I was speaking to one of my friends about who I met at a party one night. I rattled off the list of names of people that I interacted with, listing who I liked and who I thought was boring. When I had finished, she said “it’s no surprise that the people you like are all the bro-y ones”. I was affronted. Imagine thinking reducing the coolest people at the party to “bros”, and then also thinking that I would prefer to hang out with bros. I thought about it for a bit longer, then I realized I’m a product of my experiences, and to my dismay, that product is a bro. I’m a bit embarrassed that I didn’t grasp it earlier, but also beginning to accept that brohood isn’t anything to be ashamed of.
I guess the first thing to do is to define what a bro is. This can be a challenge due to the sheer variety of bro species, such as finance bro, film bro, frat bro, libertarian bro, puck bro, rave bro, or tech bro, in addition to the misclassified bros that are often given names that don’t align with the aforementioned etymological structure, such as jock, gamer, stoner, fashionista, or skater. Some brohoods cross over, the finance-frat-puck-lib bro being a popular combination as the rave-tech-gamer bro. Other bros can be a pure bro, such as an MMA bro who practices and watches MMA, or the car bro who drives, modifies, and loves cars.
In a previous post specifically about film bros, I’ve defined a bro as someone with “a gregarious personality, a generally center-right political slant, a superlative sense of entitlement, an unfounded volume of confidence, a callous disregard to anyone’s existence but their own, and an affinity for alcohol”. Someone could be lacking many these characteristics and still be a bro, but the list should paint an image of the classic bro in the west. Though rightfully mocked in today’s hyper-aware socio-political climate for many reasons, bros do have certain redeeming characteristics which aren’t all bad.
From my pop-sci sociology armchair, I believe that brohood is an atavistic way of signalling value and belonging to other members of the tribe. The desire for recognition and confidence of self-importance ultimately manifest as the characteristics themselves, because survivor bias favours overconfidence, and ambition attracts other similarly minded individuals. In the hunter-gatherer era, the seemingly contrasting traits of socialization and selfishness were paramount for survival: one could not survive without the tribe, yet benefiting more from the tribe than their peers leads to a more fruitful life and the opportunity to pass on their genes.
Removed from the past, be it Roman or barbarian, Renaissance or Regency, being a bro is not as important to survival. Like the flight-or-fight response, these vestiges of our past can do more harm then good. Overconfidence is now perceived as delusional and toxic, as are selfishness and entitlement. But there is in turn, a reason bros have survived until now. An unsavoury reason is the pervasiveness of the patriarchy that still rests in our society, which favours bros at the expense of women. It also deems many of the traits perceived as positive in bros as negative in women. Self-interest and love of bacchanalia is also frowned upon. But not all is bad.
For example, brohood promotes the speed of trust. Like mentioned at the beginning of this post, bros are very quick to recognize other bros. The only way to become a bro is to spend significant time in the company of other bros, be it a finance bro, a film bro, or a gym bro. This is impossible if the person doesn’t act like a bro. Hence, to be a bro is to know the “bro code”. Popular media has portrayed the bro code as a sort of etiquette among men specifically with regards to their treatment and pursuit of women. This usage is common enough that it’d be silly for me to deem it incorrect, but I’d posit that the bro code extends beyond that.
I see the bro code as an ironically uncodified set of social conventions. Aside from the bit about women, there are many tidbits that are standard fare. There are simple examples such as the idea that alcoholic beverages should be bought in turn and in rounds, particularly at dive bars, and that all beverages should arrive before commencing with drinking. There are also more abstract examples, such as ones that govern speaking order and pecking order, what topics are and aren’t appropriate for conversation, or etiquette regarding entrances and exits. This is not to say that all bros are experts at social manoeuvring, but rather that bros are well-versed in their own social decorum. Though status within the group is often a function of the members’ individual achievements or seniority within their brohood, it is also accorded to how well a bro plays by these rules.
This is why there are many male tech workers, but not of them are tech-bros. The same goes for gamers, ravers, and hockey players. Bros represent a certain extraverted echelon of each group that is concerned with etiquette, and they can recognize each other across these fiefdoms. Of course, sociability isn’t all that’s required to be a bro either. There’s a requisite degree of 拎得清 and a commitment to the ingroup; in other words, the bro code. Though this code will differ among group to group, the values they maintain heavily overlap. When a bro refers to another bro as such, it’s usually as a compliment: a bro puts their friends first, stays calm about the right things, and gets excited about the others. Unfortunately, when someone else who isn’t a bro makes such a comment, it is usually critical, as my friend did in my opening anecdote.
Perhaps the reason that the bro code so heavily revolves around the pursuit of women is that bros spend a disproportionate amount of time thinking about women and benefiting from patriarchal power structures. This is another commonly accepted attribute of brohood that I reject as a core tenant. I suggest that it’s not only bros who are guilty of this casual misogyny, it’s most men as a group; bros are just the most conspicuous in doing so. In fairness, through visibility, they also cause a proportional amount of harm. This is further compounded by the aforementioned ingroup mentality: bros before women as some would put it. But this is changing as society continues to progress, and young men become more aware of the harm they can cause.
Aside from the sexism of brohood (it’s in the name: few women are bros), I have come to reject all other criticisms now that I self-identify as a bro and see the diversity of bros. Not all bros have tired political beliefs, trust funds, and drinking problems. Not all extraverted people are loud and fratty, not all clique leaders are political and bullies. From non-bros there is perhaps even some jealously mixed in with the animosity. Understandable. They hate us because they ain’t us.
Be respectful bro. Be fun bro. Be cool bro. Bro, if you do these, there’s nothing wrong with being a bro.