‘Boys are stupid...
...throw rocks at them.’ Is it fair that boys are so easily insulted, asks Nic Borain.
Remember: ‘sugar and spice and all things nice’ contrasted with: ‘... snips and snails and puppy dogs tails’? Well I do; and I can still feel the dark injustice of it.
The unfairness of being a scruffy little boy came back to me soon after I pulled up in a parking place at the Garden Centre last week. I was popping in with Tom, my 9-year-old, to pick up some last-minute pasta ingredients.
Daddy does the cooking in our home. Mommy says Daddy makes more mess than food. Daddy says something unprintable underneath his breath. Jesse, 13, and Tom, 9, pretend not to notice the bitter and ancient struggle being played out in the happy homes of married men and women everywhere.
So with perfect timing Tom and I were flicking off our seatbelts and listening to the end of Kate Perry cutely going on about how she kissed a girl and liked it when a car pulled, too fast, into the place beside us.
It was a woman and a girl... probably mother and daughter, but the woman was young enough for there to be some doubt. The girl was about Tom’s age.
Both Tom and I noticed them from the periphery of our attention: it was the confident driving and the flounce with which they swung out of the car. But we weren’t concentrating. I was worrying about what Tom made of the song and Tom was ... well, Tom was enjoying the song.
The woman and girl disappeared into the shopping centre, the song finished and Tom and I got out of the car. Idly, as I was locking up, I glanced at the vehicle next to us and saw a card hanging from a pretty ribbon attached to the rear-view mirror. I think I remember the card having a cute dog with floppy ears on it. But it was the message that brought me up short: ‘Boys are stupid’, it said, ‘throw rocks at them!’
What? I did a double take.
But then I laughed out loud. It was cute and sassy. I wanted to go into the centre and look for the Mum – well, maybe it was a much older sister; or a young aunt – and get a closer look. I called Tom over and showed him the card hanging from the mirror.
I was still grinning inanely and thinking pleasantly about spunky women with attitude when I was brought back to reality by Tom’s sharply indrawn breath.
‘That’s .... that’s .... just so DAMN unfair,’ he said after a while.
‘Tom!’ I said, warning about the language; but actually giving myself time to think.
Tom was genuinely upset and it only took me a millisecond to see the issues firmly from his perspective. He is one of Daddy’s boy, after all; and Daddy was a boy too. Daddy remembers ....
‘Does that make you feel cross?’ I stupidly asked the little boy whose face was reddening as tears sprung to his eyes.
‘It’s not fair,’ he swung away from the car in frustration and then turned, jabbing his finger again at the card. ‘If we say that to girls,’ he looked up at me and spread his arms imploringly, ‘what will happen?’
I didn’t know what to say and therefore (unusually for me) said nothing.
‘We’ll get in trouble, that’s what. We’ll get in big, big trouble!’ – green hazel eyes wide and eyebrows high.
I wanted to tell him it was just a joke; that they didn’t mean that girls should actually throw stones at boys; it was just that girls so often feel bossed around by boys ... but I stopped myself.
All Tom could see were the words in front of him. The bald statement: ‘Boys are stupid.’ And the cruel admonishment: ‘Throw stones at them!’
Once I would have gently told Tom that in this world it was often men who led the public stoning of women; that little jokes like this are one of the ways in which clever girls and women fight against patriarchy and sexism.
But there is something so clean, so newly minted about Tom. The card was an outrage to him.
And yes, I get the joke; and I like a bit of sass, but it’s an outrage to me too.
Do you think insults to boys are more easily accepted? And is this fair?