suit jacket like some maid while he attended the captain’s meeting (which both of us were supposed to attend). The act was so vintage sexist that it reminded me of old “go make me a sandwich” jokes.
Angry, tired, and overworked, I brought these concerns to my self-identified feminist friends, who proceeded to tell me while shaking their heads (and chuckling a little bit) that “Tim is just Tim” — in other words, that “boys will be boys.”
Boys Will Be Boys: The Male Privilege Excuse
“Boys will be boys” seems to be the universal excuse for misogynist behavior that ignores, objectifies, and sexualizes women. Why do we let these actions slide because they are men? Why do we allow men to be more rude, logical, detached, and heartless all in the name of being “manly”? Why do we describe their sexual desires as a biological switch that can never be turned off or decently controlled? Why do we give men the benefit of the doubt, assuming their actions were anything but their own indecency, and not do the same for other genders?
And as women, we are expected to tolerate, excuse, and even readily accept this type of behavior. “Boys will be boys” teaches us that:
- Men are completely devoid of emotions and incapable of understanding your pain, so suck it up and deal with it yourself.
- Men are physically unable to pry their eyes away from your butt or breasts, so cover yourself up.
- Men can’t do anything about their animalistic need to satisfy their sexual desires, so keep yourself off their bodies — and most importantly, if you find yourself the target of unwanted sexual advances, you better do something to fight it off. ‘Cause, heck, the men just can’t do anything about it.
Why “Boys” Should Become Men
Often with feminist issues, we end with just an outburst of anger — and no tangible solutions. It often frustrates allies when I rant and am unable to put forth tangible, step-by-step plans for how they can help to fix the problem. Although I am aware that (1) I should not be expected to educate all men about feminism and (2) allies’ solution searching is just another mark of their privilege [The “well then, tell me how I can fix it” kind-of response shows their desire to get rid of the problem, which is probably causing them unproductive feelings of guilt and shame, without having to fully understand their positions of privilege].
But I also understand that change will probably involve some vulnerability and sacrifices from the oppressed, in order to make those with privilege move along with that change. I’ve found that finding a reason for men to support the cause of feminism is a good way for them to feel apart of the movement and start the dialogue. If you look at the list above, each bullet point in the list not only depicts the woman in a negative manner, but also characterizes men as being “devoid of emotions” and “animalistic.”
Jackson Katz, an anti-sexist activist (see above), similarly writes:
The argument that “boys will be boys” actually carries the profoundly anti-male implication that we should expect bad behavior from boys and men. The assumption is that they are somehow not capable of acting appropriately, or treating girls and women with respect.
What we’re both trying to say is that patriarchy has a clear harm towards men as well. Although exempt from fear of violence against them or doubts of their ability merely because of their gender, male privilege also has its costs for men. The notion of male privilege and subsequent oppression of woman shows that men are oppressing the women. So if women are the silenced, the helpless, the victims, men are the rapists, the animals, and the rocks that are incapable of feeling. While stereotyping women as objects, patriarchy also simultaneously casts men as the stupid, arrogant puppeteers of that object.
I see patriarchy is a challenge — a challenge to the notion that men and women could be anything but 2D cookie cutter dolls, that they could be intellectual, nuanced beings capable of love and respect. Men, I hope you’re up for the challenge.