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Haven’t we all encountered the softboy?

May 5, 2017

This piece represents the opinion of the author .

“The Fuckboy, in his current form, aims for the night, aims for the break, goals to ghost. The Softboy strings you along under loftier auspices. He is Nice yet Complicated; this isn’t just a hookup. It’s a series of such,” wrote Alan Hanson in his article “Have You Encountered the Softboy?

Lillian Eckstein ’18 read this piece aloud to me a couple of months ago with the premise, “HOW HAVE YOU NOT READ THIS?” I cannot help but assume she was implicitly commenting on my softboy past. Rewrite: my ongoing experience with softboys. So here I am, writing in the Orient, aiming to put something out there that is original, something that hopefully goes slightly beyond a white girl complaining about white girl problems. I wrote this because I think boys suck and they cannot be told enough that they suck.

First, please read Hanson’s original piece. All of my ideas are directly inspired by what he wrote, though, sure, I will give myself a little credit considering Hanson is probably a softboy himself, because softboys are so very introspective!

Let me introduce the “Bowdoin Softboy,” which, through a delightful coincidence, can be shortened to the BS:

The BS barely managed to say hi to you across the salad bar in Moulton, but sends you a Snapchat later “we should get a meal sometime!”

You get the meal, but his friends sit nearby, and he finds a way to participate in their conversation certainly too many times. Then he gets up to get silverware, then seconds, then toast, then tea, then another cup of tea and then has to run.

The BS forgot to clear his used napkin.

The BS often wears Patagonia, but asserts he got it on clearance in Freeport; were the Bean Boots, too? He reminds you that his new turtleneck is from Salvation Army. He has really been thinking hard about class implications at Bowdoin.

“The Fuckboy is perplexed that you were upset when he forgot to text you for three days then sent ‘what are you up to’ at last call. The Softboy knows this behavior is selfish and cruel, though his desire to get laid can trump this. He feels shame. He does it again,” Hanson wrote.

The first-year BS opens up to you about his high school ex. He holds no resentment, though he is sad and caught in nostalgia. He says that he does not think he will be emotionally available for a long time. He makes out with you that evening in a College House basement.

The Senior BS insists you come over and cook with him sometime. When you do, he shows you souvenirs from abroad. He later Venmo charges you $12 for “insert pasta and wine emoji.” The wine had already been opened, and the meal was vegetarian.

The BS stops and asks you about the paper you are writing for your sociology class in HL. It just so happens that he took Sociology 1101. He bemoans all of the “isms.” Though, he is still confused as to why his living room is a male-dominated space. He uses the word ally lightly, borderline ironically. He wields his “Free Flow” and “Consent is Key” stickers like badges.

Just as you are over him, he resurfaces by insisting you study with him. By insisting you get a meal. By insisting you play beer pong with him at a party. By insisting you go home with him.

Though these examples seem specific, any resemblances to specific people are a coincidence. Instead, the Bowdoin Softboy fits no specific mold nor demographic; rather, he permeates all spaces. The BS is a result of second-wave Fuckboys. Those who think they are “one-of-the-good-guys,” those who hold themselves to a “higher standard.” Softboys manage to generate power from their sensitivity and self-conscious nature.

Though it may seem like there also exists a softgirl, this is a falsehood. Any behavior women exhibit that resembles that of a BS is a response to living in a hookup culture determined by the institutionalization of male entitlement. This culture allows the BS to get excused time and time again for his actions. This culture rewards men for moments of kindness and punishes women for misinterpreting the intention of men’s kindness.

Fuckboys, Softboys and all of you in between, please recognize the power you have in a society so deeply rooted in patriarchal norms. Please take a moment to recognize the impact of your actions.

Julia Conley is a member of the Class of 2018.


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  1. Anonymous says:

    “Though it may seem like there also exists a softgirl, this is a falsehood. Any behavior women exhibit that resembles that of a BS is a response to living in a hookup culture determined by the institutionalization of male entitlement.”
    I agree with this claim, but I think that I would like to hear more about the non-existence of a softgirl and how an institution of male entitlement manifests itself at Bowdoin.

  2. Adam Lamont says:

    Can you explain the differences between a first wave fuckboy and second wave fuckboy? Or point me in the direction of some article that explains it?

  3. Class of 2020 says:

    Great article! I thoroughly enjoyed and gained much understanding from the Bowdoin examples which you drew from Hanson’s article. Maybe I am intrepreting it wrong, but what I understand about a Softboy is that he consciously uses emotion as a weapon to gain power over a woman, or women in general; however, whether or not a softboy uses his privilege to gain this power, or adds to preexisting privilege through his emotional controll was unclear to me. Furthermore, I view your claim addressing the impossiblity of softgirls as problematic. The claim neglects the behavior of a women in a relationship with another women, and almost excuses “softboy” behavior among women without offering an alternative explanation to the wide claim of male entitlement in hook-up culture. Does a softgirl exist in the instance of a non-hookup interaction?

  4. Olivia Class of '16 says:

    Maybe I am partial to Julias who write about women in the Orient, but thank you for this, Julia! I appreciate that you are pushing the conversation on hooking up at Bowdoin to identify the nuances of behaviors that are not okay. Can’t understate the importance of that. xo, proud to have you in my company as a Bowdoin lady.

  5. Class of 2012 says:

    Stop chasing the top 20% of men at Bowdoin (and in the broader world) and perhaps you’ll have better luck avoiding fuckboys. These are the complaints of women who are attractive enough to secure the fleeting attention of top 20% men but, not being in the top 20% of women themselves, cannot maintain their positioning considering the myriad options available to so-called high-quality men. What causes this situation is the fact that 80% of women all chase the same 20% of men. So don’t blame the patriarchy, blame statistics, or more specifically the female biological prerogative that compels women, on average, to mate and marry up. Men on the other hand, as can be widely observed, are biologically wired to optimize for quantity of mates rather than quality of mates. Are there exceptions to and deviations from these behaviors? Absolutely. But positive assortative mating and female hypergamy are the hidden creators of the fuckboy.

  6. Class of 2016 says:

    Ha. Read this article just yesterday with fellow alums (male & female) and we agreed that there would certainly be comments seizing only on perhaps the most insignificant line in Julia’s magnificent piece – that is, the line referencing the absence of the “softgirl” due to the attitude of institutionalized male entitlement at Bowdoin. Julia didn’t set out to argue whether this culture exists or not. As with many Bowdoin women, she accepts it as fact before moving on with her piece to make the real point of this article. And anyone looking for an example of this institutionalized male entitlement has only to read Helen Ross’s piece in this same issue of the Orient, where she references the fact that there has only been one female theorist on the syllabi of her SEVEN political theory classes. Just one instance of so many! Etc etc etc…

  7. Student says:

    “So here I am, writing in the Orient, aiming to put something out there that is original, something that hopefully goes slightly beyond a white girl complaining about white girl problems. I wrote this because I think boys suck and they cannot be told enough that they suck.”

    I have to say, this statement is quite ridiculous. I’m not even talking about some of the more erroneous stipulations further down the page – isn’t “boys suck” the quintessential white girl problem? Julia’s contradictory sentences are literally back-to-back, it’s pretty farcical actually.

    There are actually a lot of good points to be made here regarding the “Softboy,” and some of these points are made well in the article, but the author’s lack of credibility is made clear far too early on.

  8. Paul W. says:

    I do not know who the editors of this so-called news site are, but they should be relieved of their duties by someone in charge for using such foul language. Reprehensible language is being used and this is inexcusable, especially at an institution of higher learning.

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