In 2020, Dua Lipa, an English singer and songwriter, released a song titled ‘Boys Will Be boys’. The song opens with one of the most iconic lines: it’s second nature to walk home before the sun goes down and put your keys between your knuckles when there are boys around. She describes moving with keys between her knuckles as protection because as girls, we are raised to expect sexual harassment and/or assault from men, as we walk alone in the evening. Throughout the song, Lipa keeps repeating the phrase boys will be boys, but girls will be women, even declaring that if you’re offended by this song, you’re clearly doing something wrong. For centuries, the phrase “boys will be boys” has been used to justify the unjustifiable behaviour of men – be it violence, sexism, misogyny or generally unacceptable behaviour. But girls are not extended the same courtesy.
Lipa’s “Girls will be women” emphasizes how girls are expected to grow up much faster than boys are. While the behaviour of boys is excused and toxic masculinity is justified in many societies, girls are often at the receiving end of negligence. For example, we are expected to take precautions to avoid harassment and assault – be it covering every inch of our bodies when we go outside or holding keys between our knuckles as we walk down the street – while the perpetrators are not properly punished for the crime. When interviewed, Lipa simply said the song was simply about “the growing pains of what it’s like to be a girl.”
In her famous TED talk, ‘The Danger of a Single Story’, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, acclaimed Nigerian writer, said: “stories have been used to dispossess and to malign, but stories can also be used to empower and to humanize. Stories can break the dignity of a people. But stories can also repair that broken dignity.” It makes me wonder about the types of stories we are creating, the kind we are telling ourselves and the kind of stories outsiders will share about us. The “boys will be boys” culture was our story yesterday, is ours today and if we’re not careful enough, the story will be carried on tomorrow.
But it’s not too late to change the story. While acknowledging the reality of the adage, Casey Huff, a blogger about parenthood and relationships, writes that she’s fairly certain that the creators of the adage did not intend for it to be used as justification for abuse. As a mother of two young boys, she writes that she would use the phrase as she watches them wrestle wildly on the couch, when she finds dirt in their jeans as she does their laundry, and when she’s asked about being a boy-mom. For her, “the phrase “Boys will be boys” is a neat little package in which to wrap the complexity of this rough-and-tumble, strong-but-sensitive, big-hearted, strong-willed gender that I have the immeasurable pleasure of raising.”
Huff is rewriting that story for herself, dismissing the negative implications of the century-old adage and giving it her meaning, a fresh start. She’s retelling the story in a different language. So, let’s change the usage of the adage. Let’s tell our stories in a different light. Let us change the narrative because ultimately, it is the language that will change our mindset and it is our mindset that will change our story, our culture. Huff is the inspiration we need, the woman with the lightning torch in front, showing us how to change our story. These are the women worth following, the ones who won’t lead us astray.