Some people really hate this shirt.

February 06, 2018

Some people really hate this shirt.

It was October 2016 when we had the idea for our Boys Will Be Good Humans shirt, and like so many of our designs here at Free to Be Kids, it was inspired by shirts we kinda hated. Old Navy had slapped the tired old trope “Boys Will Be Boys” on a shirt. Later that season Forever 21 jumped in with their own version.


Given big box clothing stores' history of promoting a limited and often negative view of boyhood, we shouldn't have been shocked. We'd been watching all those stores for years and designing shirts to counter their gender stereotypes. We knew better than anyone what was out there. But we were still taken aback. Seriously, how could they think this was okay? 

So one night I sat down and designed what I like to call “a direct response shirt” -- a positive alternative to the Old Navy and Forever 21 shirts. Instead of boys will be boys, the second instance of "boys" was crossed out and replaced with "good humans." Boys will be good humans.

Two boys being sweet friends and good humans.

Boys Will Be Good Humans spread like wildfire. Bootleg versions of our shirt appeared everywhere and the slogan made its way onto everything from Women's March signs to embroidery projects. Clearly we had struck a nerve.

But not everyone is a fan. Take this email we received last week:

"So what this company is saying is to be a boy isn’t being a good human. That is, the nature of little boys on their own is bad. Go to hell, Free to Be Kids, you sexist a**holes.  This company is Feminist misandry. There is nothing wrong with the nature of boys or men. You sexists are worse than the stereotypes that you say you are against. Once again go to hell you sexist a**holes."

Or this comment from one of our Facebook posts -- and we get comments like this fairly frequently:

“I’m confused by why everyone has an issue with boys being boys. You're implying that there's something inherently wrong with being a boy... Not really digging your man shaming.”

No, no, no. We're not implying that there's anything wrong with being a boy. And we're so not man shaming. Because here's the thing:

We know that there's nothing wrong with the nature of boys or men. That's our whole point!  The shirt isn't saying that boys and men are bad by nature. The way our society uses the phrase "boys will be boys" to excuse bad behavior is saying that about them. Hence, the shirt. See?

Future voters who expect boys to be good humans.

We know boys are better than that. We know they're wonderful and deserve more credit. That's why we want to rid the world of this insulting "boys will be boys" trope forever.

Maybe when your grandma said "boys will be boys" she just meant "boys like to play in the dirt and get messy." But that's not what most people mean when they say it today. 

Here's an example: Last year we heard from a mama whose daughter was out on the playground for recess one day when three boys held her down on the slide. Two sat on her legs, and a third held her from behind by the neck of her dress and slammed her head down twice. Another stabbed her in the eye with a stick multiple times. There was blood. This mama told us, “We are very lucky that my daughter's eye was fine, but the three puncture wounds on her eyelid were between a 1/4 inch and 1/8th of an inch from puncturing her actual eye.” Mama called the school. “We have to do better than this, we have to talk about this behavior,” she said. She was fed the typical lines: they didn't know what they were doing. It was typical play that got momentarily inappropriate. And yes, you guessed it: "Boys will be boys."

Boys will be boys. Translation: boys will hold little girls down on the slide and stab them in the eye with sticks. They can't help it -- that's just how boys are, by nature.

Think this story is a one-off? It's not. We asked people when and how they'd heard the phrase "boys will be boys" used, and these kinds of stories came up over and over.

  • Patrick B. says the phrase was uttered, “Any time growing up [that] it was termed us boys did something bad … but parents didn’t feel like punishing us.”
  • Sarah B. associates the phrase with “Rape culture … Like when boys touch girls inappropriately, pinch butts, whistle, cat-call, make kissing faces, touch without consent.”
  • Hillary P. says, “In my work as a nurse, I was groped, threatened, and received unwanted sexual advances from multiple male patients. When I reported this behavior to supervisors and coworkers, I was literally told 'Boys will be boys.'” 
  • Jessica V. told us, “When I was in grade school and complained to a teacher that a boy had snapped my bra strap, I remember very clearly being told 'Oh, boys will be boys! He’s probably just doing that because he likes you.'"
  • Diana Prince said, “I know of a little girl who was the target of harassment by a group of boys. They threw rocks and grass at her, called her names, basically treated her really badly. The response was 'Well, you know, we will try to do something about it, but boys will be boys.'"

Aww, c'mon guys. We're better than that!

Our culture has determined that “boys will be boys” means a certain thing, and that culturally accepted meaning doesn't reflect well on our sons (or husbands, or brothers, or male friends). Google dictionary defines the phrase as “the view that mischievous or childish behavior is typical of boys or young men and should not cause surprise when it occurs.” Urban Dictionary’s top definition? Boys will be boys is “What soccer moms say when their son has just done something AWFUL. This statement implies that any negative behavior should be excused on the grounds that boys are always doing things that are wrong, and need to be treated with a degree of leniency that borders on insanity."

When we crossed out the second “boys” and replaced it with “good humans”, we did it to upend this paradigm of brushing bad behavior under the rug -- the bad behavior that nearly cost a girl an eye at recess, the bad behavior that led to an unconscious woman being victimized by Brock Turner in an alleyway, the cruelty inflicted upon every woman who has spoken up to say #MeToo.

We ask you: is this the face of someone predisposed to mistreat others?

Because that is not the way that boys and men just are. Does half the population need a ready-made excuse for bad behavior? Of course not. They need parents and communities that see them as strong, mature, good-hearted people. They need to be given more credit. They need to be held to a higher standard. They need to be recognized as good humans.

“Boys will be good humans” is a rallying cry against toxic masculinity. To see it as anything else is to willfully ignore the problems with gender and sexuality in our country. It’s to ignore the gross imbalance of power, the locker room talk, the sexual assault. It’s to ignore a girl stabbed in the eyes by boys whose behavior was excused with the old excuse “boys will be boys.”

A proud, kind, good human. Let's give him some credit!

It's time to cross out this tired, toxic excuse and reject it on behalf of all of our sons, once and for all.

Boys will be good humans. 

- - - 


Also in News

How to celebrate the Year Of The Tiger with your kids
How to celebrate the Year Of The Tiger with your kids

February 01, 2022

Read More

Our "worst" business decision ever

November 01, 2021

Too many mainstream holiday tees are snarky and rude. Can we get back to the joy of the holidays, please?

Read More

New Thanksgiving tradition: acknowledge the land you live on.
New Thanksgiving tradition: acknowledge the land you live on.

September 10, 2021

The Thanksgiving story most of us learned in grade school is really just a fairy tale. So this year we're proposing a new family tradition.

Read More