Book Review: Clementine Ford’s Boys Will Be Boys is a blazing exploration of the frightening damage the patriarchy does to us all

Clementine Ford is back with her trademark brand of no holds barred feminism, brandishing an outstandingly fierce follow-up to 2016’s Fight Like A Girl as her weapon of choice. Boys Will Be Boys sees the Aussie writer take on toxic masculinity, patriarchal power, and the harrowing effects they have on us and our society, regardless of gender. From frightening hazing rituals, and the behaviour we allow under the guise of ‘mateship’, to the limiting standards men to which must conform to be seen as men at all. The patriarchy hurts men as much as women, and Ford is ready and raring to explain why.

A mother herself, Ford became concerned about the kind of world her infant son would grow up in. Not because, as far too many have already suggested, she thinks he’s in danger of finding himself on the wrong end of a false assault accusation, but because she’s raising a boy in a world that has strict rules on maleness. Rules that hurt not only women, but also the men that struggle to adhere to them. We are raising boys to feel entitled, to have dangerous expectations of the world around them, and to repress feelings that aren’t manly enough and loudly criticise anyone who doesn’t do the same. And Ford will not have it.

Now, just because Ford’s new book is dissecting the harmful effect the patriarchy has on men doesn’t mean she’s ditching the empowering anger that permeated through Fight Like A Girl, nor does it mean she’s started pandering to her critics. God, no! Boys Will Be Boys is full of the same white-hot fury, in-depth research, and wry humour that made Ford’s previous book so compulsively readable, and will likely continue to piss off her detractors. What Boys Will Be Boys actually does is pick up from where Fight Like A Girl left off. We’ve got the girls riled up. It’s time to give the boys a nudge too.

As expected, Boys Will Be Boys isn’t always an easy read. Thanks to Ford’s wonderful writing I ploughed through it fairly quickly, but I was foolish enough to read the rape culture focused chapter “Asking For It” right before bed. I wasn’t joking when I later described it in a Tweet as ‘nightmare fuel’ and, as a whole, the book is confronting as hell. For me, as a woman, the hard part was seeing so many uncomfortable truths bound together, and I’d be lying if I said it didn’t leave me feeling a little hopeless at times, wondering what on earth we can do to fix this. For others – well, men – that difficulty will stem from seeing so much of themselves dismantled and questioned. Guts will definitely be wrenched by this book, but the fact that there’s likely to be such a stark divide between what leaves readers lying awake at night is wildly indicative of the problem that Ford is empathetically and intelligently exploring.

Every slam of Ford’s work, and that of others writing on the same subjects, only further proves the truth of her words. And, honestly, the angry men arcing up every time Ford dares breathe would do well to read this book. But since it’s unlikely that their misplaced anger will ever let them do so, for their benefit let me sum up:

Boys Will Be Boys is not an attack on men.

So, what exactly is it?

It’s an engaging criticism of the structures in place that stunt men’s growth as emotional individuals. It’s a middle finger to the poisonous ideas of masculinity that leave us all broken. It’s a touching letter from a worried mother to her young son. It is, often, very funny. Boys Will Be Boys, like Fight Like A Girl before it, is a call to arms and a call to do better. And – here’s the thing – each and every one of us needs to show up.


Clementine Ford’s Boys Will Be Boys is published by Allen & Unwin and is in bookstores now.

Jodie Sloan

she/her Brisbane/Meanjin I like fancy cocktails, pro wrestling, and spooky shit.