The cultural context of the “softboy”

A complete reversal of traditional masculinity

What exactly is a “softboy”? To some, he is related to the fuckboy, only he goes after your heart rather than your body. To others, he is an identity to be worn with pride. Either way, he is a strong rejection of the traditional masculinity that men are presumed to show.

According to Urban Dictionary, a “softboy” or “softboi” is defined as a less masculine boy who is described as “cute” based on their soft or gentle characteristics. The term was adopted by trans men and boys, often enthusiastically embraced as a way of describing trans boys who didn’t fit a strict mould of masculinity, but are masculine, nonetheless. However, over the last year or so, the term “softboi” has evolved, and now represents a very different group of men.

“We have had softboys since the beginning of time…He is the tortured Romeo. He is Tom from 500 Days of Summer. He is basically every character Michael Cera has ever played”

Although a “Softboi” entered modern culture in 2015 with Alan Hanson’s article titled “Have you encountered the SoftBoi”, we have had softboys since the beginning of time. He is the tortured Romeo. He is Tom from 500 Days of Summer. He is basically every character Michael Cera has ever played. While the idea of the softboy is nothing new, now he simply has a name. 

On the face of it, the Softboy culture is a strong rejection of plague that is toxic masculinity. “Softboy” indicates a more tender, or softer, man. This culture subverts the idea of original masculinity and claims traits coded as feminine. It is a fundamental breakdown of the long traditional of toxic masculinity. This culture has adopted an almost eboy style, seen in the likes of K-Pop boy bands. They wear pastel colours, beanies, baggy hoodies, taking on a generally softer look. The recent tiktok trend #softszn has undoubtedly helped this trend of the Softboy evolve. These videos show both men and women embracing lighter clothes colours, with a generally floral theme. The female version of a softboy is often referred to as a “moth girl”.

A softboy would typically contain a certain set of characteristics. He is caring, but not creepy. He is well-groomed and sexy, without the overwhelming testosterone. He reads, and he is subtly intelligent. Typically described as an “indie-boy”, the softboy will bombard you with romance and love right from the beginning, as he’s “not afraid” to express emotion. He supports women’s rights and is not afraid of broadcasting that on Facebook. He is probably in a band and supports charities by buying his clothes from the local Oxfam. Generally speaking, he will have a “good-guy attitude”. On the face of it, the softboy doesn’t seem like such a bad thing, right? Well, unfortunately, there is always one or two that must ruin it for everybody else.

“The softboy has often come under speculation from women in their 20s as a hoax designed to intrigue them”

The softboy has often come under speculation from women in their 20s as a hoax designed to intrigue them. Often described as the “woke fuckboy”, the softboy with play with your feelings, and then apologise for it. Some very angry blog posts even claim that the softboy uses subtle manipulation to make you feel like a “friends with benefits” situation is actually more than what it is. In Alan Hanson’s article, he claims the softboy “strings you along under loftier auspices. He is Nice yet Complicated; this isn’t just a hook-up. It’s a series of such.”

While the original idea of the softboy is intriguing, inviting, and most definitely a welcomed alternative to the fuckboy, certain members have adopted the face of the softboy to get closer to both men and women alike. We have all seen the success of gay men with women, and a lot people claim that softboy culture has evolved to act as an almost straight alternative. Again, very angry blog posts from women in their twenties claim this culture exists simply to exploit them.

An Instagram account (beam_me_up_softboi) run by a British woman has been sharing the best and worst moments from people’s encounters with the softboy. One of personal favourite posts describes this subcategory of the softboy perfectly:

“Typical white boy with mother problems and an unhealthy relationship with alcohol who’s fun for about 8 months, then you’ll realise how truly damaged I am.”

Even in my own experience, I have encountered the likes of this softboy. They’ll quote Ernest Hemingway, appear to wear their heart on their sleeve and show you a song they “wrote about you”. However, once you get with them, they won’t respond to your last text for weeks. Then, just as the thought of them is leaving the stratosphere of your life, they’ll send you a message apologising for going missing, claiming they were simply “too fucked” to answer your text. However, it is important to note that not every softboy is the same. Like everything, it only takes one or two bad eggs to ruin it.

Whether your experience of the softboy has been good or bad, there is no denying the breakdown of toxic masculinity is essentially of good thing. This idea of the softboy has replaced the idea of a “man’s man”, promoting the fact that masculinity looks different for everyone. It is the most rounded example of 21st Century masculinity as we are witnessing the fundamental traits coded as feminine or masculine breakdown in front of our very eyes. There is no longer a set of traits you need to be a man or a woman, there is no set colours and there shouldn’t be any preconceived notions of what you are supposed to be as a man. We are glad to see the back of toxic masculinity in all its forms. 

Softboys are still very much alive in today’s media, almost replacing entirely the buff sportsman of television past. Steve Harrington from Stranger Things, Tom Holland and even more sinister Joe from You are all examples of the softboy in today’s media. This softer, more emotional man is paving the way for the abolition of toxic masculinity.

Shannon Connolly

Shannon Connolly is the Editor-in-Chief of the 69th volume Trinity News, and a Senior Sophister student of English Literature and Philosophy. She previously served as Deputy Editor, News Editor and Assistant News Editor.