Bros: you can’t live with ‘em, you can’t live (in a world) without ‘em. Bros are ubiquitous, solicitous and sometimes-duplicitous. For those of you who are unfamiliar with the term “bro”, allow me/this awesome G.Q. article on bro-ism to define the modern “bro” (or “bro-bro”):
“Originally from the Middle English (“I knowe ynogh, on even and a-browe“— G. Chaucer); evolved during the ’60s as ‘brother’, used by African-Americans to indicate a shared history of struggle. Now used a lot by white guys to indicate a shared history of that time you puked at White Castle.”
As someone who attended an all boys Catholic (Jesuit) High School, one might say that I’m an informal expert on all things “bro-bro”. I use the term “bro-bro” to demonstrate a heightened version of the ordinary bro. Bro-bros are the most exaggerated, macho males in the game. They are the human peacocks and they like to fluff their feathers whenever they can.
Playing high school football for four years straight (even though I wasn’t, ha), one thing I learned early on about bro-bro culture is that bro-bros love sticking together in groups. Pack mentalities aren’t just a psychology of the animal kingdom: bro-bros love to pack up and roam about the world, drawing strength in numbers.
Another thing I learned about bros-bros is that they love showing off-frequently exerting their hegemonic masculinity. “In gender studies, hegemonic masculinity refers to the belief in the existence of a culturally normative ideal of male behavior. Hegemonic masculinity posits that society strongly encourages men to embody this kind of masculinity.”
In plain (feminist) speak, “this kind of masculinity” refers to flamboyant showcases of being a stereotypical male – brutish, misogynistic, powerful. Hegemonic masculinity is a bootleg way of explaining why dudes have competitions about how many beers they can drink at once, or why dudes always want bigger biceps (me included) or who can win in a fight, etc. These are active cues of a tangible hegemonic masculinity.
Furthermore, hegemonic masculinity is said to be marked by a tendency for the male to dominate other males and subordinate females. In terms of bro-bro culture, bro-bros are always trying to showcase their hegemonic masculinity by exhibiting that they are the alpha, rendering other males or females the beta. This basic form of peacocking is often where bro-bros exhibit their messiest, most overtly misogynistic manners.
Over St. Patrick’s Day weekend (that’s an unofficial St. Bro-Bro holiday) in Las Vegas, I witnessed this type IRL hegemonic masculinity in the form of something deeply offensive and violating. And it’s inspired me to write this post (hence the Intro to Psychology of Bro-Bro 101 class held above).
Things started innocently enough. At a Vegas resort hotel, I was seated by the pool with my two lady friends-sipping on some extra large margaritas. Our waitress, this lovely girl from the midwest, “Katie” (not her real name), couldn’t have been nicer. She was distinctive in her fresh faced kindness and her charming personality. Part of Katie’s job was to walk around the pool-serving cocktails in this skimpy red string bikini, which left very little to the imagination (her outfit was very Vide0-Vixen-Chic).
Seated directly across from us were a group of bro-bros of the worst kind. These bro-bros were of the cliche, unoriginal, tattoo-around-the-bicep variety with sad, desperate, horny attitudes. Since Katie’s job was to serve as many cocktails as possible, I noticed a lot of faux-flirtation happening between her and the bro-bros. In essence, she was trying to secure a large tip, and I had to respect a sista for trying to earn her Benjamins.
Throughout the day, the bro-bros would hoot and holler at Katie, and she graciously smiled and took it all in stride; again – I’m sure she was thinking about securing that tip. Katie had about as good an attitude as any girl could have wearing a tiny red-string bikini, serving alcohol to demanding, loud, sweaty bro-bros in Vegas. Actually, Katie was a SAINT – the “Patron Saint of Dignity While Serving Cocktails in a Skimpy Bikini.”
Conversely, the group of bro-bros seated across from me and my friends were not saints. When the “accident” (as the bro-bros called it) first happened, I couldn’t believe my eyes. And I couldn’t believe these bro-bros had the unbridled audacity to commit an act as heinous as they did, but it’s Vegas, right? And what happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas, right? Well, not anymore.
As Katie was serving the bro-bros their drinks, she took a seat down on one of the bro-bro’s recliners, and as she was getting up, this bro-bro did the unthinkable: he pulled the string on the bottom half of Katie’s red string bikini, which caused her entire bottom half to drop on the floor (while she was holding a tray of drinks, mind you), exposing her lady nether regions and buttocks to the entire pool.
Immediately, Katie crouched down to the ground-screaming, frantically trying find something to shield her exposed lady parts with, and none of the bro-bros flinched. For the first 30 seconds, my friends and I sat there completely dumbfounded, shocked and horrified, not believing what we were seeing.
It was only Katie’s shrill screams that brought us back into reality. Pulling the string on her red bikini bottom was the most egregiously, inexcusably awful, violating thing these bro-bros could have done to this poor girl (apart from full-on assaulting her). Katie was just trying to do her job, and none of us knew what to do or how to handle this. It was just absolutely shocking.
After 30 seconds, one of the bro-bros eventually handed Katie a towel, and after wrapping herself with the towel, Katie got up, slapped the bro-bro in the chest, called him an “a**hole” and ran away crying. Almost instantaneously, hotel security came out to assess the situation, and my friends and I were expecting them to forcibly, physically escort all of the bro-bros away one by one, but that didn’t happen.
Instead, the leader of the bro-bros – this smug, ubiquitously freckled red-headed dude tried to explain his friend’s side of the story to security. And my friends and I sat there thinking, “What could he possibly have to say? The dude pulled down her bathing suit bottom in front of a bunch of people. Does he really think he is going to get away with that?” And in fact, that bro-bro did! What struck me right away was how remarkably innocent they all acted, exhibiting no signs of remorse.
It was literally like watching some bad, cliche, patriarchal performance art piece about disrespecting women, but it wasn’t a joke or theoretical or abstract – it was reality. Undeterred, this haughty bro-bro tried to plead innocence to hotel security, but fortunately, security saw through his charade and eventually escorted him and all his bro-bro friends out of the hotel.
As they walked by, my friends and I openly showed our disdain for their disgusting behavior. Pondering what could have possessed this bro-bro to be so childish and violating- the idea of hegemonic masculinity randomly popped up into my brain- probably out of the knowledge reservoir of a Gender and Society class I took in my sophomore year of college.
In their article “Violence Against Women: What Accounts for Men’s Hostile Attitudes Toward Women? The Influence of Hegemonic Male Role Norms and Masculine Gender Role Stress,” scholars Kathryn E. Gallagher and Dominic J. Parrott assert that certain men feel an inherent “hostility toward women,” which causes them to act out in aggressive ways.
I don’t believe that it’s simple enough to trace someone’s bad behavior to a rigid gender concept, as there are plenty of upstanding, traditionally manly gentlemen in the world who wouldn’t dream of behaving in such a gross manner. And not all bro-bros are bad, either; it’s just hard to differentiate sometimes.
Nonetheless, it’s interesting to consider the structural underlying motivations. According to Gallagher and Parrott: “Men who adhere to hegemonic masculine gender role guidelines [AKA bro-bros] expect others (e.g., women) to submit to these roles, as well.” Even my own hegemonic masculinity felt guilty that I didn’t valiantly jump up immediately and punch all of them in the heads (next time).
I wonder if this bro-bro thought Katie would giggle and jump into his lap and seduce him? Could he have imagined that somehow Katie would have not been humiliated by his aggressive violation and then swooned over him? I realize that I’m combining one man’s actions into a collective group action, but it was interesting how none of the bro-bros did anything to help her (other than hand her a towel). I suppose there was an unspoken code of loyalty amongst the bro-bros.
After sorting herself out, Katie resumed working. When she returned to close out our tab, we greeted Katie with a smile and a “way to handle that with class and dignity” affirmation, and we all remarked how impressed we were that Katie was able to return back to work so quickly after being humiliated and degraded so publicly.
Remarkably, Katie seemed calm and centered and uplifted after the whole ordeal. Despite her initial humiliation, Katie found her inner Oprah and rose above the situation. In a world of (sometimes) aggressive bro-bros, it’s important to maintain your strength, dignity and composure even when faced with the adversity of an aggressive, brew-inspired hegemonic masculinity. This piece is dedicated to the legacy of Katie- a tough lady who didn’t let a bro-bro bring her down.