Perhaps you’ve seen the facial expression on a youngish white male—photos are all over the Internet. It’s a self-conscious grin expressing great surprise or excitement, with the mouth agape, that’s come to be derisively called the “Nu-male smile,” alternatively known as the Soy Boy Face or Soylent Grin. “Nu-male” and “Soy Boy” are contentious culture war terms currently in vogue among the meme-loving, trash talking “alpha male” element of the right-wing that loves to put down their progressive adversaries by suggesting they’re a little light in the loafers.
“Nu-male” and “Soy Boy” are essentially the same put-down. The latter earned the sobriquet via what’s perceived as a love of soy products like tofu and soy milk, which tormentors mistakenly claim lowers testosterone levels. For moral reasons, they’re often vegetarians, or vegans, unlike their more manly, conservative, red-meat-loving counterparts. Now that third-wave feminists have declared traditional masculinity toxic, some men are making adjustments to stay in their good graces.
The physical stereotype is an unprepossessing one—some sort of scraggly beard, glasses, often a receding hairline, and a soft body (either too thin or too chubby) unaccustomed to the rigors of the gym. Their more muscled deprecators, more in tune with the corporeal world than the average app developer is, would be surprised if a Nu-male could even change a tire.
Theories explaining the Nu-male smile abound. Some have speculated that because these beta types are aware of not being particularly attractive, they contort their faces for the camera as a diversionary tactic. Others say that the Soy Boy Face biologically indicates submissiveness and passivity in primate males, and claim that statistics show that women prefer photos of men not smiling more attractive than smiling men. Some believe Nu-males make this facial expression to signal to women that they’re not threatening. Being perceived as just a cuddly “nice guy,” they hope, will then allow them to get close to “the female,” which they’re unable to do in the virile way of the jungle like the alpha male does. This sideways approach, much to their chagrin, often lands them in the dreaded “friend zone.”
The Nu-male might be seen at a protest holding a sign reading, “I need feminism because too much of history was written by white, bourgeois, heterosexual cisgender men like me.” Guilt-ridden over historical wrongs he had nothing to do with creating—especially imperialism, slavery, sexism, and racism—he favors terms such as cisgender, white privilege, and cultural appropriation in an effort to expatiate his inherited sins. Nu-males don the hairshirt and struggle to renounce their own oppressive identity, which they announce as loudly and often as possible. Get on their bandwagon, if you happen to share their identity, or they wag their finger at you.
Nu-males can be seen earnestly nodding their heads while a member of a marginalized minority “speaks her truth.” They’re signalling their eagerness to be an “ally,” which requires subservience under the rules of intersectionality. The Nu-male values validation from the marginalized over an aptitude for critical thinking, thus he feels compelled to be a “white knight” and a “male feminist,” which often involves defending indefensible words and actions because those are the rules.
This withering analysis of Nu-males and Soy Boys is certainly a biased one, as told from the point of view of people the accused would call douchebros or Alpha Chads. In their own minds, Nu-males are just regular, successful people to whom the alt-right assigns nasty nicknames out of envy. Their detractors are bitter losers projecting their own fears and inadequacies upon them. The ability to change a tire doesn’t carry the same weight it did decades ago, back in the age of the Marlboro Man.
There’s some truth in every stereotype, and this applies to the publicly self-flagellating, identity-obsessed scolds who go on and on about checking your privilege. But it does get tiring having every political discussion so quickly reduced to a name-calling contest. Soy Boy’s become the new “libtard”—over-used by online cretins who can’t form a coherent thought but still want in on the discussion.
The right-wing is more adept at name-calling. Nu-males are incapable of producing a YouTube video as amusing and cutting as douchebros can. Earnest and unimaginative when it comes to insults, they have little more in their toolkit than labeling their opponents racists, bigots, misogynists, and Islamophobes—words which have lost much of their power. Having relied on cheap shots for so long, perhaps some of them deserve to be mocked as Nu-males and Soy Boys.