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On November 16th 2016, in a YouTube video entitled " The Truth About Soy Boys" with almost 2 million views, Paul Joseph Watson, contributor to right-wing conspiracy site InfoWars, claimed that eating soy products feminizes men, decreases sperm count, and makes men more likely to adopt "left wing beliefs. This helped to popularize the term 'soyboys' and brought this conspiracy theory into the mainstream. This claim is untrue, and is used as a mechanism to further a political agenda.
Watson provides several pieces of evidence for this claim. The first anecdotal piece is a Buzzfeed video in which several Buzzfeed staffers tested their testosterone levels. He compares their levels to a study, discussed later, which he found showing that they have below a healthy amount for a 85-100 year-old man – he does not link this to soy at all. The second is a thread of twitter screenshots which show leftist twitter profiles that have tweeted about eating soy. The third is that soy contains phytoestrogens, or what he calls "plant estrogen." He claims that these phytoestrogens "mimic the female hormone estrogen in the human body" which he claims "reduces testosterone and lowers male sperm count."He also shows a screenshot of a study which states that men who eat half a serving of soy a day had 34 million sperm per mL than those who did not. He goes on to say that men with low testosterone lose their libido, and that men with high estrogen take on what he calls feminine traits (these traits, he claims, are that women find it harder to handle stress, have low energy, are less assertive – he also claims that effects of more phytoestrogen are higher voices, smaller genitals, less muscle tone, and less hair.) He then shows a clip of a popular youtube bodybuilder "Elliott Hulse" claiming that doctors prescribe "soy therapy" for women after menopause to increase femininity, stating that after menopause women's "femininity...sorta drop[s]". Watson then claims that men with high testosterone can better handle dramatic situations, and men with low testosterone are prone to mood swings – which he follows up with "it's a constant source of interest to me, how my most obsessive and vehement haters on the left always relentlessly complain about how maniacally depressed they are" and then links this to ideology by citing that "studies have repeatedly shown how liberals are more unhappy than conservatives." He then suggests that this is a calculated plot on the part of liberals and the soy industry, citing that soy food sales have increased from $300 million to $4 billion a year since 1992 – and that this has coincided with a drop in men's testosterone levels since the 1980's. He cites a record number of male breast removal operations, and then cites a video by Dr. Kaayla Daniel which essentially re-hashes the phytoestrogen argument. He then cites another anecdotal piece of evidence about an army officer who drank soy milk, and then claims that "we're creating an army of soyboys from birth" because many mothers are using baby food formula derived from soy.
While this video is not the first instance of the idea that soy turns men into effeminate leftists, it is the most popular instance we could find which contains the underpinnings of this theory.
The first instance of the idea that soy feminizes men that we could find was a series of articles in 2005 from WorldNetDaily, a far-right news site – starting with the article "SOY IS MAKING KIDS 'GAY'". These posts essentially cover the same ground as Paul Joseph Watson's video – they, as we will see, pick specific data from a larger body of research to prove a point.
The first at all mainstream appearance of this theory prior to the PJW video was an article in Men's Health (an article which is actually referenced in said video) published in 2009 entitled " Is This the Most Dangerous Food For Men?" Which focuses on a single anecdotal subject who particularly liked soymilk, and repeats the points from the WND articles.
Then in 2017 the video "The Truth About Soy Boys" from the first section came out from influential alt-right/far-right figure Paul Joseph Watson and his parent organization InfoWars, introducing a more overtly political element to the mix. We've already recapped this, so please refer back to that for context.
Upon further investigation into InfoWars, we found that the website is entirely self funded, with a majority of their sales coming from there own nutraceuticals, which are pharmaceutical grade nutrients, that are regulated as dietary supplements and food additives. These nutraceuticals, 13 of which, are made by Global Healing Center, a small company based out of Houston Texas. Several of those supplements contain soy -- the very thing that PJW condemns in his video published by InfoWars. The company's founder, Dr. Edward Group III, is a frequent guest on InfoWars, and uses his credentials to help them sell their products. His credentials have come under scrutiny with the rise of InfoWars popularity and increase in nutraceuticals sales, starting back in 2013. Dr. Group received a Doctor of Chiropractic degree from Texas Chiropractic College, which technically allows him to use the title Doctor. He also claims to have a Director of Medicine (MD) degree from Joseph LaFortune School of Medicine. The Joseph LaFortune School of Medicine, based in Haiti was sued by the Florida State Attorney General in 2011 for "defrauding medical and nursing students, by falsely promising they could get licensed after they graduated". He also claims to have degrees from Harvard and MIT, but John Oliver, the host of Last Week Tonight contacted these institutions and found out that he did not graduate from either of them, but took certificate courses from them. Paul Joseph Watson's employer, Alex Jones -- founder of InfoWars, frequently uses fear mongering tactics in order to sell these products to his viewers.
Dr. Kaayla Daniel (PhD in Nutritional Sciences and Anti-Aging Therapies), titles herself as the, "Naughty Nutritionist," and has contributed in a large sum to the "soy makes men more feminine" movement. In 2005, Dr. Kaayla Daniel released a book called, "The Whole Soy Story: The Dark Side of America's Favorite Health Food." This book is said to expose what the soy industry has attempted to keep from the people that invest in it. Daniel has claimed in a video called, " Moobs, Man Boobs, Soy and Other Environmental Estrogens," that we, "practice eating safe soy." Soy, according to Daniel, contains plant estrogens that influence the body by means of throwing off natural hormones and creating endicon disruption. When discussing who is most at risk for issues that are created by soy, she states: boys who were on soy infant formulas when they were babies, boys who grew up with brains and bodies that had developed on soy milk and other phytoestrogenic foods, and young men as well as older men who begin to get health conscious and start to drink a good amount of soy milk, drinking soy shakes and eating soy energy bars. She claims that as soon as boys and men are taken off of soy products, their "moobs" or man boobs, to be more descriptive, will vanish. Dr. Kaayla Daniel has none of her alarming facts sourced anywhere in her video, and the tagged website that had been linked in this specific video has since vanished from the internet. She now has a new and likely equally as suspicious website available to the public.
The term "Soy Boy," which is often used in this discourse, has a negative connotation, and is used for insulting males who have a non-athletic physique and consume soy and its meaning comes from the pseudo-scientific claim that soy contains estrogens. The term originates from far-right media personalities and has gained popularity on social media sites including Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and Reddit.
The scientific consensus on the matter is decided – the animal studies mentioned first by Dr. Kaayla Daniel, and later by PJW, date back to the 1940s and were performed on sheep. An analysis of all the research done of soy's effects on humans (32 studies at that point) done in 2008 and published in the academic journal Fertility and Sterility, the conclusion of which was that "neither soy protein nor isoflavones affect reproductive hormone concentration in men regardless of age or cancer status" and that "results suggest that consumption of soy foods or isoflavone supplements would not result in the adverse effects associated with lower T levels." Additionally, a later meta-analysis, published in 2010 by the same journal, on which culminated the research (9 studies at that point) effects of soy on men's sperm count found that "isoflavone exposure at levels even greatly exceeding reasonable dietary intakes does not affect blood T or estrogen levels in men or sperm and semen parameters." This second analysis even actively dismisses the article on sperm count which PJW brought up in his video, which is in sharp contrast to the World Health Organization's standards for a healthy sperm count.
Even on a more fundamental level, as demonstrated by the video from the first section, in their arguments, proponents of this theory rely on logical fallacies to support their claims. These generally include conflating correlation with causation, the fallacy of summation, and others – leading to the position of what are often bad-faith arguments which are cloaked as something more informative and accurate. In almost all of the examples we could find, there was also a large amount of politically charged language which pointed to an ulterior motive – ranging from insults aimed at the left to ableist slurs to attacks on ethnic groups. These are both virtue signalling to the intended audience, and dog whistles to a specific far-right political agenda.
In sum, the issues posed by supporters of this theory – that phytoestrogen will reduce men's testosterone levels, sperm count, and turn them liberal, ultimately making them a woman – are all based on outdated or selectively chosen science. Meta-analysis of studies shows that this theory is untrue. The more likely explanation for its current prevalence is to assist in driving a right-wing political agenda, by providing a convenient label with which to discredit those who disagree with other far-right ideologies: "soy boy" – the idea of a brainwashed, feminized man.