Friday, January 18, 2019

Boys Will Be Boys - Why Masculinity Is Actually Heroic Not Toxic

Raising boys is not for the faint of heart.
I am the mother of two boys. The two of them are responsible for every single gray hair I have on my head. For those with no experience raising little ones, boys are generally loud and rambunctious. Like most young boys, mine toppled Christmas trees, wrestled in the dirt, and repeatedly tried to jump from the top of the playground slide. (Not the tame little toddler slide, either, but the giant, twisting one that the Parks and Rec department finally removed because it was dangerously tall. That thing was like 20 feet high and little boys kept trying to jump off it. )

My boys were wild. They ran with sticks. They tried to ride the dog. They would take running leaps down the hallway stairs. They rode bikes with no hands. They literally climbed the walls of my house like miniature versions of Spider-Man.

And I let them.

Attempting to rein in their excessive energy was futile. So, I let them run and climb and jump off things, constantly testing their courage and their physical boundaries.

I let them be boys.

And when my boys came to me with dirty faces and scraped knees I often uttered this horrific, four-word phrase:

“Boys will be boys.”

I know the Karens and Jennifers of the world, with their self-righteous views of what constitutes civilized behavior, are out there clutching their pearls and gasping in horror, but it’s true. I totally, 100 percent, unapologetically let my boys behave like boys.

I get it. “Boys will be boys” has often been a poor excuse for bad behavior. From bar fights to sexual assault, the bad behavior of some men has been swept aside, trivialized, and normalized as just something that is part of their nature. Something they can’t control. Boys will be boys.

However, typical male behavior isn’t all bad, and we shouldn’t be throwing the baby out with the bathwater. Even if that baby does have a Y chromosome and a penis.

Boys do have a natural tendency to be adventurous and active, to be risk takers and push limits. But it isn’t “uncivilized.” In fact, it is those very traits that created civilization in the first place.

If you’ve ever watched baby animals play, you’ve seen them actively working to hone skills they will need to be successful adults. The lion cub that pins his sibling to the ground is practicing how to make dinner. Twin fawns playing chase are practicing how to not become dinner.

Human boys are doing the same thing. They are perfecting the skills they need to be men.

Physical activity strengthens muscle and develops physical coordination. Taking risks helps develop courage in the face of fear. And even that aggression, when properly channeled, cultivates ambition and determination, not to mention the skills needed to defend themselves and their loved ones.

Lately, masculinity is being painted with broad negative brush strokes. The narrative is that masculinity is “toxic,” ultimately responsible for the ills of society, from wars to rape to a lack of seat space on public transit.

It has become popular opinion that limiting masculine behaviors, including rough and tumble boyhood play, is the answer to all Society’s problems. If men would just be less manly, the world would be a better place.


Masculinity isn’t intrinsically toxic. In spite of Gillette commercials and the new feminist diatribe, manhood is not dangerous or destructive to society. Yes, there are men who are those things. However, it isn’t because they are too masculine. Whether its pathology or poor home training, that causes individuals to be destructive, we can’t blame manhood for the deadly actions of a few.

Whenever there is danger, it is men who rush in. With strong muscles and brave hearts, they put aside concerns for their own well-being. They rush toward fires, and raging flood waters, and the sound of gunshots to save the weak and the innocent. The masculine traits of assertiveness, strength, aggression, dominance, and control save lives and prevent tragedy every single day of the year.

We can’t argue with hard facts and statistics. Most violent acts are committed by men. But so are most acts of valor and bravery. Masculinity isn't inherently toxic. Rather, it is virtuous and courageous. Masculinity isn't misogyny and homophobia, posturing and compensation. Masculinity is action and strength and bravery. It is using inherent power, not to harm, but to serve and protect.

There is an alarming trend in this country to emasculate our boys. Participation in once popular contact sports has seen a rapid decline. From 2009 to 2014, student participation in wrestling fell by 41.9%, while the number of kids playing tackle football decreased by almost 18%. While it may be mothers and school officials who are concerned about danger and injury that have spawned this decline, it could be a serious detriment to our young boys. This could be the beginning of generations of men who lack strength, physical skill, and a competitive edge.

Our public schools are formatted in ways that favor the learning style of girls while neglecting the way boys typically learn. In recent years, learning has become more language-based and less hands on. Recess has been shortened or altogether banned. We are expecting our boys to sit still and be quiet for longer and longer stretches of time. In short, we expect them to learn and behave like little girls. And when they can’t, we medicate them.

But boys like to be rough. They like to take things apart, climb to the top of the monkey bars, and roll in the dirt. It is in their nature. That is what we mean when we say, “Boys will be boys.”

If we constantly tell them that their very real needs to move and be physical and take risks are “bad”, Society is going to be in big trouble. When we convince men that their natural masculine inclinations are negative, we destroy masculinity as a whole. The good parts of masculinity far outweigh the negative, even if those aren’t the ones that make the evening news.

Men are pretty freakin’ awesome. We should be acknowledging that instead of tearing down boys, expecting them to behave like girls, and telling them that masculinity is toxic. As a modern Society, we cannot afford to eradicate masculinity.

If we destroy masculinity, who will rush in to save the suffering? Who will brave danger to help the innocent? Without aggression, courage, strength, and action we will be a society without heroes.

When all the heroes are gone, we’ll be left with a bunch of demure guys in skinny jeans, albeit with perfectly trimmed beards (thanks Gillette!). Those “men” will be too concerned with offending someone to take risks or speak their mind. They will lack the drive and courage to change the world. They will be too afraid of their “toxic masculinity” to pick up a suffering woman and carry her to safety.

After all, it is really hard to rush into a burning building or a dangerous war zone in skin tight jeans, especially when you’re concerned about spilling your latte...or breaking a nail.

Gillette did get one thing right in their new commercial.

The boys watching today will be the men of tomorrow.

Rather than making them feel guilty or inadequate for being intrinsically strong, strapping, and male, we should let them know it is okay to be men.

Heck. Maybe we should even encourage it.

(AFP/Getty Images)


(David J. Phillip/AP)

(Getty Images)


Unknown said...

Well I am a Jennifer with 3 boys, 5 brothers and 3 brother in laws. Thank you for sharing. I am glad to hear people speaking up to defend our sons and brothers and husbands. It was not quiet at our house when my boys were little, nor when I was growing up. Lucky for me, my brothers let me tag along jumping from slide to slide. Each person has value as a human being, but i guess it much easier to herd people if you put them in a group.

Anonymous said...

Noone hates masculinity. Toxic masculinity is bar fights and sexual asult. Masculinity is a-okay.

Anonymous said...

Did you even look into toxic masculinity and what people mean by it or did you just assume they hate men and write this redundant and backhandedly misogynistic crapshoot of an article? No one's saying not to love your son Becky. It's not all masculinity . It's specific aspects of masculinity like denying men the right to any emotions but anger without being deemed weak . its not all bar fights. And that doesn't mean anyone's telling them to act like girls or wear tight pants ya homophobe. Honestly your "so intrinsically strong" bull is probably more toxic to your son than you know. He's a child!

Anonymous said...

Bizarre to see a woman say only men can be heros. And a horrible thing to teach your sons. You expect them to respect women when you're already telling them they're inferior and masculinity is the only heroic force? Grade A parenting .Gunna have an ego inflated jackass on your hand.