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Boys will be Boys

Written by: Leela Valadares Saili

From: Slough, England

Edited by: Luana Mayer

“Boys will be boys”, said my year 1 teacher after I had told her that a boy had hit me, “there isn’t anything we can do about that, my love.” She seemed blissfully unaware of the fact that she was perpetuating the patriarchal attitudes that women (and girls) have to face in what is supposed to be a civilised, equal society. She added that he probably liked me and that’s why he hit me. Really? She already planted a seed in young Leela’s mind that a woman is allowed to be treated like this, and that a man is entitled to have control over a woman’s body. That was almost 10 years ago, and honestly, things haven’t gotten much better. 

Only last week one of my teachers told me that my skirt was too short and such would not be well-seen among my peers. The length of my skirt does not determine the nature of my character, thank you very much, and it should most definitely not determine how other people see me. I am much more than a skirt, thank you very much! I refuse to change something about myself in order to abide by the rules of a patriarchal society. On a less light-hearted note, we all need to realise that a skirt does not mean a girl is “asking for it,” as some judges in court have been known for saying. An example of this is when a 17-year-old in Ireland was raped by a man 10 years older than her. He pleaded not guilty as his excuse was that she was ‘wearing a blue lace thong’ so she must have known she wanted to have sex. Her thong did not mean she was asking for it

In June last year, the website “Everyone Invited” was created to expose rape culture and allow young girls and women to use their voices. Since the 8th of March this year - when we, in the UK, physically returned to school - it has had 15,000 anonymous testimonies by the end of May. More and more girls across the UK have felt empowered to use their voices and the number of testimonies is constantly increasing. Today, there have been 51,060 testimonies since the 8th of March. Does this mean that the boys in schools feel that they can touch or harass us? I think so. And I believe that this starts at an early age. And I believe that this is rooted in the nurturing of a child - both parental, and in early education - with their older influences excusing their behaviours, with phrases like “boys will be boys”.

A recent Ofsted report stated that nine in ten girls have been called sexist names or were sent explicit photos and/or videos. According to this report, 90% of recorded offenses of rape in 2018–19 of 13 to 15-year-olds were committed against girls. Additionally, the report informed that boys were much less likely to think sexual harassment and assault happened, particularly contact forms of harmful sexual behaviour. What was a particularly interesting finding from one school in the Ofsted inspection was that what girls saw as “routine name-calling, sexual comments, and objectification,” boys saw as “jokes and compliments”. Why is it that the same words can be construed so differently? It’s like the hunter and the hunted: perhaps the hunter means it in a ‘jokey’ way… but that doesn’t come across to the hunted, does it?

In her song, ‘boys will be boys”, Dua Lipa lists all the things that girls must do in order to be safe. She sings that “boys will be boys, but girls will be women”. Why is it that girls have to learn from an early age what they should and shouldn’t do, whereas boys can do whatever they like? Why is it that Boys can walk home in the dark without feeling scared or threatened for their life? And why is it that girls must change their ways to fit somebody else’s lifestyle: covering up to avoid sexual harassment, assault, or rape? As the famous author and feminist, Margaret Atwood, observed “Men are afraid that women will laugh at them. Women are afraid that men will kill them.” 

It’s been a century since the Suffragettes fought for women’s right to vote, over half a century since The women’s liberation movement, and it still isn’t enough. We have had the Equal pay Act of 1963, 1970, 2018, and still, there is a gender pay gap.

So when will men and women be treated equally? What progress have we made? We’re still fighting the same battles - or at least very similar ones.

We still have gender bias from birth, with the colours pink & blue defining gender. The world hasn’t moved on. Girls are expected to play with cooking sets, Wendy Houses, Barbies, Tiny Tears, Baby Borns, Baby Annabelle, Baby This, and Baby That, while boys are taught to play with Action Man, Transformers, cars, trains, guns, and construction sets. Are girls being trained for motherhood while boys are being trained for adventure? Let boys and girls play with whatever they want! And let children be children, not anything else! 

And as the actor, writer, director, and producer, Justin Baldoni, once said, “Instead of teaching our children to be brave boys or pretty girls, can’t we maybe just teach them to be good humans?” 

Boys will be Boys: Feature Story
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