Monday, April 11, 2016

On Bros

I guess we all think in stereotypes, whether we want to or not. Some are more pernicious than others. A white man stereotyping a black man is uglier than a black man stereotyping a white man. In the circles I move in, we tend to say that there's no such thing as reverse racism, that racism is a function of power, and that a person with power can't be the victim of the person without power. This is the mindset that lies underneath those online think pieces which dissect those "bros". The bro is no longer merely a frat boy with a backwards baseball cap telling rape jokes while watching a football game. Berniebros, brogrammer, gaybros, gamer bros, brocialists...all these are caricatures who have adopted our culture's messed-up ideas of male privilege. Dissecting and caricaturing these figures does no harm. It's balancing the scales.

I guess that's all fine and good, but in the end these pieces are lazy and dehumanizing. As a rhetorical turn, the reverse-anthropological analysis has a long history in comedy, but these pieces are beginning to sound a little too earnest, and their take on power relationships doesn't always fit with my (white male, for what it's worth) lived experience.

I only know so much about my students, which is as it should be. I have had a fair number of male frat boys, those guys who fit the original meaning of bro. I guess I could stereotype them if I wanted to, and -- the subconscious is the subconscious -- I probably have. But, you know, some of these bros' favorite movies include The Hours (god knows why). Quite a few of them have pulled down 20-40 hour/week jobs to pay for their education and their family's needs. Some are shy but interested. They can feel uncomfortable speaking up in class. Some of them can admit when the girl in the discussion is probably right. Some are excellent writers. A couple of them like jazz more than rap. Some of them don't even like football.

I could also tell you about my Chinese students who've written papers about gay rights or the girls who love every one of those Marvel movies with the white straight male heroes.

People, man. They're complicated.

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