A few weeks ago, I was quoted in a Buzzfeed article about why bros hate cargo shorts: “Cargo shorts have been super-stigmatized as trashy and déclassé amongst bros,” I told the website. “They’re now culturally associated with a type of ignorant mouth-breathing meathead who’d try to fight a bouncer outside a bar or something douchey like that. In other words, bros don’t want to be that guy.”
We all know “that guy.” But who exactly is “that guy?” “That guy” is someone who brazenly draws attention to himself and tends to act reactively out of testosterone-fueled aggression. “That guy” is a big-swinging dick whose self-stated defense mechanism is an “I-don’t-give-a-fuck” attitude, even when his actions are careless and may hurt others. “That guy” acts like a 1st grader in time out—not a self-respecting adult—when he needs to the most. “That guy” goes for the cheap laugh.
“That guy” is not a Bro. “That guy” is a neanderthal. “That guy” is an asshole. “That guy” is a douche.
Over at New York Mag today, Ann Friedman wrote a scathing attack on “Bro Culture” titled “How Do You Change a Bro-Dominated Culture?” The essay uses the public ousting of Business Insider’s CTO Pax Dickinson to launch into a preachy condemnation of bro culture as a whole, especially the tech industry’s “brogrammer” culture. To catch anyone up who doesn’t live in the Internet’s outrage machine, the Business Insider CTO was fired for broadcasting his sexist, racist opinions on Twitter—tech blog Valleywag first noticed his tendency to Tweet nauseating insults that stink of crude douche-speak:
These are terrible, offensive “jokes” that aren’t even funny.
The story came in the middle of a very sensitive discussion about gender equality in the tech industry. A few days prior to the Valleywag post, a sexist presentation at TechCrunch Disrupt in San Francisco rattled the tech blogosphere by presenting a mock app called “Titstare,” described by its male presenters as “an app where you take photos of yourself staring at tits.” The backlash from the industry was fierce, forcing an apology from Tech Crunch.
When it came time to put Pax Dickinson on blast, the author of the Valleywag post, Nitasha Tiku, ran with a screaming headline, stamping him as “Your New Tech Bro Nightmare.” With that, the cultural conversation about the matter rapidly equated Pax Dickinson as a “Bro” and his distasteful tweets as “Bro behavior.” They are wrong. He’s a douchebag, exhibiting douchebag behavior.
So: If douchebag behavior is what we see as bad, then how do we define Bro behavior? It’s male bonding and kinship that’s so effortless, it never needs to truly try all that hard. It’s loyalty to friends, community, and a greater sense of values. It’s aspirational and confident without being cocky. It’s beers with buddies. It’s business during business hours yet still knows how to live a little bit. It’s being “chill.” It’s NOT being an asshole for no reason.
A few months ago, when NPR attempted to define “Bro” by declaring Ryan Lochte as somewhat of “The Ultimate Bro,” I chimed in with the baseline definition for Bro we’ve always used here at BroBible:
Just pause for a second and think about what “Bro” is actually an abbreviation for: Brother. That’s it! It’s a simple term of endearment between guys. Here at BroBible, we’ve always avoiding defining “Bro” as a lifestyle. It’s just… Life. “Bro” is descriptor for masculine brotherhood that’s really more inclusionary than exclusionary: You don’t have to be in a fraternity, do bong rips, crush mad Nattys, dress like Scott Disick, play a D-1 sport, or even be attracted to the opposite sex to be one (I was quoted for an article on that once too).
Just be a stand-up guy who’s social, self-aware, maybe has a few goals in life, and likes to have fun. That’s really all there is to it.
Yet over at New York Magazine, Friedman’s offers her attack on Bros, claiming that the term has devolved into a convenient media punching bag for all things “privileged, overly white, straight, and male.” In short, it’s an even more toxic synonym than “douche”:
“Bro” once meant something specific: a self-absorbed young white guy in board shorts with a taste for cheap beer. But it’s become a shorthand for the sort of privileged ignorance that thrives in groups dominated by wealthy, white, straight men. “Bro” is convenient because describing a professional or social dynamic as “overly white, straight, and male” seems both too politically charged and too general; instead, “bro” conjures a particular type of dude who operates socially by excluding those who are different.
This is blatant stereotyping. It’s a mistake to sociologically define a massive demographic of millions and millions of people by its very worst sects. And yet, over at the Baffler in a piece on Davidson, writer Jim Newell admits that the noxious “fundamentalist” bros have come to represent the rest of the crowd. “The darker strain of bro, the fundamentalist sect of bro theology that taints the entire pool, is that to which Mr. Pax is an adherent,” he writes. “Let’s describe these bros as young—or youthful in spirit—white males with strong priors.” No. We reject attempts to define all of us by douchebags like Pax.
Friedman’s later calls Bros “pack animals” and offers a broad definition of “Bro” hivemind/groupthink:
The group dynamic is perhaps the most under-examined but important element of what it means when we cry “bro,” and why it’s become a way of describing cultures more than individuals. It is also why the bro presents such a vexing diversity conundrum. Because he’s used to enjoying a certain amount of financial and cultural privilege, he takes up a lot of space. A small cluster of bros at the top of the corporate ladder can make the entire business feel pretty unwelcoming to those who don’t share their demographic, even if women and people of color are proportionately represented on the rungs below. Not every straight white guy is a bro, but while you can screen for factors like gender and race and even sexual orientation, it’s far more difficult to screen for attitude. And while it’s unfair to assume that white men will laugh at a sexist or racist joke, it’s probably safe to assume that a he’s more likely to laugh than, say, a black woman.
Our editorial staff at BroBible is well aware that the term “Bro” has an extremely negative stigma, but the behavior Friedman uses to illustrate her argument—including Titstare and the smug gender inequity at HBS—is, again, not that of a bro; It’s that of a douche. Although certain examples resound in the media’s megaphone louder than others, douchiness does not belong to a race, ethnicity, gender, or a sexual orientation. There’s inherently terrible behavior across all facets of humanity.
Society has a douchebag problem, not a bro problem. It’s the abhorent behavior that rears its ugly head at random University of Delaware riots on Monday nights and forces Dave Chappelle off stage. It’s the cheap laugh for Twitter. It’s what happens when everyone has a very large, very public social media microphone for their own every stupid thought and action. The enabler is a culture that Likes, RTs, favorites, and YOLOs rather than thinking and discussing for a second.
Here at BroBible, we don’t celebrate stupid things like Pax Dickinson’s offensive Tweets. If we did, we’d be offering a platform for the cheap laugh a douchebag would be looking for. In fact, more often than not, we prefer to put these types of douchebags on blast:
As I said a few months ago, shaking up the status quo is something we’ll continue to do, be it Alabama’s racist sorority system or college morons leading a pro-rape chant. These behaviors are indefensible because they’re the behaviors of selfish douchebags.
As I said before:
I really truly am troubled by the popular connotation between “Bro” and douchebag. There’s a belief out there that they are synonymous. I think almost every single regular reader of this site will agree this is bullshit. The toxic Bro-douche cultural stain was worsened by the Jersey Shore‘s shit-smear on the term back in 2008. For long-time readers of the site, hopefully our battle-cry against douchebags has resonated in our editorial approach. Over the years, we’ve called out downright offensive fraternity stunts, creepy, extremely troubling Kickstarters about seducing women, and toolbags like Spencer Pratt. BroBible will continue to publish things like this on a daily basis. It’s part of our editorial voice and publishing DNA.
Let’s go back to the time when bro was defined as simply being a “a guy in board shorts with a taste for cheap beer.” That’s all we ever were in the first place.