Sad Bois, E-Bois, Soft-Bois: Meet the New Faces of Masculinity

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Illustration by Alyssa Long

Jennifer Sor
Contributing Writer

Sad Boi is a label that needs no explanation: my male friends, sporting black hoodies, and SoundCloud Unlimited subscriptions, were hardly anomalies. They were part of an emerging trend which I found fascinating.

Sad Bois are not without close company: there are E-Bois — emo boys, hybrids between gamer and homme-fatale characters. There are also Soft Bois sensitive boys, TikTok-inspired versions of Don Juan. 

There are Fucc Bois, VSCO Bois, and so much more. Categorizing men into various pop-culture archetypes, it seems, has never more so proliferated the internet.

While it’s difficult to pinpoint the origin of these terms, the Sad Boi, which some consider to be the OG archetype, seems to have originated from the early-2000s music industry. 

Indie-tronica producers like Kompakt and Yung Lean are credited with being the first to epitomize the Sad Boi, enforcing cultural stereotypes that comprise our understanding of Sad Bois today. Indie-tronica artists set the precedent that sadness was an enhancer of good music, that good music was produced at the expense of one’s emotional annihilation. 

For lack of a better word, Indie-tronica artists taught us that musical men were inherently sad men, and with that the Sad Boi was born. All the other Bois followed suit.

Sad Bois. E-Bois. Fucc Bois. I am fascinated by how, upon learning of all these terms, I was immediately able to identify boys in my life that fit those stereotypes. Gen-Z’s coming-of-age appears to be responsible for the growing popularity of these terms, but for the most part, they reflect tropes in men that have persisted for years.

For instance, while the term “VSCO Boi” has only begun to circulate in the past year, there have always been boys in my life who are better at the Instagram thing than I am. The term “Soft Boi” has only recently gained traction in the online community, but there have always been boys in my life who are profoundly sensitive, and liked Bukowski as much as I did. 

Our boys aren’t getting sadder, more emo, or more sensitive. But, we have started to classify boys into cultural stereotypes, much in the same way girls have been classified for years.

This gender parallel is one of the reasons why I find the various archetypes for boys so amusing. Show me a Sad Boi, and I’ll show you an Elliptical Bunny; she wears a microfiber headband, and at the disdain of other gym-goers, spends several hours on the elliptical on the lowest resistance. 

While E-Bois, Soft Bois, and VSCO Bois have only started to roam in the wild, the Dumb Hot Girl has been dramatized for years: she is a primped, strawberry blonde who gets fresh acrylics every Sunday. 

Labels for boys may be novel, but for women, labels are a part of the female experience, one that has existed as long as there were females. 

Coming-of-age is a ruthless time for everyone, but for teenage girls, I feel that labels are a looming pressure that teenage boys are sometimes shielded from. There are preconceived and hard-to-meet notions of womanhood and manhood, but it’s arguable that the labels women are categorized by can be particularly scathing. 

When Reese Witherspoon’s character from “Legally Blonde” scores a 179 on the LSAT and gains admission into Harvard, why is the most memorable “Legally Blonde” scene the one where she is ridiculed for being excessively girly, showing up to a Halloween party as a Playboy Bunny

Witherspoon’s character is, in a sense, punished for fitting the stereotype of a girl, whereas I’m not sure if a male character would face the same treatment. The harshest criticism I have ever heard regarding a man’s Halloween costume is that it was lazy, not that it was “excessively boyish.”

Although I think “Legally Blonde” is hilarious, I always felt that female-specific labels were deterrents for girls who simply liked what was popular. Thirteen-year-old me felt like there was nothing worse than assuming one of these labels. Who is more ridiculed, after all, than the Basic Bitch?

Adolescence is harrowing for everyone, but I must admit: there is a comedic justice that comes with the popularization of Sad Bois, E-Bois, and all the other Bois. I am both amused and reveling in this sense of popular-culture equality.

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