As the world burns from an array of global and domestic conflicts, my mind’s been fixated on an tantamountly vexing issue – to understand what a bro is.
These days, bros encompass every lifestyle and profession: There are the hipster bros, tech bros, engineer bros, brogrammers, brew bros, coffee bros, preppy bros, suit bros, lumber bros, casual bros, GI bros, and the you know bro (I asked my intern to explain to me what a “you know bro” is and I still didn’t know what a “you know bro” is. Do you know?).
Bros are also everywhere. There are ocean bros, Silicon Valley bros, Himalaya bros, Aussie bros, Johannesburg bros, and Asian bros. In 2014, Erin Glori Ryan from Jezebel created a map chronicled “The United States of Bros” highlighting the various bros in various regions.
And there is a bro that has plagued my Desi community – the Indian bro (thankfully I have a brother who doesn’t fit this description. Thanks bro).
But for all their various types and flavors, bros are fairly vanilla. In reality, all these dudes live pretty bromogenous lives – an existence on this earth largely engulfed by drinking, sporting (or thinking about sports), and dating (or thinking about dating).
For all the coverage about bros in aggregation, I am more curious about bros in congregation. Specifically, how and when does such a douchey diaspora interact.
Do bros get coffee and catch up on life? Do bros take walks together? Do bros gather to watch old Robin Williams movies, read Robert Frost poems, and call themselves the Dead Bro-ets Society?
And as a life-long big city millennial dweller, I also wondered: do bros brunch?
When I googled this question, I stumbled upon the definition of a brunch bro, which Urban Dictionary defines as a “a bro who goes above and beyond the call of duty of friendship, is always by your side no matter what.”
For me, it was startling that gathering in between breakfast and lunch for a mimosa coma would surpass the requirements for guy bonding. Consuming plates of shakshuka (try it, it’s the new cool brunch item) with my XY chromosome pals never felt like a profound act of male camaraderie.
Bros, however, are an interesting bunch. As Ms. Ryan further points out, “What is a bro? The most practical, workable definition: An adult male whose social life revolves around collegiate homosocial bonding and who also presents himself in a way that assimilates to the prevailing aesthetic of men with similar socialization patterns.”
It’s clear current social norms judge men gathering for brunch quite unfavorably. Two years ago, the culture magazine Bossip chronicled throngs of tweets made by men AND women calling men who brunch gay. Those that responded claiming brunch was an activity unattached to a sexual orientation were bombarded with more taunts about their sexuality and masculinity. Another lifestyle magazine, Complex, penned an article “A Man’s Guide to Surviving Brunch” as if the endeavor was analogous to an epic journey into uncharted territory filled with potential upheavals that could be not be faced without some distinct warning.
Even Buzzfeed, the self-claimed “forward thinking Millennial magazine”, dropped videos last year of men brunching for the first time and treating it as a lavish spectacle not to be done by men without immense criticism from their peers. When I reached out to the “news” company, their response was why a serious journalist would care about the stigma about men, and bros in particular, brunching. (I too questioned my credentials by interacting with Buzzfeed).
But we should care. Today’s bro who can’t brunch is tomorrow’s emotionally repressed and isolated fellow. As we are seeing with older generations today, the death of healthy social arenas are, in part, responsible for heightened desolation, abuse of their loved ones, and more health issues such as depression, insomnia, and anxiety. The seeds of social sorrow we witness in elder men today were planted during their adolescence.
More importantly, bro culture is in serious need of reshaping. When examining the nefarious impact of bro culture in 2013, a Harvard Business School (HBS) study found that despite the increase of more socioeconomic and gender-diverse workforce over the past fifteen years, the infestation of bro and bro culture maligned every major industry worse than it ever has. In short, despite the woking of America, the sexism, ignorance, awkwardness, and privilege derived from bro-ness was more rampant in our society than ever before.
Unsurprisingly, HBS found that these bros didn’t possess basic social skills: listening, speaking without anger or being rude, spontaneous conversation, hearing other perspectives, being respectful, sharing space in public settings.
In her amazing piece titled How Do You Change Bro Culture, writer Ann Friedman notes “that there is no longer a significant distinction between bros and men”. Traditionally, bad habits of a young 20-year-old are usually shed through age and maturity. This is no longer the case.
When it comes to de-broing our culture, many experts point to sensitivity and diversity classes. Some advocate quotas and stricter guidelines around language and hiring. All of these are desperately needed, but that’s shifting the burden of personal responsibility and self awareness away from bros and those who prop up bro-culture.
There needs to be an avenue to cultivate meaningful conversations and relationships. The channels for men to socialize organically, outside of activity-based events, is already narrow. Engagements that allow individuals to express their emotions, reveal their mental knots to their friends, share open dialogue, let loose for a moment, and converse spontaneously is what men need, and despite the social lexicon, desire.
Bros must make time to do the work to improve themselves, because it’s no one else’s responsibility. Only when you put in your own time on self-care do you actually make strides as a human being. And if there is a cohort in desperate need of making strides, it’s the bros.
Thinking that guys gathering for brunch more often will save us from further bro-ification I admit is an act of intellectual long jumping. Bro-y elements are around us, in and outside of work, and are unlikely to fade anytime soon. The gymstagramming, board shorts, off-colored tanks, and repugnant and naive behavior at work will not vanish by participating in a popular Sunday engagement.
Their alpha complex is still highly sought out, revered, and rewarded. They will never be the vanguard of nobility. Insecure aggression won’t be minimized nor will introspection be maximized over a plate of huevos rancheros.
But we do need to have a fair bro-ment of reflection. Every bro is not worthy of blanket derision. For many of the bros I’ve met in my life, I see a young person searching for fulfilment, filled with anxiety, lacking any guidance on how to navigate this world, often missing a paternal figure, and void of cultural cues even many of us nerds were guilty of (I wore socks and sandals well into college). Many lack a sense of love and attachment to greater community.
And belonging to some larger entity fills us with a greater sense of purpose. As much as I hate to admit it given my disdain for bros and bro culture, so many of these backward hat, boat shoeing Odesza fans are ultimately seeking that meaning with their lifestyle choices.
So, there is a need to find, dare I say it, safe-spaces for misguided and naive young men to come together and know it’s okay to interact without a scoreboard. An understanding that sitting and carrying a conversation with friends carries just as much value, if not more, than any activity you will do together. That listening and learning bears as much weight as polishing your ego. Along with the other disciplinary and education guidelines that need to be injected into our culture, bros need to grow and take responsibility for their growth.
Let’s hold bros accountable but let’s also break avocado toast with them. Make the idea of dudes gathering for soulful conversation over boozy orange juice a palatable social norm. For bros need to know it’s okay to brunch.