No more ‘boys will be boys,’ let’s hold them accountable

The CDC recently released a report documenting a significant increase in depression among teenage girls. The report also revealed a possible reason behind this wave of sadness and stress: a horrifying increase in sexual violence against teenage girls. It’s time to talk about this. 

According to the report, one in five teenage girls experienced sexual violence in 2021, a 20% increase since the CDC first began monitoring in 2017. 

Most women would be angered by this, but not shocked. The fear of sexual harassment or assault is universally shared. 

When we are walking home alone after dark, pepper spray in hand, we are not choosing to walk faster for fun. When we are catcalled on the street, we are not flattered. 

When old men approach me at work to call me “hot” or insist I quit my barista job for modeling, I am not amused. My hands get sweaty and my heart jumps in my throat. I know I am safe, sweeping in a chatty and full coffee shop, but my instincts tell me that somewhere more isolated perhaps, I would not have been. 

A history of women’s pain has forced me to evolve with those instincts and I will always trust them. 

Blatant disrespect for and aggression against women has long been an issue in society. Why must it be increasing again now, among our youth? 

For many, the fight today should not be to teach our girls how to survive – it must be to teach our boys basic ethics. 

Phrases such as “boys will be boys” work against us as societal tendencies that box men into an unrealistic and unsettling category: defining them as naturally aggressive. They provide excuses, even if they don’t intend to, for unacceptable behavior. 

These norms enforce toxic masculinity, hurting young boys by denying them freedom of expression. Very clearly, these norms are also hurting young girls. 

This column is not meant to imply that sexual assault is an experience known only to women. Far too many boys and men, far too many adults, adolescents and children of any gender, sexual identity or race experience sexual violence each year. 

We must acknowledge, however, what demographic statistics reveal. We must acknowledge that these statistics fluctuate in coordination with society’s prejudices, affecting the least privileged most severely. 

According to a CDC study on sexual violence among high school students in 2021, 18% of female students and 5% of male students experienced sexual violence. Of all racial ethnicities included in the study, Native American and multiracial students experienced the most sexual violence at 16% and 15%. Of sexual identity, LGBQ+ students experienced the most, at 22%. 

A study by the UCLA School of Law also showed that transgender people are more than four times more likely to experience violent crimes, such as sexual assault, than cisgender people. 

Acknowledging these disparities is crucial. Walking on eggshells will get us nowhere.

Teach your daughter of the unfortunate reality of being a woman in a patriarchal society. Teach her to be wary, to trust her gut, to fight for her life if she needs to. Whatever you do, however, never forget to teach your son to respect that life, to act with decency and kindness, and to push against a world that would expect anything else from him.