"Boys will be boys."
This was the phrase that slid out of my teacher's mouth when the boy behind me pulled my hair in second grade. It's the statement my friend made in seventh grade with a shrug and a sad smile when I told her the boys in my class were rating girls from 1-10 according to their looks. It's the poison that spreads from news stations in sexual assault reports, bleeding into victim blaming and residing at the very foundation of rape culture.
It's time we stop using "boys will be boys."
This common phrase usually gets a grace period. After all, there is a world of difference between a second grader pulling hair and cases of sexual assault. Where should the line be drawn? Sure, we can laugh off innocent teasing; that's just what boys do when they like a girl. And okay, passing around a dirty picture in middle school certainly isn't okay, but all boys do it. As for high school, by that point, girls should know not to set their drink down at a party, or to wear a short skirt, or to be alone with a boy she doesn't know and trust. God only knows what might happen... because boys will be boys, right?
See, there is no clear place to draw the line as to when men should stop getting a free pass for their actions. The fact of the matter is, if we are not teaching young boys from the very beginning to value women, the world will be teaching them not to do so. Whether that teacher be social media, music, advertisements, or pornography, they will be receiving messages their whole lives that it is okay to objectify women.
"Boys will be boys" completely degrades men of all ages. Whether a person is eight, eighteen, or eighty, they are completely capable of not touching someone who has not given them permission to do so. Boys are capable of not insulting girls, no matter how young they may be, and it is time we stop allowing them to do so. By giving young boys a pass, even with what may seem trivial, we are teaching them that they are not in control of their own actions. Somehow, their gender is more influential than their decision-making abilities. Just as women do not want to be reduced to their outward appearance, it is time we stop reducing boys to their impulses, rather than asking them to rise to their full intelligence and abilities as fellow human beings.
The problem with "boys will be boys" is that it is a lie. Boys become men, and it is time we raise a generation of men who take full responsibility for their own actions. It is time to stop using gender as an excuse for objectification, violence, teasing, and yes, even hair pulling. Boys are worth so much more than a phrase as irresponsible, degrading, and dangerous as "boys will be boys."
It is time we give them the opportunity to prove it.