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Boys will be boys just isn't good enough anymore

Dr. Wallace MacAskill
By now you have probably viewed the Gillette advertisement We Believe: The Best Men Can Be. Perhaps you were part of a heated conversation about its message. Maybe you loved it, maybe you hated it.
There has certainly been interesting feedback on traditional and social media in response to the ad.  The controversy, such as it is, is that it paints all males with the same brush, that all males are bad, which I don’t think is what it says at all. I think it invites us to spot the difference; to call out bad behaviour among our gender; to stop letting outdated ways and excuses be tolerated. I think it’s powerful. And important.

The ad is also timely. Obviously it plays into the #MeToo movement and the current zeitgeist around toxic masculinity. For us here at Sacred Heart, it was particularly timely. We just had retired Youth Health Coordinator Moe Green present on the theme of toxic masculinity to our senior school boys. He’s worked with teenagers for 35 years across a wide range of youth health issues, including injury prevention, alcohol misuse, physical activity, and healthy eating. I was impressed when my son mentioned enjoying Moe’s presentation last year, but even more so when my daughter voiced her opinion, we need more of these conversations happening at the high school Dad. Moe’s presentation included conversation on the toxic messages around masculinity in today’s culture; stereotypes; inequities around gender and body image; what lies at the core of healthy relationships; pornography; issues around consent; information about transmitted infections; and conversations around the reality of sexual violence.  

Following up on Moe’s presentation, we watched the Gillette ad in our Boys’ Senior School, Fountain Academy, and had important and engaging conversations about the notion that boys will be boys as a way of excusing unacceptable behaviour. We agree with Gillette that it is simply not good enough to use such a baseless excuse. It never should have been. Yes boys learn differently from girls - of that we are absolutely sure and it’s why it’s a founding tenet of our educational pedagogy with single sex classes. And yes, frankly, boys do behave differently than girls. But we don’t believe that behaviour can be an excuse for negativity or toxicity.  

Our faculty are challenging unacceptable behaviour in a reflective and restorative manner which allows for learning in the fullness of time. I spoke to the Senior School boys at Chapel last week about the importance of intervening when you witness unacceptable behaviour.  To be honest, I’m not sure at age 13 I would have mustered the courage to stand up and say something to my friends who were acting in an inappropriate manner. But now, I am hoping my sons will. And their schoolmates and friends.

I also spoke about the necessity of looking out for each other and supporting one another, especially in terms of our High School boys serving as positive role models for our Junior High boys. It can be difficult to challenge the relentless images of toxic masculinity portrayed in movies and on social media. But now that conversations have started, thanks to efforts like Gillette’s,  it’s time - especially for us boys and men - to grab hold of this opportunity for change and not just embrace it, but champion it.

I’d encourage you to watch the Gillette ad not just with your sons but also with your daughters. Ask them how they feel about its keys messages, and challenge them to move past the archaic and adverse adage that boys will be boys. With the right tutelage and encouragement, boys will be the best they can be.
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