‘Let boys be boys’ campaign sparks heated debate

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A campaign to ‘allow boys to be boys’, launched by an independent and ‘social’ advertising agency on Tuesday, has generated considerable comment and the campaign’s premises have been questioned both in the papers and on social media.

The Sire campaigning agency claims boys ‘learn by experimenting and taking risks’, but that this type of behaviour is increasingly discouraged which leads to frustration and falling school results. The video is aimed at starting a discussion among parents and educators about giving boys the space they need to develop, the agency says.

The NRC  walks through the premises one by one and asked professor of diversity in parenting and development Judi Mesman (not one of the five experts consulted by Sire) if boys do indeed learn from experimenting and taking risks, if educators are harder on boys than girls and if this hampers their development.

‘Boys do experiment more than girls and show risky behaviour but whether this actually teaches them anything is not clear. I know of no research that proves that boys learn more if you treat them in a certain way and girls in another,’ she told the NRC.


Boys are being told off in class more often, the Sire campaign claims, and this is holding them back. But that does not fit in with the strict order that reigned in classrooms in the 1950s when boys were doing fine, Mesman says.

‘Perhaps in order to do well in school it is necessary to sit still and listen. It may be that the more democratic climate which allows boys more space is now affecting them. But this is just a supposition, just as Sire’s premise is a supposition,’ she said.

Mesman objects to the campaign because it is based on shaky scientific ground and because it confirms a stereotypical view of boys and girls.


‘I don’t like the stereotypical message that children’s gender determines their preferences when there is much more variation between children of the same sex than between the sexes as a whole. And children pick up this message and start to behave accordingly,’ the NRC quotes her as saying.

Elsewhere in the NRC journalist Colin van Heezik questions the ideology of Sire, a collective of ad makers who tackle social issues. One of their best-known ads is ‘Who is that man who comes to carve the meat on Sundays?’ about the (lack of) involvement of dads in family life.

‘It seems to me we should consider the future of this independent propaganda channel,’ he writes.


In the Volkskrant  professor of neuropsychology Jelle Jolles, who supports the campaign, says educators should ‘stop looking at boys as nuisances. There are indications that this affects their confidence, concentration and development,’ he told the paper.

He does think, however, that the Sire video is too simplistic. Girls should be allowed to mess about just as much as boys and ‘it is important that boys learn skills such as communication and insight in their own actions, which girls are quicker to do.’

Social media

Reactions on Twitter are also highly critical with reactions ranging from ‘Sire is a collective of marketeers. Of course they want people to behave in a stereotypical way’, to ‘Sire campaign makes sense. Completely feminised educational system leads to falling results.’

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