Boys being boys is a gateway to risk. There is nothing wrong with boys, but the activities associated with being boys have increasingly become harmful to themselves and to others.
We associate boys being boys with an inability to sit still in school. Just being boys includes popular acceptance of early experiments with sex, alcohol, and minor forms of delinquency and illegality. Being boys remains that phase for learning about toughness, aggression, physicality, and greater freedom than that allowed to girls.
To say this sounds like taking away boyhood’s green days by the river, but anyone concerned about the disturbing murders of nineteen year old Shakam De Ravenaux, seventeen year old Michael Miguel, and 15-year-old Jamal Braithwaite and his brother, nine-year-old Jadel Holder, needs to see why boys being boys must change.
Anyone concerned about the numbers of men in prison, the levels of male violence against women and other men, the higher levels of male substance abuse, the lower numbers of boys in higher education, and the multiple dangers boys face in their own communities has to ask about why boys being boys, growing up amidst other boys and men, threatens their futures and their lives.
Hear a relative of the two brothers killed, “I know his brother was in a situation by himself. But that was because he get caught up in the wrong crowd. Not even because he wanted to, but due to the circumstances of his life and the advantage them boys was doing him. But to say that he was a criminal, or that his brother was a criminal? Not at all. They were boys. Miserable boys, yes. I will admit they would pick a mango from someone’s tree, they would air down a tyre or even throw big stones at their friends if you want to push it, but that was it. They were boys being boys. They weren’t any hardened criminals and it hurt me to hear that in the news this morning.”
Hardened criminals or not, assassinations of children are our darkest hour. Our role as a society is to keep all our children and youth safe. To deal with the reality that higher numbers of boys become both perpetrators and victims of gun violence and crime, we have to collectively acknowledge what behaviours become learned and justified through the idea of being boys.
They would just tief from the neighbour, vandalise people’s property, pelt down peers, but that’s it, they were just girls being girls. They felt pressured by the wrong crowd, circumstances and advantage to be miserable and bad behaved, but that’s just being girls. Would anyone say this?
No one. This tells us something about how the meanings of boyhood carry boys into potentially dangerous spaces, groups and ways of learning to be themselves.
Where do boys need to be? In school. At home. Contributing to NGOs that care for community. In programmes that involve music, books, art, chess, math, dance and theatre, not just sports. Who would it actually help them to be more like? Girls. Who are in school clubs and at home in greater proportions, and who less associate adolescence with time, space and support for tiefing, vandalism and violence. Bottom line, it’s killing our boys, it’s time to rethink masculinity.
To do that requires men looking hard at what boys learn about manhood, but also working hard at making governments create different economic options, better national safety, more equitable development models, and less dependence on political patronage. All of these provide the environment within which boys being boys exacerbates their tragically fatal vulnerabilities.