"Boys will be will boys" is the oft-screamed motto of "lad culture", which has been repeated as a reason for a wide variety of behaviour – anything from being belligerent on public transport to sexual assault.
It’s a phrase that is emblematic of the dark and toxic masculinity problem we have here in Australia, and it’s always the perpetrators, blind to the harm of their actions, that seem to peddle the dangerous, all-encompassing statement. "Can’t blame me for [insert pretty much anything], boys will be boys."
Australian band Sticky Fingers is not in a position to peddle these harmful sentiments. After a year-long hiatus in response to allegations of racist and misogynist abuse, the band gave their first interview to Tom Tilley on triple j’s Hack. The band members themselves promoted the interview as including a “very important conversation”, and many fans expected an honest and thoughtful conversation about the alleged incidents, as well as a genuine apology and a promise to be better.
What they received was, verbatim, “boys will be boys, shit happens”. This sentiment was expressed a handful of times, along with ardent refusals to discuss the allegations, a specific band member’s rehabilitation or experience with learning about the harm of his alleged actions.
The "important conversations" that could have been had about abuse, assault, racism and sexism, were disregarded in favour of, once again, celebrating that "the boys" had just done what they felt like doing. They can’t be blamed for that, because boys will be boys.
On social media, plenty of fans expressed they had held out hope for the interview, but couldn’t morally support the band after hearing their dedication to the "lad culture" rhetoric. The band’s refusal to even pretend to care about the extremely serious issues they allegedly perpetrated was the final nail in the coffin for many. (The band responded to the fans' criticisms via an Instagram post on Friday morning, see below.)
The phrase "boys will be boys" is often used, as it was three separate times during the Sticky Fingers’ interview, to excuse aggressive behaviour. And the problem with this all-too-common saying is not just that it’s problematic, or harmful – but also that it’s completely not true.
Uttering this phrase in 2018 isn’t a smart move on Sticky Fingers’ part
Men are not innately abusive or sexist or racist or aggressive. The phrase implants the idea that aggressive behaviour and the biological makeup of cisgender men is linked – which it isn’t. It’s not genetically embedded in them, but by saying "boys will be boys", it perpetuates this myth that men are, by nature, monsters who cannot control the urges within them.
It also enforces this bizarre, narrow idea of male identity and masculinity – that if you are a man, you must be tough, aggressive, unbothered by pain but willing to inflict it to remain the alpha. It instils in boys that aggression = manhood, and assists in creating a culture that results in high rates of male suicide – like we have now.
Strangely enough, it is often the same men who scream bloody murder when feminist women "tar all men with the same brush" by speaking openly about the harmful nature of toxic masculinity, or the severely high rates of domestic violence or sexual assault by men.
“Not all men are like that!” they bellow, while simultaneously excusing bad behaviour by saying that they are simply being men, because "boys will be boys."
Uttering this phrase in 2018 isn’t a smart move on Sticky Fingers’ part, but it’s even more ridiculous to repeat it three times in an interview that is supposed to show that you’ve attempted to turn a new leaf in response to extremely serious allegations.
Unfortunately for Sticky Fingers’ fans, they instead showed that not only have they done the bare minimum to learn about the harmful nature of toxic masculinity, but they still wholeheartedly celebrate it.