There are often things we say to both boys and girls growing up that do more harm than good. Whether we mean to or not, the following phrases develop what is termed "toxic masculinity" in boys, and teach girls to look for and accept that from the men in their lives.
To be clear, toxic masculinity is not saying that masculinity in and of itself is toxic. Masculinity is real and biological, and when done correctly, extremely beautiful. Toxic masculinity is referring to specific gendered behaviors that are...well, toxic.
It's behaviors that are taught and encouraged in little boys so that they grow up to be angry, emotionally-constipated, often violent people. It's what teaches men to be bullies, murderers, mass shooters, rapists, abusers, and victims of suicide.
On the less extreme side of the scale, it's what teaches men to excuse rape culture and not believe the victims who accuse, to force their opinion on others and assume they're always right, and to never express emotion.
If that sounds awful, it's because it is. But we can change that, starting with the way we speak to little kids:
1. "Boys will be boys."
This comes from the idea that destructiveness and aggression and inherently masculine qualities that shouldn't be curtailed. While it is true that boys have more testosterone and are so more given to more aggressive modes of play and interests, that doesn't mean that bad behaviors should be excused.
If a boy is mean to another human being—verbally, physically, mentally, whatever—it should never be excused with "boys will be boys." Boys need to be held responsible for their actions like everyone else.
When we excuse destructive behaviors by saying it's just a boy "being a boy," we're setting him on the path to consistently excuse such aggression until it turns into full-on violence, something he justifies that wouldn't be able to avoid because that's "just how boys are."
There's a difference between being a boy and being a monster.
(Rachel Brandt explores the negative consequences of this phrase more in-depth.)
2. "He's only mean to you because he likes you."
A boy pulled a little girl's pigtail on the playground? Well, that's just because he likes her! He's just trying to get her attention; it's kind of cute, really.
No, it really isn't.
When we excuse pigtail-pulling behavior in kindergartners, we not only teach boys it's okay to hit girls, but we teach girls that if a man hits them, it's because he loves her. Cue women staying in abusive relationships and men abusing.
(I'm not saying only women are victims of abuse nor are only men the perpetrators. I'm merely pointing out that by proclaiming "a boy hurts you because he likes you"—whether that hurt is emotional or physical—it will produce negative, harmful behaviors and mindsets.)
3. "Man up!" or "Boys don't cry."
I've seen firsthand multiple men—not their fathers—who have told my little nephews not to cry about something. Worse, they ridicule them for doing so. And yet I've seen how those men are the ones who are hurt and needing to cry and acknowledge their feelings.
Stop telling boys to "toughen up" or "man up" because the idea that men are somehow emotionless beings is blatantly stupid and scientifically inaccurate. All. Human beings. Cry. And have emotions.
Teaching your boys that they should feel ashamed for being like any other person ever and having emotions will teach them to bottle up those feelings and to never talk to anyone about them. It's what results in those whining about "the friend zone" or those killing themselves to escape it all.
4. "Pink is a girl's color."
Pink actually only started to become a "girl's color" during World War II due to manufacturers. Before then, it was considered a boy's color since it was derived from red:
The generally accepted rule is pink for the boys, and blue for the girls. The reason is that pink, being a more decided and stronger color, is more suitable for the boy, while blue, which is more delicate and dainty, is prettier for the girl.
In fact, before that, all babies, boys and girls alike, were dressed in white because it's easier to bleach.
Basically, colors shouldn't be gendered. They belong to everyone.
And having boys fear liking the color pink is actually symptomatic of a much deeper issue of boys being afraid to be like girls because girls are less than. If it were because they simply aren't girls and so don't want to be called one (which, in some cases, that could be a possibility), then girls would be afraid of being seen as boyish. Instead, we celebrate tomboys.
So for goodness' sake, let boys wear pink and stop making them feel like they're different or there's something wrong with them for wanting to do so.
5. "Men think about sex every seven seconds."
This is a straight-up myth.
There have been multiple studies done over the years to disprove this random figure that people have been quoting without backing it up with any sources, but the most significant one was done by Terri Fisher.
They found that the rate in which men thought about sex varied, but on average was 19 times a day (as opposed to the 8,000 times if men really thought about it once every seven seconds).
Meanwhile, the women studied thought about it half as often, normally once every two hours. However, this could be because either the women were uncomfortable with their sexualities or because they believe they're not supposed to think about it as often as men, so they wouldn't admit to the researchers how often they truly thought of it.
Point is, God created human beings as sexual creatures! The idea that men are more into sex could be due to nurture rather than nature. If men are taught they need to be sex-obsessed and women are taught it's shameful (either being shamed by society for being a slut or a virgin; we can't win), then that could explain the perceived differences in sex drives.
The harm comes when certain men aren't as interested in sex as they're taught they're supposed to be and so feel like something's wrong with them. Or when men are taught to be so obsessed with sex that they objectify women instead of viewing us as people, causing sexual harassment and assault.
6. "Men can't help but cheat. They're just wired that way."
If men are taught that they're uncontrollably obsessed with sex, then that justification will surely impact their fidelity.
While a man physically cheating on his partner may only be justified by a few, roaming eyes are normally excused as "typical male behavior."
"He just checked the waitress out, don't make it a big deal. It's what guys do." As if men are somehow excused from morality because they're too weak and undisciplined to keep it in their pants.
Men aren't that obsessed with sex because of their biology, and any interest in sex certainly never excuses immoral behavior. You cheated because you suck as a person, not because it's in your nature.
Let boys cry and wear pink. Don't allow destructive aggression or meanness towards others, especially girls. Teach them to value others and that they're not actually the "more sexual creatures" by nature. Maybe by cutting out these phrases and the ideologies they come from, we'll raise better, more truly masculine men.