Boys Will Be… An Essay on how Language Promotes the Perpetuation of Rape Culture.

I've heard it, you've heard it, we all have. The words themselves cling heavily to the stale air of any conversation into which they are expelled; the underlying potential for further and warranted inquiry very rarely exercised and oh, what a shame that is. Dauntingly, yet inconspicuously, it looms above our heads, the threat of manipulation as evident as can be. When spoken, many women will draw in a breath of disfavor, only to be held, along with their tongues, until the conversation has well since moved beyond the dreaded phrase, “boys will be boys”. The phrase speaks for itself; boys will act according to socially constructed, preconceived notions of how a boy should act. Some women have resorted to teaching their girls to tentatively raise the question in response: “what do you mean by that?”. It is a subtle way of holding people accountable, but the subtlety of it is what pains me most. I'm certain that a covert, profound, widespread sort of rebellion is better than sitting in silence, a prospect which up until recently, seemed to be some sort of gender prerequisite. Fighting subtle oppression with subtle accountability, however, is not nearly enough. Now is the time we recognize phrases like these as harmful, and treat them as such. It seems like the actions excused by this phrase are specific to young people, as if it does not follow them well into adulthood. One of the reasons it's not questioned is because it sounds so temporary, it forces us to perceive it, whatever that “it” may be, as acceptable, because they won't be a boy forever; it is “boys will be boys”, after all, not “men will be men”. They say it as if impermanence means insignificance, but it doesn't; show me a permanent state of the self, I dare you. The very core of my anger is encapsulated in phrases just like “boys will be boys”, and here is why. The advanced language of humanity, to speak broadly, is a product of complex thought and thus can only encompass that quality as well as the speaker who wields it; our language reflects the values, however corrupt, of western society. It serves as a manipulation tactic to trick you into interpreting the message without questioning it, a prospect potentially more harmful than the idiomatic expression lets on. That's the evil nature of phrases like “boys will be boys”; it begs us not to inquire further. Language that goes unchallenged is one of the many ways we allow systematic oppression and internalized misogyny to stubbornly resist eradication. When people die, are refused healthcare, or suffer attacks as a result of gender, it seems trivial to gently challenge the unequal use of the phrase “boys will be boys”. It is the same system though, that perpetuates all behaviors; it is blind to severity, and it's all based on the same flawed logic. It's not rigid dichotomy between either and or; we can care simultaneously about the language we use and still fight human rights abuses around the world. Changing how we speak will help to dismantle rape culture. What that means, is sometimes we must look our fellow conversationalists in the face and tell them that “boys will be boys” is an unacceptable justification for an action, and a lazy one at that. This is no small task, it's likely they won't understand, they might tell you they “didn't mean anything by it”. Systematic discrimination is imposed onto us by society at a young age- nobody is inherently racist, inherently Islamophobic, inherently sexist- yet racism, Islamophobia and sexism still exist prominently because those notions in any form aren't being challenged. It's an uncomfortable thing to do, yet a necessary one. In Canada, we are fortunate to have the choice. I'm sorry if you mistake my open quest for equality as radical feminist extremism, but for the many people who would face death if they dared to exercise their own, we must act as a voice. The goal of speaking out against seemingly petty issues, is not to change the mind of those who surround you- for many, it is too late to reinstate a new way of thinking and speaking. The confrontation was never about them. It is for the people listening; it is for your youngest cousin at your Christmas gathering, who has grown up listening to your uncle spew sexist propaganda; it is for your classmate, a closeted rape victim who is overhearing a conversation between two boys a row behind her, sexualising the girls in your grade; it is for the eradication of misogynistic policies, the proposition of new and better perspectives, for women everywhere. You act as a microcosm for change, and when we begin to shift the foundations upon which the big issues lie, the whole system comes toppling down. So no, boys will not be boys- boys will be held accountable for their actions as moral and responsible beings- and we don't have to participate in the covert and subtle form of resistance any longer. The tides of change are coming, swift and imminent, and they cannot be stemmed.

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