The Problem with Fuckboys

Perhaps the word 'fuckboy' isn't quite as empowering as we'd like to think. Deviance investigates

Feature by Kate Pasola | 01 Apr 2016

The English language is terrifically handy. After centuries of Romans and Vikings and francophones passing through, leaving behind an alphabetti spaghetti of words, affixes and affectations, we’ve got a veritable buffet of linguistic knick-knacks at our disposal. Also, nowadays the cementation of new words doesn’t require decades of usage or open-minded dictionary editors – the democratic nature of the internet means that pretty much any word will catch on if speakers have something to gain socially from its existence.

Need a sassy li'l adjective for literally anything above-average? ‘On fleek’ should do. Desperately want to belong but feel like ‘gang’ might be counterproductive? Go for ‘squad’ and you’ll be surrounded by like-minded people quicker than you can say ‘identity crisis goals’!

There’s also something seductive in hearing a word which takes a chunk of this vast, terrifying universe and neatly attaches a label. That’s probably why everyone’s constantly losing their shit over GIF-stuffed listicles about ‘wanderlust’ and untranslatable Japanese words. Speakers, the clever little vocabulary-curators we all are, are subconsciously aware that words are tools, and tools are useful as hell.

Which brings us to ‘fuckboy’ (or ‘fuccboi’ if you want to get all internetty about it). I could try to define the phenomenon of the fuckboy, alluding to Calvin Klein waistbands and flecked grey loungewear; IKEA lamp mood lighting and an unimaginative subscription to Spotify’s Bedroom Jams playlist; soulless 11pm WhatsApps and token Yankee candles; insensitive jokes-but-actually-not-jokes about ‘Netflix and chill’ and canny avoidance of everything but one’s own sexual fulfillment.

Yep, I could reduce fuckboys to their mythical penchants – perhaps you’ll smirk if it rings even slightly true. But we all know that’s simply fiction built on memes and tropes and Justin Bieber music videos. These tidily defined beta-males don’t really exist, partially because it’s bafflingly more easy for men to opt out of generalisations than it is for slutty ho-bag women. What’s more, the word fuckboy doesn’t really serve to label anything specific at all – just general shittiness, egotism and entitlement.

The word’s somewhat troubling history also fails to shed much light. Originally a homophobic prison slur for a man whose sexuality is seen to depend on the pricetag, ‘fuckboy’ found its way into the rap songs of Cam’ron et al. in reference to those perceived as weak and lacking in conventionally masculine traits. Finally, it was yoinked into white Twitter and the neo-fuckboy was forever more bound to its status as a comic sans insult.

Why has a word with such a vastly broadened and wholly unagreed definition managed to permeate our conversations and captions? Perhaps it has something to do with the fact that until now not a single word has so bitingly critiqued masculine ‘promiscuity’. Dudes get 'Casanova’ or ‘bad boy’ at best, ‘manwhore’ or ‘love rat’ at worst. These terms remain jovial and/or strong, serving to sneakily reassert masculinity despite the mildly judgemental dig. But ‘fuckboy’ feels different. ‘Fuckboy’ is spiky and obscene, and perhaps ‘fuckboy’ makes women who’ve been called sluts since the age of 13 feel empowered.

It did for me, albeit briefly. A man I dated for a couple of months read an article in which I’d casually dropped the term and asked me wide-eyed whether he fell into this category. Cue klaxons, jackpot SFX and tyrannical glee. Finally! Access to a slur which could make a man feel even a sliver of what it is to have one’s sexual profile redefined, slandered, and arbitrarily linked to lifestyle and sartorial choices. It was maddeningly great, but it was also fleeting.

After all, being a feminist who says ‘fuckboy’ feels a tiny bit hypocritical. How are we to expect a ceasefire of sex-negativity if we’re constantly adding fuel to the shagging-shame bonfire? The fuckboy linguistic trend has been a fun exercise in creating empathy, but perhaps that’s where the name-calling should end. Two wrongs don’t make a right; and a slut and a fuckboy don’t make for equality either.

More from Deviance:

• Do Gentlemen Prefer Bland? – De-feminising Tinder

• Terrible Feminism: Three feminist flaws