Thursday, June 25, 2009

Guest Contributor: "Bromance"

(originally posted 04/09 at wordpress)

by Alicia Katopodis

I have recently noticed a new way of thinking about intimate relationships among young men. This new idea of "bromance" has revolutionized what is acceptable for men in our society. Now men can have relationships with men that involve feelings and emotions with out being labeled as homosexual. Now there is even a television show that airs on MTV that highlights this recent development. It is a competitive reality show that follows nine men as they compete for the friendship of one man, Brody Jenner. This concept has never been made into a public spectacle and so well received. This show and this concept has changed the opinions about male relationships. Yet it has also blurred the lines between male intimacy and male homosexuality.

Although bromance is not a real word, the meaning is comprehensible to most and has gained popularity among many young men. This is the first time that closeness, emotionality and sharing of feelings among men has been deemed acceptable. Many young men have embraced the term and like this new found glory of bromance. Until now men have been shunned for having close male friends and are ultimately deemed homosexual. On the show Bromance, Brody Jenner is looking for true friendship with the ultimate bro. Along the way the contestants will prove themselves worthy of having the pseudo-famous Jenner as their "bro". As I watched the intro to this first episode, Jenner says, "a real bromance is the bond between you and your go-to guy". Now how does this type of friendship between men compare to the type of intimate friendship many women have always been expected to have? This is a strange double standard that calls into question many of the stereotypes of male masculinity and the expectations of that representation.

When it comes to one's own gender and sexual expression most tend to be very sensitive to the outside perspective. Especially heterosexual men have an increasingly difficult time having someone question their sexuality. This means they are lacking some component of male masculinity which is essential to the archetypal male of our society. This masculine male representation has been reinforced through out all of our gender training that we do to children and we continue to do in adult life. Emotionality is a characteristic that has seldom found itself in the masculinity box and has mostly been reflective of femininity. Is bromance finally going to change these stereotypes of male masculinity or further divide?

"Bromance is gay, I am not saying like stupid gay, but gay, in the gay way", when I started this conversation with friends one night this is the response I heard from one person. On one hand this can be very comforting for men to finally have a space that allows them to step outside of their gender boxes, but on the other hand this could be another display of masculine privilege. This abuse of accessibility by men is the fear for some critics of bromance. When considering the opposite representation of masculinity when performed by women you see the disparity of acceptance. Since men have more access they are able to move more freely in and out of masculinity than women are able to perform masculinity with out criticism. It is more acceptable for men to perform out of the bounds of masculinity without being categorized as gay. In 300 BCE Aristotle was the first to lay a foundational sociological perspective of bromance; "it is those who desire the good of their friends for the friends' sake that are most truly friends, because each loves the other for what he is, and not for any incidental quality." Obviously he understood the importance of male bonding and the benefits of intimate relationships for men. This belief becoming more true with time, due to the rising divorce rates, more open mindedness changing the view of marriage and expectations of it. In the past 50 years the average marrying age of men has increased from 23 to 27 thus leading men to find more comfort with living with roommates and having more intimate friendships with men.

As I kept watching the first episode of Bromance, I was hoping for some kind of breaking down masculine stereotypes, but I was sadly disappointed. This was not a new representation at all. Their first challenge was to go find dates on the street for the party that evening which, of course, was a Fredericks of Hollywood Lingerie party. The way to win this challenge was to have to most attractive female dates at this party. This also included the homosexual male that was competing, he was expected to bring women to entertain the other straight men. The winning Bro of this challenge was so proud he was able to scour the streets to find two peroxide blonde girls to win the heart of Jenner for the evening. Consequently the gay contestant was disappointed as well and left the show before the first elimination.

It would be a completely different situation if there was a healthy way of having intimate male friendships without group objectification of women that creates a false sense of male solidarity. This was a theme of this show within the first five minutes. There were repetitive images of women scantly clad and dialogue that reinforced negative and harmful feelings towards women. This is also a characteristic of the culture surrounding hip hop music. In Byron Hurt's film Hip Hop: Beyond Beats and Rhymes he focuses on the element of camaraderie of men within their sexual conquests with women. In the film Sut Jhally is interviewed and speaks to this depiction of women in media, specifically music videos; he goes on to say " objectified female images are the only way in which women are presented, so the only way in which men are allowed to make a connection in the popular culture with women is through sexuality and it is only through their sexual desires". I think this relationship to music videos is important to note considering Bromance airs on MTV which is also a channel that plays some of the videos that they are talking about in this film. There is obviously a type of masculinity that they are all in accordance in creating and I do not think this show is any different from hip hop videos, most commercial advertising and our sexually addicted media machine.

It is upsetting to know how obsessed our culture is with being homophobic that we go so far out of our way to prove how heterosexual we are by committing crimes, everyday misogyny and gender inequality. I think this is a problem with the representations that we allow in mass media and how penetrable viewers are when they think the source they are retrieving information from has authority. Media has become a tool for male supremacists to have the same clout and represent it in images that are receivable, public and comprehensible.

Although I had high hopes for a show that was going to let down our cultures' stringent gender roles and create a space in which men could redefine themselves and the relationships they have, I found myself looking in the wrong place. I still have hope for men in this world to change and evolve their beliefs surrounding intimate male relationships. I think it is happening and most men that have been able to see the problems surrounding male masculinity. We need to see changes in the way we keep gendering our culture. I don't think this show will last long but these ideas will evolve and hopefully real men can make real change. I wish it did not have to be called bromance and be thought of as an exception for men to be intimate with other men. I think there are enough forward thinking men to change the stereotypes surrounding male closeness. Soon it will not be out of character for men to be in touch with their feelings, and it will not have anything to do with a male representation of femininity.

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