In light of Gillette's new ad, "We Believe: The Best Men Can Be", the age-old adage 'Boys Will Be Boys' and the phrase 'toxic masculinity' have been tossed around the internet and social media. The question that begs to be answered now is: why are 'Boys Will Be Boys' and 'toxic masculinity' attracting so much attention? Better yet, why are these phrases even considered deleterious when it is all just harmless frolicking? For countless generations, 'Boys Will Be Boys' has been used to excuse and normalise horrendous and aggressive behaviour among men. Also known as toxic masculinity, this issue runs deep in the roots of humanity but was largely overlooked until recent times.
Generally, the reactions to "We Believe: The Best Men Can Be", fell in two categories- furious uproar at a perceived implication that all men behave poorly, or passionate support in defence of the ad. Taking personal offense to an ad that is not meant to be a personal attack, but rather is aimed at the general public, sums up part of the complicated, thrumming web that is toxic masculinity. Journalist and condescending tyrant Piers Morgan describes this ad as a battering of masculinity and he emphasizes that boys must be allowed to be just that: boys. This notion is vehemently espoused by men's rights activists who believe that this ad debases men. The issue here is that believing that an ad urging men to respect boundaries threatens masculinity, signifies that toxic masculinity is very much real and alive in today's society.
Nothing is normal until the large majority of society normalizes it. This is the core of the problem with sexual violence incidents- where 'Boys Will Be Boys' is used to excuse degrading acts performed by men. In many sexual assault cases where the perpetrator and the victim were inebriated at the time of the assault, it is often argued that the perpetrator was not aware of his actions and thus walks free. In fact, victims are often blamed in these instances. Common parlances such as "she deserved it for getting drunk", or "she wanted it" only contributes to the odious effect of excusing men from taking responsibility for their actions. A prime example of this would be the 2015 Stanford Rape Case, where Brock Turner was convicted for three counts of sexual assault.
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A friend later wrote that it was unfair to determine the next decade of Turner's life based on just the accusations of an intoxicated girl. The victim, who remains anonymous, detailed in her victim impact statement graphic truths about her subsequent treatment for sexual assault and the papers she signed that were stamped with an ominous "Rape Victim". She described her devastation and the insidious void festering inside her when she was thrust back into the world in standard-issue sweats, still unsure of what exactly happened. The truth is that absolutely nothing excuses sexual violence. 'Boys Will Be Boys' indoctrinates men with the view that women are mere sexual objects existing solely for their gratification. This fosters toxic masculinity in men, defiling society's egalitarian principles and allowing sexual violence issues to thrive in silence. Consequently, children are not immune from the negative effects of 'Boys Will Be Boys'.
Since time immemorial, 'Boys Will Be Boys' is often used by adults to brush off bullying by children. Doing so may initiate problems stemming from bullying to manifest in both the bully and the victim. Although it is highly stereotyped that bullying is a juvenile rite of passage, the effects of bullying can last a surprisingly long time, well into adulthood, where it manifests into domestic violence. More often than not, abusive behavior towards spouses and children is justified in a similar way to bullying simply because it is regarded as ordinary behavior. In a study published in JAMA Pediatrics, men who were bullies as children are proven more likely to exert abusive behavior towards their family as adults than their peers. Allowing children to think that aggressive behavior is an ordinary trait of male adults creates the idea that violence from a partner should be excused.
When bullying escapes attention, the aggressor is likely to believe that he has society's tacit endorsement to dominate those he deems weaker than him. Toxic masculinity is fostered in young children when they are given reason to believe that they could be superior and this usually extends into adulthood in the form of domestic violence. It is crucial to educate children about forming respectful relationships and recognizing boundaries. Abusive behavior should never be excused with 'Boys Will Be Boys'.
In the #METOO era, there have been many campaigns shedding light on sexual violence, bullying, and domestic violence. The Gillette ad "We Believe: The Best Men Can Be" is one of the first leading brands to tackle these issues that have persisted in stifled silence for far too long. Justifying sexual violence, bullying, and domestic violence using this approach is extremely harmful. Not only are the perpetrators exempted from taking responsibility for their debilitating actions, they are also led to believe that they did not do anything wrong. As a result, many victims of these transgressions do not come forward about the abuse. The "Boys Will Be Boys" mentality does not belong in today's progressive contemporary society as it cultivates toxic masculinity by harboring irreverent and aggressive behaviors.
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