We Condone What We’re Silent On

‘Boys will be boys’- we’ve all said it, but this little phrase can have two very different meanings. On the positive side, it can be an acknowledgement or celebration of those attributes that make boys wonderfully unique. For example, countless studies are showing that boys are ‘wired’ to be risk takers. So when Mister Ten leaps off the garage roof to see if he can fly, we chuckle and say, ‘boys will be boys’.

However, the Australian Government’s recent ‘boys will be boys’ advertising campaign exposes a very different meaning to the phrase. The ads put the spotlight on those offhand comments that excuse unacceptable behaviours and mindsets that have become entrenched in our culture over generations.

If you haven’t seen the ads, a father pulls up at school to pick up his teenage son who explains that he, “got detention, just for flicking up a girls skirt”. The dad smiles at his son and asks, “that’s it?”. A primary school aged younger brother is sitting in the back seat, and without looking up from his device says, “doesn’t she know that’s just boys being boys?”. His primary school aged sister responds with a degree of resignation, “I’ve already accepted that as I grow up, I’ll probably be harassed and even abused”. The father, realising the weight of the message he just conveyed to his daughter, says, “Sorry, that’s not what I meant”.

A colleague of mine some years ago had two teenage sons; whenever they were acting up or giving their mother a hard time, my colleague would tell them they needed to find a girl and ‘get laid’. Interesting that this was never the remedy for his daughter, but what message would she have heard from this ‘prescription’ for her brothers? Perhaps that girls are just objects for helping boys relieve their hormonal frustration? The fact that he didn’t want his daughter to be one of those ‘objects’ is fine, but I’m sure the double standards were not lost on her.

The almost daily unfolding of yet another Weinstein/#metoo story plus the fact that (as I write this) in the last seven days another six women died in our nation in domestic violence cases, tells me we have a big problem. Of course, not all disrespect ends with domestic violence, but as the Government’s Minister for Women points out, “the cycle of violence certainly starts with disrespect.”

It’s great that the Government is focusing on the issue and has made an investment in confronting the issue of disrespect towards women through these ads (although this $160m campaign is only 0.45% of the annual counter-terrorism budget of $35B). However, nothing changes at a societal level unless we as individuals change, take ownership, and make changes in our world.

As dads, we have a particularly important part to play. We need to be careful that there is nothing in our words or actions that convey disrespect towards women. It can start with something as simple as the rolling of the eyes and muttering ‘woman driver’ under our breath when someone cuts us off in the traffic. We need to ensure that we don’t have double standards – one set of rules for boys, another set of rules for the girls.

I also think it’s true that what we’re silent on, we condone. When you’re with a bunch of guys and one of them tells stories making fun of his wife, do we laugh awkwardly, pretend they didn’t say anything or do we tell them ‘that’s not OK’?

What do we do when we’re in a clothing store, and they’re playing hip-hop music with misogynous, demeaning lyrics? Do we roll our eyes or have a word with the store manager? I can tell you we’ve spoken to the sales staff before, and it doesn’t always go well. However, if we’re going to see change, it starts with all of us; unless we do something, the negative cycle of disrespect gets passed down to another generation, and we sit back bemoaning ‘what’s happening to our society?’.