We Should Never Accept The Notion That “Boys Will Be Boys”

We Should Never Accept The Notion That “Boys Will Be Boys” May 28, 2024

Lorie Shaull: Boys Will Be Good Humans / Wikimedia Commons

There is a tendency for many to overlook men and their sexual sins, justifying it by saying something like “boys will be boys.” And yet, if a woman were to sin in a similar fashion, they would be looked down upon with outright contempt as she will be branded with all kinds of insults. Throughout history, men with positions of power and authority which they use to seduce and manipulate women, once they find such women no longer satisfy them, for whatever reason, cast them out and shame them, while they remain seen as good, honest citizens; in reality, those who  have such power should  be the ones held the most accountable, not  the least, and those they have abused in this way seen as victims. To be sure, there have been some who have chastised such men, but usually we find such criticism coming from only a few, very particular, contexts, such as homilies exhorting clergy and monks to uphold their vows of chastity. For the most part, women have been expected to be better than men, and were treated far more harshly when they did not meet  their social expectation.

Now that society has changed, men are often being made held accountable for what they do. If they are in position of power and abuse it, they have to face the consequences of their actions, consequences which can be, as they should be, rather harsh. Men now find they that have to consider women as persons and not mere objects for their pleasure, and that they should live out the kind of life which they expected out of women. Funny enough, many of them don’t think it is fair. They think they should be able to do what men have done throughout history. They don’t think more should be expected of them, while hypocritically expecting women to live out those same expectations. This is why many of them embrace “tradition,” as they are looking to the past, seeing the advantages men had, and want to keep them in the present, but all they are doing is abusing tradition, using it to justify their own sins.

It can be refreshing, then, if and when we find some authority, like a saint, who actually addresses men and admonishes them for their lack of chastity, not accepting the notion that “boys will be boys.” Sadly, though such admonitions are important, they often are influenced by the culture at large, so that even if someone were to properly criticize men, they often find a way to blame women defiling such men, or they suggest something drastic, like saying men should not have “familiarity” with women,  as for example, St. Caesarius of Arles preached:

When we commend the good of chastity as something fitting and proper, dearly beloved, perhaps some young men who are still of vigorous age are saying: We are young, we cannot restrain ourselves. We can and should reply to these people that perhaps they are unable to observe chastity because they eat more than is proper and take more wine than they should, are unwilling to avoid familiarity with women, and neither fear nor blush to keep suspicious company. [1]

The first half of what he said is quite important;  boys, or young men, or those who are not married, should not be treated as if they cannot restrain themselves, which of course, the “boys will be boys” narrative suggests. If such an excuse were accepted in regards violation of chastity, it will justify other moral lapses, as other passions will then be shown to be equally unrestrainable. And, as Caesarius seemed to understand, it is completely unjustifiable to treat men and women differently. He said they should be held to the same standards:

Perhaps some think that it is unlawful for women to commit fornication before marriage, but lawful for men. What is worse, these exceedingly grave evils that are worthy of punishment are committed by many men without any fear of the Lord, and in fact they have become so habitual on the part of many that they are considered common and slight, no longer regarded as serious sins. Now, in the Catholic faith, whatever is not lawful for men is equally unlawful for men. Man and woman are redeemed together for one price, the precious blood of Christ; they are called to one faith, and are assembled in one body of the Church.[2]

Sadly,  Caesarius did not understand how, exactly, this should play out in society, as he suggested unrelated men and women should not be together in public society. This line of thought begins the process by which women become seen as bad society and blamed for what happens, because they are seen to seduce men and cause them to stumble. While, to be sure, we can find men and women seducing each other, historically men were the ones with power, and they often used it to get the women they wanted to use, but also, to make sure they received mercy while women did not. Despite the way he others believed men and women should generally be separated from each other in society,  Caesarius said something which not only was important, but something which should be restated time and time again: men can and should be able to control themselves, and in a situation in which both men and women fornicate with equal freedom, they should be treated equally. Of course, in saying that we should realize the proper Christian reaction is to treat people, not with undue judgment and condemnation, but with mercy, realizing that it is not for us to “set others right,” as that attitude and way of being is itself worse than fornication itself:

See to it that you do not get caught up by the passion of those who are sick with the desire to  set others right, as it were, of their own ability; they want to become reprovers, wanting to set aright all the faults of <their fellow> human beings. This is a serious  passion, and it is recognizable in those who have been abandoned by the Lord’s care. This is especially the case if you are not the superior or head, but one of those in a subordinate role, and there are others like you. This is the role of superiors, and if you say you are doing this out of love, you are not <really> seeking for this love. In truth it would be better for you to be found having fallen into some act of fornication, rather than into this illness. [3]

[1] St. Caesarius of Arles, Sermons Volume I (1-80). Trans. Mary Magdeleine Mueller, OSF (New York: Fathers of the Church, 1956), 214 [Sermon 43].

[2] St. Caesarius of Arles, Sermons Volume I,  215 [Sermon 43].

[3] St. Isaac of Nineveh, Headings on Spiritual Knowledge (The Second Part, Chapters 1-3). Trans. Sebastian Brock (Yonkers, NY: St Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 2022), 110 [Chapter 3; Second Discourse].

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