A number of readers recenly objected to my use of the word "bad" in the name of this site. I thought it might be a good idea to post here a section of my explanation in From the Editor.
-- Clara Middleton
When I first mention the name of this website to people they either chuckle and say “Yes!” or they are a little shocked. “Boys are not bad,” they say.
It has been my experience that while it is unusual for any one to openly use the word “bad” to describe boys, we do not hesitate to treat them as such. It is by actually using this word that we can clearly see how absurd it is to call any child “bad.” Sometimes a little plain speaking can do wonders. For one thing, it might save us from well-intentioned hypocrisy.
Bad is a perfectly good word. It has been around for a long time and it cannot be willed away by replacing it with euphemisms. If we think our kids don’t see right through substitute words like “inappropriate” we’re kidding ourselves. All we need to do is to listen to the words the kids use themselves. Recently my son blamed something bad he had done on another boy because the other kid “is a bad boy.” I am sure my son had not heard anyone actually calling the other boy bad; he had just picked up on the unspoken consensus.
Some euphemisms are actually dangerous. I increasingly hear the words “at risk” applied to boys. Most of the time, if you ask the person who uses this phrase, “At risk of what?” they don’t have an answer. Their “knowledge” ends right there. But there are those who do have an answer and the answer is yet another label: starting with learning disability, ADD, ADHD, defiance disorder, etc., and leading up to more criminally charged labels as boys grow older.
Now, I am not denying that all kinds of physiological disorders are affecting children in general, and boys in particular. Clearly they must be clinically researched, acknowledged, and treated. The question is, are we absolutely sure that we are not attributing “disorder” today to what in the past was simply called “bad behavior”?
Another reason that we should look at the word “bad” closely is because boys are quite obsessed with it themselves. Aren’t they always either fighting “bad guys” or impersonating them? Isn’t the battle of good versus evil an almost constant motif in the stories that most appeal to boys? Just look at the billions of dollars that entertainment industries are making packaging and repackaging “bad”: Darth Vader, Valdemot, the Joker, the Shredder, and on and on. If children could articulate it they would probably point out how ridiculous our effort to banish the word “bad” is – how, shall we say, childish it is.
(If you think about it, facing the word “bad” makes us face our own worst fears, both rational and irrational. But let our boys start their own Sons of Bad Mothers website and explore that one!)
The most interesting thing about using the word “bad” is that it seems to have a very good outcome. It evokes contrariness in people: “Boys are NOT bad,” they retort indignantly. And then all the good things they have to say about boys flow out of them: Boys are funny, imaginative, and affectionate. Their energy is electrifying and awesome. They are hypersensitive to fairness, courage, and honor. They are very smart.
Aha… mission accomplished!
Could it be that we have slowly become accustomed to attributing negative things to boys? (I don’t need to remind you that automatically attributing negative qualities to any population group is called prejudice.) So let’s try to remember all the good qualities that boys have as we look into what makes life difficult for them—and for us.
Read more on "Why Boys?", "Why Mothers?", and "Where do fathers fit into the picture?" in Why this Site?