/ 15 March 2019

‘Boys will be boys’ doesn’t cut it

Boys Will
The boy child continues to draw on outdated ways of being, which, considering the empowerment of girls, leaves the boy child irrelevant and in a dilemma, says the writer (John McCann)


When a child is born, only well wishes are sent to the mother and the family. No one sends messages of caution, a message like “As you welcome this little human in this world, I would like to advise you to be careful as they can turn out to be disastrous” to the family.

But the reality is that parenting is a gamble. Many children, particularly boy children, have grown up to be destructive in society. It is important that we acknowledge that we are faced with a dilemma about the type of boy children we are raising.

“The boy child of the 21st century is faced with tremendous challenges which unless properly guarded, the society is losing him,” said John Koskey Chang’ach in his paper titled An Unfinished Agenda: Why is the Boy Child Endangered?

Because of the history of subjugation of women, the past decades have seen an increased focus on giving voice and power to women and girls. Efforts have been made to empower girls and provide them with independence and a sense of agency. But the boy child has been neglected in this process. The boy child continues to draw on outdated ways of being, which, considering the empowerment of girls, leaves the boy child irrelevant and in a dilemma. A dilemma in which boys continue to express the macho-male trait no longer appreciated by girls.

We can no longer ignore the fact that, for many societies, the boy child has turned out to be a destruction. Are we raising selfish entitled beings who are only interested in serving their own interests?

The current breed of boys seems to be destined for destruction. Most concerning is the fact that this is not only self-destruction but destruction of societies. We teach girls how to speak, sit, dress, behave, et cetera, yet the same effort is not placed on raising a boy child. We don’t scold them for being loud and violent, and instead nurture their violent behaviour.

There is simply little peace, if any at all, in being a mother and raising a male child. My neighbour has a son, probably six or seven years old, and there are daily intense arguments between the son and the mother. What strikes me are all the things the son says to his mother.

It is strange how, at such a young age, children exhibit so much anger and violence towards their mothers, or any human being for that matter.

There is a proverb that says: “Kutala kutelula ematsambo.” There is no best way to translate this, but it could be: “By giving birth you are stretching and helping yourself.” Although in the past many times women thought of motherhood as rewarding and fulfilling, what we see today are mothers who are bitter and disappointed in their children. We are experiencing a devastating boy crisis.


n example of some of the devastation caused by men is the latest surge of violence in South Africa. Too many women have experienced some form of violence at the hands of men. Violence towards women in general is on the rise. We need to ask ourselves why this is the case. Are men innately violent? Considering societies’ views about violence, it seems men can be excused their violent behaviours, and violence is increasingly being normalised.

We have heard and seen all types of violence against women, if not from personal experience, then through friends or family.

Could we attribute this crisis to parents? Although it is in no way fair to blame parents for their children’s behaviour, often this is the route many people take, particularly those who do not have children. Parenting is hard, and as much as parents would like to teach their sons values, there are many other factors at play that have led to the horrendous behaviour of young men. So many parents do not know what to do with their sons. Their love, care and support has yielded ungrateful, entitled and violent beings.

Society seems to place much emphasis on why women experience violence instead of focusing on why men abuse women. Ending violence against women and girls is not just about educating and empowering women and girls; it is about engaging men and boys. Exclusion of men and boys from programmes and interventions aimed at ending violence, in particular gender-based violence, has proved to be a problem. Deliberate efforts need to be made to help boys to unlearn their violent behaviours.

Such efforts should start early in life. Governments, schools, parents and societies at large need to work together to restore a sense of love, care, warmth, respect and loyalty in boys.

It is time we stop teaching girls how to avoid rape, harassment and general violence from boys. Boys need to be taught that violence is wrong at all levels, be it in class, on the streets, in playgrounds, in romantic relationships or at home.

Tsidiso Tolla has a master’s degree in public health from the University of Cape Town and is a researcher at the Human Sciences Research Council. These are her own views