Oh, how easily we fall back on pat responses when it comes to male bad behaviors we accept… Try “boys will be boys” as one of the most common and ridiculous among them, as we shrug off a breadth of boorish behaviors.
I imagine that you, like me, recall Melania Trump more or less trotting out this very defense last year about her husband. Instead of one male adult and one young son, she referred to her “two boys” at home.
And she certainly isn’t the only woman to make such a statement with affection, acceptance, or dismissal.
To what extent are adult women complicit in encouraging male bad behavior — the rogue, the charmer, the unreliable Bad Boy?
Why do we let so much slide? Why do we think it’s okay if grown men behave like adolescents? Aren’t we partly to blame for encouraging, or at least not discouraging, juvenile attitudes and actions?
“Boys Will Be Boys”
I took notice when The New York Times approached this issue with a column entitled “What Do Women Really Think of Men?” — a subject as broad and elusive as what men think of women, which I mused about a few years ago. But my musing had nothing to do with the damaging influence of the opposite sex to the detriment of all of us, whereas this is precisely the focus of The Times.
The crux of the issue: By tolerating (and minimizing, even joking about) male bad behavior, by casting it as “boys will be boys,” women perpetuate attitudes and actions that do our own sex a disservice.
It has become routine to toss out flippant remarks in a social context — to put others at ease, to garner a chuckle, to establish some sort of common ground and thus a sense of belonging — and gender-based comments are commonly used to do so. We compare notes on ruined laundry or broken china, offering an affectionate, exasperated “Oh, that’s men for you!” to our girlfriends. Or the guys might indulge in a version of their own on the subject of spending or shopping or time in front of the bathroom mirror.
I am no exception in resorting to knee-jerk responses to oil the social machinery of a quick conversation. In fact, just the other day in a supermarket check-out line, the (female) cashier was rolling her eyes at the (male) bagger whom she asked to lift an oversize package of bottled water. To me, her request could not have been clearer. But he looked confused, and had no idea what she wanted.
I literally clamped my mouth shut as I was about to murmur, “He can’t help it, he’s a guy.” And a split second later, the cashier turned to me, shook her head, and said precisely those words.
Male Bad Behavior? Say What?
Out of curiosity, I googled the phrase “male bad behavior” and was surprised at the varied results that popped up. They range from acting fast and loose with the truth in dating (cue the “cad” or cheater) to bullying (both subtly and overtly).
Now, it’s easy to zero in on a set of behaviors here that appears on the surface to be benign. But what about those “bad behaviors” that are disrespectful… or worse? What about shoddy behaviors that we may associate with adolescent boys, but observe in grown men? Isn’t part of the problem the fact that we tolerate these behaviors in our sons in the first place?
What about stereotyping in a social context? Should we stamp it a misdemeanor and leave it at that?
Alas, guilty as charged in my banter with women about men, though I realize that I would be resentful of most gender stereotypes played for a laugh at my own expense. Note that I say most; there are specific instances where I take no offense, seeing myself in the ways that I fit the stereotypical gender mold. Nevertheless, isn’t there always an undermining or diminishing undercurrent in remarks that seek to slot us — any of us — into a tight little gender box?
Having given birth to two boys, both of whom are now young men, I can’t imagine letting them off the hook for any of the stereotypically male behaviors that women are so want to make light of. Perhaps this is because I raised them; any indication that they weren’t pulling their weight would reflect on me as a parent, and of course on them, as millennial men.
Perspective and context play into this conversation; there is a difference between bad behavior and irksome habits. For example, handling dish duty after dinner or disciplining children differently than we might wish is not equivalent to being lazy, lax, or refusing to share chores. And, we need to remember that just because it’s different, that doesn’t mean it’s wrong. If we of any gender would let go of our preconceived notions that our way is the only right way, we might be more open to new ways that are better.
Some of us note increasingly detrimental models for and acceptance of behaviors we would be wiser to call out. And that includes our own.
When I consider the mocking comments that we women make about men, sometimes excusing them, sometimes in jest, and at other times demeaning their entire sex, I know this: If the shoe were on the other foot, we would be offended. So what do we do about this double standard? Where do we draw the line when we know there is no ill intent?
I also recognize that political correctness taken to the nth degree can be exhausting, not to mention an impediment to casual conversation, and a means to connect through shared experience and humor. But humor at whose expense? And at what long-term cost?