The ‘Boys Will Be Boys’ Defense of Sexual Misconduct is Deeply Insulting to Good Men
Author’s note: Though this article was originally written during the Kavanaugh nomination process, I feel the content below is still worthy of discussion.
With the Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh now facing four accusations of sexual misconduct and assault at the time of writing, a number of people — both men and women — are coming forward to defend him. Some, like President Trump, have simply dismissed the accusations as fabrications. Others have skipped this step and gone straight to shrugging it off as not being a big deal.
This latter shift demonstrates a truly disturbing acceptance of sexual assault by claiming that it is a matter of “boys will be boys” among other inane tautologies.
In a televised panel held with Republican women who support Kavanaugh, one woman’s response, when allegations of attempted sexual assault by 17-year-old Kavanaugh were raised, was to ask “What 17-year-old boy hasn’t done this in high school?” Since then, the woman and her comment have been heavily derided, but she was merely saying what an enormous number people in the United States are thinking.
And while this should certainly enrage women, it also comes across as deeply offensive toward men. This long-perpetuated notion that men are dumb, testosterone-fueled sex hounds is — as a man — profoundly insulting for several important reasons.
First, it implies that men can’t control themselves — if we see an opportunity for sex, we will unerringly pursue it, regardless of morality. After all, we can only think with our penises, right? This type of thinking exempts male sex criminals from being held responsible for their misbehavior, treating such acts as merely the result of a natural state (“he couldn’t help himself!”).
And this directly leads into the next implication: Women are solely responsible for not being sexually assaulted or harassed. How many times have we all heard things said about a survivor such as “she shouldn’t have drank so much” or “she shouldn’t have been wearing such revealing clothes”? These absurd assertions are also outrageous as a man — it necessarily implies a man can’t see some skin or an inebriated woman without losing control and harassing or assaulting them. As a man, I can say with complete certainly that it is possible to remain civilized in such situations. Implying otherwise, again, takes agency away from men and places fault squarely upon women’s shoulders.
It has become a somewhat macabre tradition within American families for the father of a daughter preparing to go off to college to sit her down for “the talk,” in which he tells her that men are animals and they will try to rape any woman if given half a chance. How many of these fathers also sit their sons down to tell them that, perhaps, they should simply not consider themselves entitled to sexual gratification and to women’s bodies?
When bad actors claim objectifying and abusing women is merely “ locker room talk “ or the product of “raging hormones” I can’t help but take pause. The unfortunate reality, though, is that, at least when I was in high school, there was a profound amount of toxic masculinity that involved policing male peers’ attitudes toward sex and women. If you didn’t actively participate in such toxicity, your sexuality was immediately questioned or ridiculed. If you were so audacious as to condemn such things, you’d risk social ostracism, one of teenagers’ greatest fears. But it doesn’t have to be this way.
Enough is enough. Men need to hold themselves and their male friends accountable and stop lazily dismissing revolting discussion and heinous behavior as no big deal or “not my problem.” It is a big deal and it is your problem; sexual violence is still incredibly prevalent and this is because of silence — not just the survivors who are shrouded in silence but the silence of good men.
Silence is complicity. We men have created this problem and we must fix it — not tomorrow, not next week, but today.
Originally published at Care2.com on Sept. 22, 2018.