Aw, "boys will be boys." This is an issue I frequently get fierce about. And - I have no idea how I cam across it in my google reader, magic fluke, apparently - Amy King (who is a super awesome poet) wrote this fierce blog post on the topic, probably much more eloquently than I:
Ye Olde "Boys Will Be Boys" Plea
Since starting my MA I've been observing the gender dynamics that exist in the program. And by "observe" I also acknowledge my own complicity in the parade of displays, no one is exempt, sure. Despite this it is frustrating to talk to genuinely intelligent men (boys?) who, despite theoretically recognizing the constructedness of gender, despite being at least to some degree self-reflexive and aware of how silly most gender-related performativity is, still partake in it and reproduce certain rituals.
I was talking to someone [male] about the "trade-off" required when they enter into a monogamous relationship; the male "sacrifices" a particular social position in relation to other men. I.e. they sacrifice the freedom/ability to display their potential power to possess multiple women when they want. But the "difficulty" of this sacrifice is not so much the "giving up" of indiscriminate sex per se but rather, the influence this restraint has on their relation to other men, and the power dynamics between them. Basically, restrain from being promiscuous as (what I consider) a sign of respect. Win the girl but give up the ability to constantly reiterate your alpha-male prowess to your fellow men. The irony of the conversation was that he was trying to be "positive" by saying that "winning" the right girl is a good enough "trade-off" to make the loss of status (in the exchange economy of the boys club) worth it.
Predictably, I have a few things to say about this. On one hand, this kind of male behaviour is usually acknowledged (by men) as stupid and juvenile, and yet I can't count the number of times men have tossed off "boys will be boys" (or an equivalent statement) as justification for their behaviour, as though this counts as a real argument to disqualify residual negative or objectifying effects of their behaviour. It is taken as a given that women should just accept the way that the male social economy works, which, inevitably, also implicitly suggests that women should just accept the position that they are given within that economy. Women can't accept the statement "boys will be boys" as self-contained, pertaining only to men's issues; it inevitably involves women taking on a certain object position/self-perception. When men say "boys will be boys" they not only essentialize "masculinity," but simultaneously place women in a position of virtual powerlessness (it is not a rational statement, so there is no rational response, it is a statement taken as unqualifiable justified/true, hence the manner in which gender difference is conceptualized becomes deterministic, etc.). Unfortunately the male social economy is structured around a barred petit object a /woman (not exclusively, obviously, but in this context, yes), which means that no discourse on men in society can ever be separated from how women are positioned in that relationship.
Implicit in the statement "boys will be boys" as an "excuse" is the demand or statement: "all men do certain things, we work in certain ways, and you not only have to accept this but also understand that you can't understand us." It is also simultaneously an attempt to neutralize the discourse: i.e. essentialize it. In this way, women are alienated from that discourse because they are given no way out of it. Women are alien within the discourse of "boys will boys" as circulating objects of desire, and then they are (generally) expected to just stay silent and accept that this is the way men are. In both situations (i.e.: 1. "winning" the right girl and 2. playing catch-release, catch-catch with multiples to prove your "manhood") woman is relegated to an object used in the service of the male libidinal/social economy. Woman is barely even taken as a sexual object herself! Only an object of display to aid in the circulation of desire between men.
And heaven forbid I take issue with this or voice criticism. Unfortunately the taboo against speaking out against these so-called "neutral" statements about masculinity keeps women (and men) silent. Usually my rants of this nature get called out as "uber-bitch-feministy" man-hating tirades, when in fact I am equally concerned with how these ways of being/speaking influence and oppress both men and women. "Boys will be boys" is not neutral. That's my main point. And neither "women" nor "men" can be reduced to categorical grab bags of bad habits and stupidities. I'd like to think we're more responsible than that.
Love you men, love you women, love anyone in between or on the borders.