Deconstructing the ‘boys will be boys’ myth

Posted on Feb 9 2018 - 7:54am by Jacqueline Knirnschild

In the wake of the Harvey Weinstein accusations and Larry Nassar case, many people are weighing in on what measures should be taken to combat sexual assault.

Vice President Mike Pence suggested that, in order to decrease sexual abuse in the workplace, men should never spend time alone with their women colleagues. Not only is such a suggestion extraordinarily simplistic and binary, but it’s also an insult to men.

The origins of his rule date back to 2002, when Pence said he would never dine alone with a woman who is not his wife. Essentially, Pence is saying that he is weak and cannot resist sexual temptation. Because if he was confident in his own sexuality and self-control, he would trust himself to sit across from a woman without letting his hormones get the best of him.

My father, who works as a financial analyst in Cleveland, was appalled by Pence’s rule. He said he was personally insulted because he said he has lunch alone with female colleagues all the time and never feels the urge to sexualize or scandalize a merely platonic meeting.

Are men really incapable of sitting at a dinner table across from a woman – whether she is his wife or not – in a public setting without feeling the need to make crude remarks or sexual advances?

Some may say Pence’s rule is thoughtful and representative of a healthy marriage because he is avoiding making his wife feel any sentiments of jealousy. However, what would Pence do if a female political leader suggested discussing diplomacy issues over a meal? His job as vice president necessitates communication with men and women, and a meal in a public setting is hardly controversial.

Also, a strong marriage revolves around trust – Karen Pence should trust that her husband does not have ulterior motives when dining with a female colleague or friend. My mother does not question my father when he grabs a bite to eat at Chipotle with a woman colleague, because she knows he loves her.

Pence’s rule falls into the same rhetoric of “boys will be boys,” which contributes to rape culture. The age-old tale claims that, because males have more testosterone, they are “naturally” hornier, which gives them free passes to incessantly pursue sexual encounters.

First off, there’s empirical evidence that males and females are more alike than different – in 2005, psychologist Janet Hyde published a paper that used meta-analysis to assess gender differences. She found that 78 percent of gender differences are small or close to zero.

In addition, in 1997, social psychologists Sarah Murnen and Mary Stockton analyzed 46 studies in which male and female participants self-reported their level of arousal when presented with sexual stimuli. The overall effect size of d = .31 showed a small- to moderate-sized gender difference, with men reporting more arousal than woman.

Such a small difference does not provide sufficient evidence to support the notion that “boys will be boys.” Not to mention, there is no way to know if such differences are natural or socialized. Do males get more aroused because of testosterone or because they are taught that it’s OK?

Second off, even if males do get slightly more aroused than females, shouldn’t they be powerful enough to restrain themselves? Are men really too sex-crazed to have platonic relationships with women?

Separating men and women in the workplace is not a solution. It is a step backward on the path toward the time when women were excluded from the public sector and did not have the right to vote. As we all already know, separate is not equal.

Jacqueline Knirnschild is a sophomore anthropology and Chinese double major from Brunswick, Ohio.