It’s a simple phrase meant to dismiss bad boy behavior as simply boy behavior. Because of it, countless boys have been left to suffer at the hands of other boys, the latter group empowered by the implicit sanctioning of their brutality.
Sure, girls and boys are different. Most girls will never take to blowing snot rockets in the shower, just as most boys will never choose a pink and purple color scheme for their bedroom. But there is a big difference between gender-influenced behavior that is benign or funny (or just gross), and behavior that purposely annoys, offends, or hurts other people. Unfortunately, over time and reinforced by entrenched gender norms, the term boy has come to define not only a young male person but also a state of behavior. In small but recognizable ways, it absolves males of the responsibility to be accountable for the impact of their behavior on the people around them.
Boys who hurt others are not “just being boys”—they are being bullies. Let’s change this by “unpacking” the language and refusing to tolerate behavior just because it has been described as coming from boys. In doing so, we’ll be taking steps toward reinstating the levels of personal accountability that are instrumental in the social and emotional development of self-respecting, kind, dignified young boys and men. These will be the good citizens of family and community and the globe that we all—collectively and individually—need, and can be proud to have raised.
–Janet Sasson Edgette