"Boys will be boys." I can't tell you how many times I heard that as a girl. Most of the time it was used in a way that was harmless--to explain why my classmates wiped boogers on their pants, or inexplicably tackled each other in the halls. But it nevertheless always struck me as an odd thing to say. I'd never heard anyone say, "girls will be girls." So why did everyone--and especially women and girls--give males such a behavioral hall pass?
Until recently I hadn't thought much about the old adage and its unwitting damage. That is, until I came across this article in the Huffington Post about the normalization of sexual violence in young girls under the age of 17. According to a study done by a sociologist at Marquette University, young women who have experienced sexual violence or harassment see it "as normal male behavior." This makes it unlikely that victims of sexual assault will report the offense, either as girls or adults, because they don't want to make a "big deal" out of behavior that they believe is socially normal. The expectation that "boys will be boys" is maintained into adulthood where these women begin to accept abuse as a normal part of interaction with adult men. This, in turn, creates a climate of distrust where women are even less likely to report sexual violence to male authority figures such as police because they believe all men treat all women inappropriately. Even if a woman does believe that the violence perpetrated against her was wrong, she is unlikely to report it because she doesn't trust men.
When studies like these emerge, I no longer balk at the statistic that 60 percent of sexual assault goes unreported. At the end of the article, the author posits that it is important to teach young boys and girls that sexual assault is not okay, in order to dismantle these troubling trends before "the media" teaches them otherwise. While I agree that it is important to teach children that abuse is wrong, I don't think it is a real solution. I think it is important for us to examine what gender norms contribute to this type of worldview. What do we do to make sexual aggression an accepted demonstration of masculinity? And how do we create a climate that encourages female passiveness in the face of this aggression? After all, it isn't just that boys will be boys--it's that boys will be encouraged to be a certain type of boy. And girls will be encouraged to keep quiet.