The ad’s writers miss the possibility that “boys will be boys” is not guidance or an excuse; it’s a warning. Far from encouraging boys’ aggression, the American “patriarchy” tries in its own crude way to squelch it, as any decent society must do. That’s why the country is awash with anti-bullying programs and public-service announcements. Despite the violence of Hollywood, that industry’s creatives also join in. The muscle-bound, macho bully preying on the weak is a stock villain in American movies: think of Biff Tannen in Back to the Future or Sack Lodge, played by a young Bradley Cooper in the Wedding Crashers. Sack is the APA’s stereotypical “constricted” toxic male: he hunts, plays football, wisecracks about women’s bodies, and cheats on his girlfriend. But here’s a Cliff’s note for the APA: he’s the bad guy.
All of which takes us back to the social-media stoning of the Covington Catholic School boys. Looking through the distorted lens of “toxic masculinity,” a Twitter mob doubled down on its first impression of aggressive, smirking, nasty boys, even after new videos emerged showing that they themselves had been taunted. “Someone taught these young people . . . to behave the way they did,” Atlantic writer James Fallows tweeted, because 16-year-olds trying to keep face in front of their friends during an awkward encounter would never, ever lob a lame or even cruel joke unless adults taught them to. The irony is that some of the male Twitter crowd seemed to need a psychologist to help them manage their own out-of-control toxic masculinity. “Honest question,” religion scholar (!) and television personality Reza Aslan asked to the tune of over 20,000 likes. “Have you ever seen a more punchable face than this kid’s?” “I just want these people to die,” wrote Erik Abriss, a contributor to New York. Others “doxed” the boys’ families and have made threats to their safety.