Wednesday, August 10, 2011

What makes a woman a bro?

My best friend was telling me a story about how one of her male co-workers told her that she was "more of a bro".  I'm not sure if this was in relation to other women at her company, or if it meant that she was more of a 'bro' than she was a woman.  Meaning aside, I know that in the past I too have been touted as "one of the guys" and less feminine than other girls.  

I've spent some time thinking about what it is that makes men perceive a woman to be a bro, to be more like a man than a woman.  "Bro" typically means a male friend, someone that they identify with on a closer level than the standard male-female relationship.  My friend is an outspoken, rather boisterous person (in the best way possible, of course) and she has a very strong personality.  She makes a lot of jokes and has a great sense of humor, laughing along with other people's jokes.  I have a lot of those same qualities; I tend to speak up louder than everyone else, I laugh at everyone else's jokes, and I think I have a rather dominant personality.  It's interesting to me that those qualities are so often perceived as masculine.

It makes total sense though.  The stereotypical female personality is meek, in need of protection, quiet, passive, and needing direction.  Our culture dictates that men are domineering, that they take control of situations and 'handle things'.  When a woman is assertive in her personality and puts herself on the same level as the men she is around, they immediately view her as "one of the guys" in order to stay comfortable with their preconceived notions about what women are.  I can see why my friend was labeled a bro by those societal standards, but she certainly is 100% woman as far as I'm concerned.  

My friend also doesn't dress in high heels and dresses, get her nails done, and wear makeup every day.  She works in a casual office where jeans and t-shirts are allowed (and pretty much the norm).  It's possible that because she's not wearing upscale business attire that he thought she was more of a bro.  However, I'm sure there are plenty of women in the office who wear jeans and tennis shoes to work.  Are they bros? 

Another cross-section of female personality traits that are often referred to as "bro-ish" are when women validate men's inherent misogyny.  Such examples include joining in on their catcalling of women, laughing at their sexist jokes, and making internalized sexist statements like "I don't like other women".  This isn't my friend, at least I don't think it is.  I've personally been guilty of saying in the past that I don't identify with other women, that I'm better at being friends with guys.  I realize now that what I was actually seeing was that I personally viewed myself on the same level playing field as men.  I work in an industry (video games) that is nearly dominated by men, and I have always had to stand up for myself and speak toe-to-toe with men who make more money and have more seniority than me.  I think my "one of the guys" mentality was actually a strong "I'm equal to these guys" personal mission.  I'm glad that I discovered that now and have shifted my way of thinking.

I think men are uncomfortable with having women as platonic friends unless they make a mental association between them and their male friends.  As if it doesn't feel right to put women on friend level unless they seek out their masculine traits and validate their reasoning for being friends against those traits.  

What do you think it is about men's perceptions of women that makes them label them as "bros" or "one of the guys"?



3 comments:

  1. I think there is another way of interpreting the 'bro' reference, though I don't know if it's what the man in the story had in mind.

    There are many people devoted to maintaining the wall of separation between men and women, even building it higher. The 'bro' reference may refer to that wall being broken away between those two people, and the man meant to say that he felt comfortable relating to that woman as a person, and not as an archetype. It may not refer to discarded femininity at all.

    Of course, I could be completely wrong about this person's motivations. Still, I'm lucky enough to have lady friends with whom that barrier's gone. They're the best to sit and watch movies with :)

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  2. I think the key is one of your last phrases: "I think men are uncomfortable with having women as platonic friends unless they make a mental association between them and their male friends.", for two reasons: because platonic friendship with women is an scarce trait (reasonable from an evolutionary biology point of view) and because even if they feel like the friendship is a platonic relationship with someone from the opposite sex, with equal expectations and feelings as the woman involved, they just can't express it like that, and the words uttered are "you're like a bro", when they mean "I enjoy our platonic relationship but I don't have the language and self knowledge to say it like that"

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  3. I think the key is one of your last phrases: "I think men are uncomfortable with having women as platonic friends unless they make a mental association between them and their male friends.", for two reasons: because platonic friendship with women is an scarce trait (reasonable from an evolutionary biology point of view) and because even if they feel like the friendship is a platonic relationship with someone from the opposite sex, with equal expectations and feelings as the woman involved, they just can't express it like that, and the words uttered are "you're like a bro", when they mean "I enjoy our platonic relationship but I don't have the language and self knowledge to say it like that"

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