real life

'I told my mother I was sexually assaulted. She said: "Boys will be boys".'

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I hear the phrase, “boys will be boys” and I think of my 18-year-old brother. I worry about him constantly because I know right now, more than ever, we must be fully aware of the way we raise the young men in our homes.

How we shape them from a young age reflects the kind of men they become. We all want for our young boys to turn into the outstanding citizens, allies, and respectful men we know and cherish.

I worry my brother is not on the right path, and I can’t help blaming his parents.

He is a legal adult now, but our mother babies him constantly. He is not held accountable for his actions and he does as he pleases, usually without consequences. Unfortunately, none of this will stop when he moves out.

He is the only boy in a Mexican household, and this kind of unhealthy dependence on his mother is not unheard of in our culture.

I’ve seen it with my father, my uncles, and my male cousins.

It’s the same story, again and again.

She excuses his lack of desire to do chores, to speak about his feelings, to be kind to his sister, all because of his gender.

When he bullies his sister to tears, our mother dismisses it by telling her, “boys will be boys.”

“Así son los hombres,” she says.

And that attitude extends way beyond the men in her immediate family.

Unsure what your teenage son or brother is saying? In this Mamamia video, we translate it. Post continues below.

Video via Mamamia
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Over a recent phone call with my mother, we spoke about my brother for a bit, and somehow the conversation turned into my writing. I told her I’d found great healing in my journaling, and I suggested she try it.

She wanted to know what kind of healing, so I worked up the courage and finally told her, after almost 10 years, that I had been sexually assaulted.

And she replied, “Mija, así son los hombres.”

In English, “Boys will be boys.”

When my mother said those words, I froze. I felt the tears streaming down my face to hear the phrase I hated so much come out of my mother’s mouth after I had just confided that I had once been sexually assaulted.

She took my silence for anger and her words began to spiral, only making it worse.

“Don’t get mad Mija. I’ve met many men that are like that. It’s just the way they are.”

There was no, “I’m sorry, my heart hurts for you daughter.” There was no, “I love you and I’m sorry this happened to you”. She didn’t say, “I can’t believe this. What did you do? Did you ever say anything? Where is he now?”

She said nothing that showed anything my abuser did was wrong. No anger on her behalf. It was almost as if it was my fault for allowing it to happen because, well, I should’ve known better.

He is a man and this is just how men are.

My heart broke into pieces and when I finally could speak again, I asked her, “Is that it? Your daughter just told you she was sexually assaulted, and that’s what you’re saying?”

Uncomfortable, and not knowing what to say, I’m sure, she stayed quiet before saying again in Spanish, “Así son los hombres.” (That’s how men are.)

I changed the subject for another minute, and then hung up the phone so I could cry in peace.

My mother, the woman who carried me for nine months in her womb, the woman who once held me in her arms as a baby, and vowed to protect me from all harm, vowed to fight for me and love me with all of her heart, just dismissed my sexual assault, suggesting that perhaps, I should have known better.

How does a mother say this to their own child?

It pains me to write this about her because so badly I don’t want to accept it. I don’t want to believe this about my own mother. It doesn’t mean I can’t love her. I still do.

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But I wonder, and I’ll never stop wondering if my abuser had had parents who taught him to love and value, and cherish women, perhaps he wouldn’t have been my abuser.

I don’t want to live in a world where men are constantly and inexplicably excused for violating women because of a stupid sexist stereotype that has allowed men for many years to get away with so many horrible things.

Listen to Mamamia’s parenting podcast, This Glorious Mess. On this episode, they discuss how to raise a feminist son. Post continues below.

As parents, one of the most important things we can teach our children is respect. Teach them about respecting each other, and themselves. Teach them to use their voices.

Teach the boys that they need to value, love, worship the women in their lives. Their mothers, their sisters, their girlfriends, their female friends. They need to love them as equals, not any less.

Teach boys and girls about consent; don’t leave one out of the conversation.

One thing my parents would always tell me as a little girl is that I have to protect my body because boys only want “that one thing”.

Stop telling your daughters this.

Finally, we must stop saying “boys will be boys” to the boys AND the girls in our lives.

By saying it, you are enabling the toxic behaviour of the bad men in the world.

By saying it, you are teaching the girls in your life that men will act inappropriately, they’ll say the wrong things or treat them poorly, but it’s okay because they’re boys and that’s just how boys are.

That’s just the way they were born.

Wrong.

Men are not “born” into disrespecting the women in their lives. They are taught, they are encouraged, they are excused.

Get rid of the phrase “boys will be boys” and teach your children, boys and girls both, to be held accountable for their actions. Equality between the sexes cannot happen until we rid ourselves of this horrible phrase and the damage it causes.

If you have experienced sexual assault and need someone to talk to, support is available 24 hours a day via 1800 RESPECT. Call 1800 737 732.

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