Boys will be what?

Picture me in front of you with my hand about 12 inches above my head and I am saying in my best, angry, fed up, frustrated voice:


Granted, in today's world and in my life in general, that particular gesture and thought could apply to a large variety of things, but the one issue that is really bothering me lately is the "controversy" surrounding the Dalhousie Dentistry students. The group of future professionals who posted misogynistic, sexist comments in a private Facebook group, ironically called "The DDS Class of 2015 Gentlemen". 

In one post, members were polled and asked, “Who would you hate f—k?” They were given two names to vote on.

Another post shows a woman wearing a bikini. The caption says, “Bang until stress is relieved or unconscious (girl).”

The students, who are all grown men, have been suspended from clinical activities and so far only one of the 13, the one who showed the group's posts to a fellow female student, has come forward to reveal his name. These "gentlemen" may now not be able to graduate and the University is under extreme pressure from various provincial dentistry associations to release all of their names. Consequences I feel that are fitting to their appallingly sexist behaviour and lack of personal good judgment.

But here is the part where I get REALLY fed up.

If you ask at least three well-known female columnists from across Canada, we are all over-reacting to these "stupid", "dopey", and "crude" jokes made by young men in what was perceived as a private group. The narrative that we are being presented with from these journalists is one that insists that "boys will be boys" and that they shouldn't have their futures ruined over what is seen as a victimless offence and a mere thoughtcrime. One of these journalists, has even gone so far as to give young women some advice for how to "deal with" these kinds of situations.

Here’s some advice for young women: Practise manning up. Like it or not, the world beyond the cloistered halls of academia is teeming with guys who take up too much space and occasionally act like total jerks. Sooner or later, you will have to learn to deal with them. Fear not. You can.
— Margaret Wente, Globe and Mail

I am pretty sure I went into some kind of feminist coma after reading that last one from Wente and it has taken me this long to gather all my thoughts together enough to express myself coherently.

I don't want to teach my daughter how to "man-up" in this world. Heck, I don't want to teach that concept to my son. Especially if that means teaching him to think that he is above all others, that he can say and do whatever the hell he wants and not have to answer for his actions and/or words, whether they are online or IRL and that he is forever going to be held up to a standard of masculinity that degrades others in order to stand out.

Time after time we see this kind of cultural bias for our poor, stupid, boys, making poor, stupid mistakes and it HAS TO CHANGE. In 2013, as CNN reported on the Steubenville rape case verdict, the reporter lamented how the "two young men that had such promising futures, star football players, very good students, literally watched as they believed their lives fell apart...". We've seen this in the narratives surrounding the sexual assault allegations against Jian Ghomeshi and Bill Cosby when people talk about legacies being tarnished and careers ruined. And here is the part that REALLY bugs me and that scares me too. Stupid boys, making stupid, crude, "jokes" that people continually brush off as just that, have the potential to turn into predatory men who feel no remorse for the terrible, awful ways that they view and treat women. 

In her response to Wente's ridiculous articles last week about how women need to figure out how to deal with a world teeming with total jerks, Anne Kingston addresses these issues brilliantly.

Photo source: Macleans/Rogers Digital media

Photo source: Macleans/Rogers Digital media

And why should we? I'd like to challenge the people of this world who continue to use the "boys will be boys" excuse as a catch all for bad behaviour. I say to them that boys will be THOSE kinds of boys only so long as we keep letting them. Women and girls are constantly being told to lean-in, man-up, grow a pair and on and on to "make it" in this world, but what about our boys? What are we telling them? Can we please stop worrying about our girls "manning up" and start worrying more about what kind of men we want our boys to be? 

Movies, video games, magazines and all kinds of media are at their fingertips and it is chock full of images of violence towards women, their sports and media heroes doing awful things, and still we do nothing. Our kids' heroes are not convicted of their crimes, the women they victimize are belittled and blamed, the athletes get a few weeks suspension from playing the game that pays them millions of dollars and we quickly brush these "scandals" under the rug as soon as the media latches on to the next one (and there is always a next one). Our boys are growing up in a world that glorifies a specific version of masculinity, to the point of toxicity both to them and to the female population around them as well. But as Kingston points out, times, they are a-changing, and so are the consequences for these sexist and hateful attitudes and actions from boys and men. While some people would be happy to just let those patterns of behaviour continue and demand that girls and women just learn to deal with it, more and more, others are demanding that there be real change and accountability for it and are making efforts to change the culture of masculinity for our future generations.

In the new film from The Representation Project, "The Mask you Live In", the concept of toxic masculinity and it's consequences in our societies are explored in depth.  

This follow up film to the project's previous hit, Miss Representation, that looked at how women and girls are represented in the media, is premiering this week at the Sundance Film Festival in Park City, Utah and will be coming to a theatre and/or screening near you soon.  

It is high time we stop telling our girls and women to start acting more like men. It is time we stop letting boys and men off the hook when they treat other human beings with such disregard and disrespect. And it is definitely time we start teaching our boys a better way to BE a man


**Disclosure: I am a Kickstarter backer for The Mask You Live In production. I have not received compensation for this post and all opinions are mine alone.**