The unintended impact of the ‘fuckboy’ and ‘softboy’
November 17, 2017
Last year as a junior at Bowdoin, I made the mistake of complimenting a female friend on her outfit; that time, she accused me of “benevolent sexism.” As a first year, I made a similar tactical error by opening the door for a friend, a liberal self-proclaimed feminist, who disparaged me afterwards. My time in college has been plagued with moments like these, where women misconstrue my kindness for acts of perpetuating the patriarchy. For me, navigating friendships and other relationships with women has become more difficult, since many of them do not assume best intentions. I admit that my perspective is heteronormative, and there are likely similar discourses in same-sex relations or relations between gender nonconforming individuals. Still, the current discourse on opposite sex relations at Bowdoin may need great reconsideration.
It makes sense why a female Bowdoin student might be suspicious of a man’s kind gestures; she probably experienced deception and betrayal from a man before. At the present moment, I see a growing female trend towards a new male taxonomy, to the detriment of both men and women: the “fuckboy.”
The “fuckboy” is, as the “reliable” source Nancy Jo Sales defined it, “a young man who sleeps with women without any intention of having a relationship with them or perhaps even walking them to the door post-sex. He’s a womanizer, an especially callous one, as well as kind of a loser.” Years ago, such a man was known as a player, or simply an asshole. Today, the “fuckboy” has taken on numerous male archetypes—including, but not limited to, the slight or extreme misogynist, the basic lax bro or the playboy with feigned sexual competence.
Most of my white friends never thought to ask for the original usage of “fuckboy” from the people who have used it the most since 2003: black people. The new trend is for white Americans to appropriate black slang, oblivious to what the language was originally used for, reinventing definitions to veil their ignorance of urban vernacular. So, for articles to say that “fuckboy” came into popular parlance a few years ago is to say that slang only becomes popular once white circles start using it.
When I was in high school, “fuckboy” was a term used in my community to insult a man who “ain’t shit,” as the song lyric goes in Trey Songz’s “You Ain’t Shit.” A “fuckboy” was a scrub, a lame, a guy who was too simple and basic to deserve a more sophisticated insult. White op-ed writers have desperately tried to ground the “fuckboy” term in some complex analysis involving misogyny and sexual callousness, but it’s just not that deep. It’s 2017 and maybe women need a term to describe the apathetic “man whore.” I’m fine with ceding this term to the women who frequently use it in this way, but this whitewashed meaning of “fuckboy” has actually normalized romantic apathy and aversion to commitment among men.
My female friends thought they could invoke “fuckboy” to call out men’s sexually immoral behavior like the way “slut” functions for women. The branding of “fuckboy” has permitted men to ascribe to, and aspire to, a trendy sexual lifestyle. In fact, being called a “fuckboy” has become a badge of honor for many men at Bowdoin and other college campuses. I’ve met a fair share of “wannabe-fuckboys” who seem to follow the countless “10-Signs-He’s-a-‘Fuckboy’” articles verbatim, from asking for nudes, to sending cryptic messages instead of stating their real intentions, to pretending to have zero capacity for romantic affection.
Just when I thought “fuckboy” was loaded enough, the “softboy” was born. “Softboy” is a lazy, unoriginal attempt at a term for a “fuckboy with feelings.” The “softboy” is literally the same as a “fuckboy,” except he is socially aware of his deceptive behavior towards women, making him much more nefarious. Of course, Cosmopolitan articles and other trend pieces have constructed entire personalities and narratives behind the so-called “softboy.” I think this classification has made it dangerously easier to confuse any kind-hearted man for an undercover womanizer.
In a world where men are condemned as being either “fuckboys” or “softboys,” I feel like I’m walking on thin ice—and I can’t swim. I admit that male exploitative behavior exists, and has always somewhat blemished the reputation for men as a gender, and is thriving with the rise of hookup culture and dating apps. However, millennials have become inundated with so many pre-packaged narratives that it’s almost impossible for women to comfortably trust men. I’m afraid that the “fuckboy” and “softboy” are slowly being seen as a binary for men at Bowdoin and perhaps in youth culture at large. If a man doesn’t show romantic feelings for his girl of interest, he’s a “fuckboy,” and if he does show it, he could still be labeled a “softboy”—so I’m damned if I do, and damned if I don’t.
Some women may accuse me of being a “softboy” sympathizer or a champion of the #NotAllMen hashtag, but I’ve learned to accept the labeling and name-calling. Not all men care about being decent partners and allies who want to end rape culture, but I do. Acts of kindness towards women are not always benevolent sexism. Sometimes, it’s as simple as being a compassionate human being, trying to lighten the load on someone else. Misogyny and rape culture heavily impact America, so the good men out there need tangible ways to prove they’re allies to women, or simply that they have good intentions.
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I love that an article addressing benevolent sexism involves such a heavy dose of mansplaining. Trying to tell women why they use these terms (“my female friends thought…”), as if no other possible explanation could exist than the one this man has envisioned. Mentioning Cosmopolitan magazine in a disparaging tone, as though articles written in such a silly “women’s magazine” and other such “thought pieces” have no place in this man’s society. Defending the concept of #NotAllMen. Way to miss the point.
I was fascinated about the racial component of the evolution of the term “fuckboy,” and drawing attention to whitewashing is always important, but the level of privilege in writing an article like this cannot be offset by careful or well-meaning analysis. It is not for you to decide whether or not your actions make another person uncomfortable. The tenor of rape culture, particularly on this campus, is perpetuated particularly in the assumption that women (or others) misconstrue actions, not that men (or others) act inappropriately or in a way that make others uncomfortable. Intention only goes so far. I’m sorry that your experience at Bowdoin has made you feel trapped in this binary, but to be honest, as a woman whose Bowdoin experience has included instances of sexual assault and harassment, I have difficulty sympathizing with your encounter with these labels. I am sure this article was well-intentioned, but I think it is severely lacking in an acknowledgment of male privilege, and reveals the very problem with articles such as these—while you may feel frustrated and confused, which I am sorry you do, many others feel victimized, objectified, and threatened, which frankly takes precedence over your experience, however frustrating or upsetting it may be.
This is really well-formulated and the perfect response to this op-ed. I would encourage you to write this comment up in a letter to the editor of the Orient or, even better, to write an op-ed in response.
This is a terrible op-ed. All oppression is related, and similar. You are an oppressor to women just like you are oppressed as a black person.
This quote is the worst: “Some women may accuse me of being a “softboy” sympathizer or a champion of the #NotAllMen hashtag, but I’ve learned to accept the labeling and name-calling.”
Let me say something you might see as problematic; “Some black people may accuse me of being a sympathizer of subtle racists or a champion of the all lives matter hashtag, but I’ve learned to accept the labeling and name-calling.”
Honestly, how did this appear in the Orient without someone telling you to stop mansplaining and be respectful.
Thanks for writing this article, I think you hit on a bunch of important topics and I’m glad you said what was on your mind. Kudos
Classes of 2016, 2019, and 1995,
Ladies, if the guys can’t seem to do anything right, no matter what they try, maybe they aren’t the problem. Perennially POed is no way to go through life.
How amusing to read the various victims at Bowdoin try to one-up each other on who is more oppressed. Apparently only black, female or gender indeterminate, poor people are entitled to an opinion. Osa, you deserve a nice woman who appreciates your kindness and consideration instead of leaping to broad generalizations and name calling. I’m sure you will find her outside of the intolerant and hypocritical bubble that Bowdoin has apparently devolved to.
Thought provoking stuff….
Discourse, polite as it were, is sometimes all too often muted.
Steve Chisholm ’81