I attended a discussion a few months ago on “Bro Culture” & Mass Media. It was a Kindlings Muse radio discussion taped live at Hale’s Ales Brewery in Fremont and it’s been on my mind all week. The discussion ran the gamut and covered all manner of things, from the elongation of adolescence in America to the frat party atmosphere permeating tech companies today. Before I went I wasn’t sure if I actually knew what “bro culture” was but as soon as the discussion started, I thought “ah, I know exactly what bro culture is.” And you probably do, too.
The subculture is not defined consistently or concretely, but refers to a type of “fratty masculinity”, predominantly if not exclusively white, associated with frayed-brim baseball hats, oxford shirts, sports team t-shirts, cargo shorts, and boat shoes or sandals.
- Bros don’t let other bros order boneless wings. Unless with a hot girl and need to stay clean. #brotips
- They say nice guys finish last, but they usually finish with a wife and a wicked savings account. Stick it out, bro. #brotips
- Only a true sucker would start dating a girl two weeks before Valentine’s Day. #brotips
- Life and beer are very similar. Chill for best results. #brotips
- Are you that guy with more razors than a chick? Man up with the Philips Norelco Click & Style. Three attachments, one razor. #brotips (Phillips Norelco)
There’s “broetry,” which apparently is male poetry about, you guessed it, girls and drinking and “manning up.” There’s a “bro bible.” There arebronies and bromances and bros icing bros (still somewhat unclear on that one) and even a Brohemian Rhapsody.
Perhaps one of the most telling comments last night was by one of the panelists, Dr. Brian Bantum, who mentioned that in typical bro culture, the ideal world does not include women. Except for sex. I hadn’t thought of it that way but I think he might be right. Bros before hoes and all that. What I find equally interesting, though, is that so many females want to be bros.
The unspoken rules as I understood them were: Don’t be too girly. Do be smoking hot but don’t show that you care too much about make-up or clothes or shopping. Be a big eater and major bonus if you like to watch football or basketball or fill-in-the-blank.
Being the Cool Girl means I am a hot, brilliant, funny woman who adores football, poker, dirty jokes, and burping, who plays video games, drinks cheap beer…, while somehow maintaining a size 2, because Cool Girls are above all hot. Hot and understanding. Cool Girls never get angry; they only smile in a chagrined, loving manner and let their men do whatever they want. Go ahead, s*#@ on me, I don’t mind, I’m the Cool Girl.
Men actually think this girl exists. Maybe they’re fooled because so many women are willing to pretend to be this girl… and the Cool Girls are even more pathetic: They’re not even pretending to be the woman they want to be, they’re pretending to be the woman a man wants them to be.
Nearly every woman I know, myself included, has tried to be the cool girl at some point in her life. All of her life, for some of us. I think it takes significant courage to stop trying to be one of the guys. Only with introspection and support do most women feel able to stop trying so hard to be a bro and work instead on being themselves.
I wonder if this particular subculture has flourished in part because our culture has no markers of masculinity or rites of passage for boys. A girl “becomes a woman” when she starts menstruating. Most junior high girls obsess about getting their period because it’s the outward symbol of what they so desperately want; to grow up. Most women end up rueing the day (cramps, nausea, general misery) but still they wouldn’t trade it. And one week out of every month from that day forward they know, in the most visceral sense, that they are women.
But no such marker exists for a boy and bro culture, at least on some level, seems to exist for this purpose. Boys are trying to figure out how to grow up; how to to be a man. And maybe there’s a dearth of good men to show them the way? Because instead of men teaching boys, it’s bro teaching bro about the ways of the world and the rite of passage is finding a safe spot for your bro to sleep-it-off while still managing to get laid at a party.
One of the panelists at Kindlings Muse ended the discussion with the hopeful reminder that nothing stays the same. Everything is constantly in flux and this subculture will eventually fade into the background and be a thing of the past. But when you combine the two most powerful and privileged groups in our country (male & white), it seems unlikely that it’s going to fade away anytime soon. And I don’t think we can sit back and wait passively for it to pass. Because what if my boys grow up to be bros? What if women become nothing more than an accessory to them and the ultimate accomplishment of their 20s is that time they ice-blocked their bro that one night in Miami Beach?
I think the more hopeful response was actually from Dr. Bantum. He suggested that an antidote to bro culture is to find the exceptions. Find the places where there are disruptions to the brogram. Find the woman who is unafraid to be her fullest and most powerful self. Find the man who is supporting and applauding that woman. Find the men who are aware of their bodies and their privilege and their power. And then cultivate those spaces. Cultivate those spaces and be those spaces. Be that man, that woman, so that you can communicate a compelling and beautiful picture of what it might look like to do things a little different.