Boys Will Be Boys: Power, Patriarchy and the Toxic Bonds of Mateship
By Clementine Ford
Allen & Unwin
Clementine Ford has delivered a fantastic piece of work written with a delicious language that is a well-crafted blend of passion, anger and humour. Boys Will Be Boys takes the reader through the very concerning series of issues that affect our society; the issues of toxic masculinity. The focus of her latest book raises the important concern in how society is not doing our young men any favours through the maintenance of stale patriarchy and Victorian-styled misogyny; the consequences of which too many women know only too well. But it is Ford’s focus on changing the ways we bring up boys that shows a deep understanding of the root causes of misogyny, patriarchy and toxic masculinity. It is this focus and the numerous examples that highlight the crisis we are facing in attitudes towards equality (and basic human decency) that sets her out as a strong leader in the fight for equality. All chapters have value, but some stand out.
“A Woman’s Place” sets the scene for this ride through misogyny and highlights the gender inequality and the humiliating situation of unpaid labour in the home of millions of women. There are some clear instructions embedded in this chapter if you are serious about addressing gender inequality in your own home and setting an example for young girls and boys to follow. We owe it to the coming generations if we want true equality.
The “not-all-men” discussion has picked up momentum lately with some men rushing to distance themselves from stale patriarchy and toxic masculinity. But in so doing, through this whiny and misguided statement, they simply redirect the discussion towards men and how they may be feeling. Ford provides a clear and unapologetic chapter on this issue, even providing a list of her top five “not-all-men” examples, and argues her position concisely stating “No, Not All Men are a threat to women. But we know that any man could be. And that right there is the difference”. Ford challenges men to acknowledge those feelings of defensiveness and interrogate why such testimonies by women about their vulnerability in our society should not be dismissed, or worse, turned into a statement about the feelings of men.
This issue of self-reflection is an important one when looking at the issues of subtle misogyny. For not-so-subtle misogyny, Ford calls out those “man babies” who lose all sense of resilience when their so-called “rights” of entitlement are challenged. When discussing the rape joke culture in “It’s Just a Joke”, she writes of the great hypocrisy; “And why is it that the men who are so loud about women needing to relax and stop taking everything so personally are the ones so catastrophically incapable of self-reflection and humility?”
“Asking for It” deals with the ever-present hyper-masculine culture seen in the world of over-paid sports teams. This chapter provides some telling accounts of how the reputations of, usually young, women are scarified in an environment of victim blaming that maintains the reputation of “alleged” male rapists and sexual predators. Such a discussion explores the world of male bonding in a way that reinforces the need for society to be vigilant around how our young men are being raised, and how some destructive attitudes toward women are perpetrated. Those men who occupy influential roles in such an environment have a part to play in reshaping attitudes towards women, and men, by role-modelling empathetic masculinity and showing strong leadership. Such leadership, particularly in high profile positions can help shape the narrative and behaviours, and move away from toxic attitudes to women.
It is disappointing that such a book as Boys Will Be Boys needs to be written and that we are still having this discussion in the 21st century. This said, Ford pulls no punches and this book should count as a major clarion call to all those committed to changing the way we approach equality (for this book goes beyond the issues of gender inequality). Boys Will Be Boys is challengingly good and shows that we all (particularly men) have a long way to go. Empathetic masculinity versus hyper or toxic-masculinity is the pathway to teaching our young men respect for themselves and those around them. Ford makes the challenge that we need to do a much better job at raising our boys if our girls and women are to truly feel safe in our communities.