In his Golden Globes® acceptance speech, Aaron Sorkin sent a message to his daughter, whom he said was watching him on TV.
“To Roxy, I love you. Everything I do, I do to impress you. And boys are bad.”
I was watching the Globes® with my sons when Sorkin said this.
“Mom, did that guy just say ‘boys are bad’?” my little guy asked, eyes wide.
My sons, so far from bad, couldn’t comprehend why a grownup, a dad, would stand up on TV and curse their entire gender.
Some of us get this joke. We’re parents who were raised in the ’70s and ’80s, and we get that he is trying to be funny. He doesn’t want his daughter to date. He’s the dad at the door with a shotgun on his daughter’s first date.
Maybe Sorkin, like many other dads, remembers being a teenage boy: horny and persistent. That’s the stereotype, right? But it’s important to remember that there are real consequences to perpetuating any stereotypes, including this one, which is dangerous to our sons and our daughters.
Sorry Sorkin, boys aren’t bad.
Boys are wonderful. Like girls, they are sweet, loving, adorable creatures who are born vulnerable and deserving of our protection. But unlike girls, society tells us to toughen them up. We don’t let them cry, even when they’re sad. We don’t let them stay down too long when they get hurt. We don’t let them say they’re scared.
We tell our little boys to man up when they’re far too young to even understand what that means. This command has devastating consequences. Every time we tell a boy to “be a man,” we ask him to detach from his feelings. We tell him that crying is supposedly a sign of weakness — and men are never supposed to be weak. It’s no surprise, then, that men have such a high rate of suicide, incarceration, and addiction. We’ve stripped them of their ability to work through their feelings in a healthy way.
The myth that boys are born bad has especially devastating consequences for boys who have been sexually abused. It’s generally accepted that 1 in 6 boys will be victims of sexual abuse by the time they reach 18 years old. When one of these millions of survivors hears “boys are bad,” they can be further pushed into deep and dark closets of shame.
One tactic commonly used by abusers to keep a victim silent is to tell him that he was somehow deserving of being hurt. This message is reinforced when people they trust, like teachers and parents (and famous people on TV), tell them that boys are, innately, bad. Innately too sexual. Innately predatory. When we spread these myths, we tell them that boys can’t be hurt, they are the ones who do the hurting. Where, then, is a boy supposed to turn when he is being harmed?
The “boys are bad” myth hurts our daughters, too.
We have this idea that in order to protect our girls, we should teach them that boys are bad, that they’re animals who should be avoided at all costs. But this command, even told in jest, has devastating consequences for kids, regardless of gender.
Expecting boys to be bad sets a very low bar for their behavior. Every time we pass off problematic behavior as “boys will be boys,” we tell boys that by virtue of their gender, we expect less of them.
When we do this, not only do we miss crucial opportunities to correct harmful behavior, we miss opportunities to remind our sons that they can do better and make better choices. Instead of nurturing the compassion, empathy, and kindness they are fully capable of showing, we tell our boys that we expect brutality and destruction. How is it helpful to our daughters to raise boys who have been told that they shouldn’t strive for goodness?
After all, a society that expects boys to be animals creates generation after generation of men who behave like animals.
What’s more, the act of trying to scare our daughters off boys perpetuates the myth that a girl’s value lies in her virginity. In her 2009 book, The Purity Myth, Jessica Valenti explains how our mission to keep girls and young women “pure” ultimately ends up harming them:
“Making women the sexual gatekeepers and telling men they just can’t help themselves not only drives home the point that women’s sexuality is unnatural, but also sets up a disturbing dynamic in which women are expected to be responsible for men’s sexual behavior.”
And what else could Aaron Sorkin have been referring to in his speech, if not a mission to keep his daughter “pure”? Asking her to stay away from boys puts too much responsibility upon a girl to control a boy’s behavior, and shames her for romantic or sexual feelings that, for her, may be very natural and healthy.
How much healthier and happier would our daughters be if we removed the entire notion that a girl’s virginity is at the core of her value as a human being? What if, instead of shaming them for their desires, we empowered our daughters with information and skills to make healthy sexual choices for themselves?
What if, instead of telling our children that boys are bad, we told them that all people have the potential to make good and bad choices? What if we raised our boys to believe in their goodness, embrace their kindness, and to nurture their empathy?
What if we stopped pitting boys against girls, and made them allies in making the world better?