Social justice has turned men into manboys


Softboys, fuckboys, and everything in between are the new archetypes of masculinity. Gone are the days of Humphrey Bogart, slick cigarette and steely stare, smoke curling into greased back hair. The new heirs to the throne of masculinity are more suited to high chairs. As with most things these days, toxic masculinity is to blame. Only this time, it’s the push back against it that has led to these softboys and fuckboys, and they are even more toxic than what came before.

They may seem like a welcome diversion from more classic, American masculinity, what we now think of as toxic. A toxically masculine guy might call a woman a sweetheart, mansplain, catcall, hold the door for you, think you need help with luggage or heavy packages. A softboy knows better than to help women with anything, he knows that even the offer is unwelcome. Believing in the power of women means knowing they don’t need or want men for anything at all.

The contemporary softboy is derived from those non-threatening K-Pop icons, like the boys in BTS, Super Junior, and iKon. Soft, sweet, totally non-rapey, these guys, gals, and gender non-binaries often wear pastels and do cute things on TikTok. The downside of the softboy is that for all his soft sweetness, he turns to fluff when it’s time to actually stand up and take responsibility for being a viable partner.

Fuckboys are similar to softboys in that they are just as non threatening, but they’ve figured out that there’s no reason to make the woman they’re fucking happy more than intermittently. In fact, it’s to their advantage to keep her guessing on hey they feel about her because it leaves her no time to realize just how much of a fuckboy they are, or how little she’s getting from the interactions. The more irregular his affections, the more she will want them.

We used to call these guys jugglers. Dudes who could strum Indigo Girls songs on their acoustic guitars, who liked to hacky sack, and who, in every case, could juggle. They thought they were cute, but mostly they were non-threatening. They were expert at turning a declared cuddle sesh into sex. It was an effective game, but slightly skeevy, a little dishonest, and able to happen without any real amorous entanglements, or even as a prelude to it. They might talk about their shyness, they might like The Cure, and they definitely have exes with strings attached because they never properly broke up in the first place.

Back in the 1990s I went out with a boy who lived in an NYU dorm room with three other guys. We sat on his bed and ate hash brownies before a night out, as his roommate slipped into jammies and an actual sleeping cap. He tuned his guitar. As we were leaving, a girl came in wearing jammies, slippers, clutching a teddy bear. The whole scene seemed so innocent. “I’m here for story hour,” she said. He held up a copy of Dr. Seuss’ “Oh the Places You’ll Go,” and she giggled. Today this guy would be a some kind of cross between softboy and fuckboy. Those guys can probably juggle, too.

Humphrey Bogart, Jack Lemon, Robert Redford, and even Dick Van Dyke were swashbuckling tough guys with hearts of gold that represented the classic, American male archetype.