No, all our boys and men don’t talk like this.
But, when anyone thinks that the justification for offensive remarks about women that amount to sexual harassment and are uttered by a presidential candidate is that they’re merely the “locker room” banter boys indulge in regularly, it’s clear that they believe that it’s an effective excuse expressing their view of American culture. Even Pat Robertson who claims to represent Christianity dismissed the words as “macho” talk.
If this justification is even used for lesser banter, it abandons our boys to the untruth that this is just how they are – “boys will be boys.” It surrenders our girls to having to just cope with a macho gender role that treats them as less than human.
If this were how things just are or must be, it would mean giving in to the meme that to get their man, women will have to live down to such objectifying expectations. It would mean that our boys must forgo their humanity to get in line with treating women this way or be ridiculed by other boys as “wimps” and “queer."
We want to say that none of this really goes on in men-only spaces. Many of us have tried to create places and communities where talk and actions that sound like sexual assault of others aren’t acceptable.
But men especially must not dismiss this too quickly. We need to keep our eyes and ears open to the stories so many women recount - when they feel safe to do so - about their regular experiences of sexual harassment, assault, abuse, and rape, because the common occurrences of all of this tell us that behind it all there’s a mainstream still teaching boys that this is part of what it is to act manly.
And if anything lurks behind the popularity of Donald Trump, it’s the appeal of this American male gender role to so many – a role that includes constant bravado, bullying the weak, never admitting weakness or error, getting revenge on any who offend American masculinity, white male superiority, and resentment of women’s advancements. It’s no surprise that the possible election of the first woman president feels like a threat to gendered American manhood and that only Trump’s recent most extreme sexual assault claims finally raise a public outcry.
If you think such treatment is rare now, younger women have their personal stories to add to the accounts of their elders. When I speak with undergraduate college students, they’re not even sure things have gotten better.
It’s recognized by the men and women on campuses who are fighting back with the rise of men’s anti-violence projects and women standing up against campus sexual assault.
So, no matter how we want things to be, what we want to believe, or how we experience our own personal relationships, we can’t be too quick to treat this as some anomaly. And if we’re going to change this, we still have work to do, not just deny that this still fits with a lot of mainstream male gender role conditioning.
If we’re paying attention, an attitude that treats women in a way that puts them down is part of the systemic conditioning of men as a group in our culture. That’s not to say every individual male treats women this way: systemic conditioning is about what happens to a group as learned through what mainstream institutions of our culture teach.
Men learn that the masculine gender role is there in the culture with its models of manhood displayed around them, but each male, often feeling alone, makes continual choices about negotiating the conditioning they know is there. Conditioning isn’t determinism and all men are not, thankfully, sexual abusers even if they just remain silent around those who embody it more.
It’s, however, too bad that our junior high and high school boys have to go through this when they’re told that it has something to do with the male sex drive. There are even researchers who try to justify this conditioned male sexual role in terms of “prehistoric man” and their “need to spread their seed,” all of which is just a backward prediction that lacks one thing, observable evidence.
I’ve described what I call the “Nine Layers of Getting Laid” that constitute male sexual conditioning for junior and senior high children in Scared Straight, and when I’ve spoken about them to teenagers, they tell me how it’s so true but no one talks about it. They tell me how boys and girls who don’t go along with this are treated as if there’s something wrong with them and even put down as gay or lesbian.
Maybe, just maybe, the fact that Hillary Clinton finds herself having to deal with men’s sexual distress from both her husband and her opponent, will inspire us to examine male gender role conditioning around sex and our assumptions about what “boys will be.” I’m skeptical.
But there are two pieces of good news. First, our boys and men are not naturally this way. They are fully loving, caring, human beings who do not have to be given up to anger management classes, drugs, or prison.
Second, what we’re talking about is not in male genes or in any other way a necessity of some sort of evolutionary theory. It’s learned behavior.
That learning is very deep. It’s a role installed by fear of what will happen to a man if he challenges it all in the same way that gay men have learned what can happen to them because they don’t fit in with the straight male gender sexual role that still does not fully include their romantic and sexual attraction to other men.
The media, military, and athletic industry still promote what must be changed in spite of all their official statements. It will require serious examination of our cultural institutions, ending any denial, and recognizing how women’s liberation is crucial to this.
But, let’s start by never falling back on that lame excuse: “boys will be boys.”