boys will be boys

Hey, NYMag: We’re Supposed to Be Past “Boys Will Be Boys”

#MeToo detractor Andrew Sullivan is back in New York Magazine this week with his latest gripe about those pesky feminist harpies. This time, he argues, “left-feminists” have gone too far in refusing to accept what Sullivan says is the scientific, biological truth that men are naturally sexually aggressive.

Frankly, Andrew Sullivan hasn’t been relevant since 2011, when he was best known for peddling race science, so you may want to take his “it’s just science!” defenses of the structural inequality with a grain of salt. But he’s not the only #MeToo critic to advance the idea that men are “inherently brutal”. “Male sexual aggression,” Sullivan claims, is a function of testosterone (one of what he says are many, otherwise unspecified, “core natural differences” between men and women).

The barely-unspoken conclusion is that, because men are biologically destined to be sexually aggressive, sexual violence is natural and normal — and therefore, that we shouldn’t hold men accountable for it. After all, if sexual violence is inevitable, why should feminists try to change it?

I’ll be honest: I didn’t become an feminist writer to defend men on the internet. This is not my skill set. But Sullivan’s take is wrong, dehumanizing, and, if followed to its conclusion, dangerous for men and survivors alike.

Men aren’t inherently violent — somehow, millions of men in America managed not to rape anyone today. That’s not to deny that sexual harassment and violence isn’t systemic, widespread, and committed by far more men than we’re comfortable admitting. It is, and many otherwise “good” men inflict great harm on women behind closed doors.

But if you’re arguing that male violence is normal, biological, immutable, you’re arguing that we should simply accept it. If you believe, like I do, that men are capable of control, compassion, and having respect for another person’s dignity, autonomy, and personhood, then you can demand that they do better.

Ironically, Sullivan doesn’t actually cite a single piece of science in the piece, making it extra transparent that he’s just re-branding tired “boys will be boys” sexism for liberal men who can’t quite get down with gender equity.

For someone arguing that he’s defending science from feminists, his piece is pretty light on science and heavy on stereotypes. His evidence includes a stereotype about lesbians bringing U-Hauls to second dates and gay men not going on second dates (that’ll stand up in peer review). Take a look at the language he uses to talk about testosterone, which he describes as “maleness literally being injected into me.” “You get a real sense of what being a man is from an experience like that,” he writes, saying testosterone gave himenergy, strength, clarity, ambition, drive, impatience.” So weird that Sullivan credits ambition, drive, and energy to “maleness” — no way he has a problem with women!

Sullivan derides the feminist of the #MeToo movement as “the latest wave of feminist misandry,” which he says is pushing resentful men to support Trump. But isn’t the misandrist, anti-men take his own? Isn’t the feminist position — expecting men to be capable of meeting that low, low bar of not sexually harassing the people who work for them — the one that treats men with respect? When did it become misandry to believe in men’s capacity for good?

If resentful men doubt most women’s claim about sexism, don’t like the idea that we expect them to act with decency, or think we should give it all a rest — well, that’s just proof we need this reckoning to continue.

Header image via

Sejal Singh is a columnist at Feministing, where she writes about educational equity, labor, and reproductive justice. Sejal is a Policy and Advocacy Coordinator for Know Your IX, a national campaign to end gender-based violence in schools, where she has led several state and federal campaigns for student survivors' civil rights. In the past, Sejal led LGBT rights campaigns for the Center for American Progress. Today, she is a student at Harvard Law School and a frequent speaker on LGBTQ rights and civil rights in schools.

Sejal Singh is a law student and columnist at Feministing, writing about educational equity, labor, and reproductive justice.

Read more about Sejal

Join the Conversation