As a Bro, Stephen Michell admits that becoming good men can’t be done without some self-reflection and personal understanding.
This happened some years ago. It was a clear, hot day in mid July, and a friend and I were driving across town in his dad’s car to his girlfriend’s place because she had a pool and had invited us over to swim. My friend was driving, his window open to the breeze like the music that streamed from his ipod through the car speakers, his long fingers drumming on the steering wheel, all while we talked casually, and then we hit a red light and he says, “Yeah, no, my girlfriend likes you, man. She says you’re a positive influence on me.” My response at the time was something like, “Huh. That’s fucked up, Bro.”
I am a Bro. I have realized this. But a Bro is not exactly the thing I had thought it to be. For a long time I had consumed the popularized image of the ‘bro’—the guy-centric, chauvinistic, antagonistic, muscle-headed, beer-chugging, football-loving, locker room-frolicking, bottle-smashing, ping pong-tossing, womanizing, domineering, polo-shirt wearing, buzzed-cut, loud-mouthed, ass-hole BRO! I would see him, lots of him, identical images jostling together like bowling pins wearing flip-flops, and I disliked him. I positioned myself, ostensibly, in opposition to the Bro. But it’s not that easy.
Here’s the thing. Along with often being a dick, the Bro is the part of a man that is friendly, social, confident, loyal, trusting, dependable, honest, caring, courageous, bold, supportive, cooperative, determined, and, ultimately, loving.
I saw a fridge magnet the other day with a caption that read: “We’re not leaving until we’re heaving!” The magnet depicted four bright looking young men, dressed in shorts and colourful shirts, standing beside a keg, all with smiles on their faces and mugs of beer in their hands, and on the wall behind their heads was a banner reading, Happy Birthday. These boys are Bros. They find some excuse for celebration, and they drink to excess, certainly. But look again, and notice that one of those Bros, presumably, must have hung up the Happy Birthday banner. It is a tiny gesture, but it emphasizes the confusion and complexity that is the Bro in society.
The Bro has all the capacity and virtue of character as could make a Gentleman. But the Bro is a confusion of the male identity. How can one be, essentially, a ‘gentle’ man, in the face of so much turbo-charged testosterone and macho-masculinity? How can a young man aspire be John McClane and also Atticus Finch? This confusion of male identity manifests in the stereotypical Bro character, a young man who reacts with aggression and proto-masculinity as a defense against social fears, pressures, expectations, personal insecurities, and cultural idealizations.
I am confused. I have said things like, “Fuck yeah!” and “Sup, dude-bro!” I have chanted the word “chug!” I have thrown chairs off of balconies because I thought it would make a friend laugh, I have punched glass for the hell of it and taken pictures of my bloody-knuckles, I have urinated in countless places where I am certain I should have not, and I have come home at night, drunk and loud, seemingly blissful to any present audience, and then gone into my room and felt quiet, stupid, confused, and empty of something more.
I’m not mentioning this to atone for my Bro-ish ways. Instead, I am hoping to articulate an issue of confusion in the image of the Bro, a misunderstanding that can be talked about and argued over ad nauseam, but is nevertheless very present in the lives of many young men. The confusion of the Bro is an issue of identity and purpose located within the idea of the ‘man’ that young men in each moment are becoming.
When my friend told me that his girlfriend thought I was a positive influence, I hardly considered the significance of her comment. Since then, however, that moment has grown to signify something more. I had already, at the age of eighteen, developed a certain character. I was a thing of actions and consequence, and my resulting influence was apparently positive. But how could that be?
Well, I realize now that my ‘positive influence’ was actually my tendency (or my ability, if I may) to restrain my friends: “No guys, let’s not throw that rock through the window”; “No, we’re already drunk, I’m not driving out to the bush party”; “Let’s not get high tonight.” Some people might chastise that voice as the proverbial party-pooper, but there is a difference, I think, between someone who actually ruins the fun, and someone who simply wants to be able to look back tomorrow and honestly say, “That was a ‘good’ time.”
The idea of ‘goodness’ is crucial to understanding the confusion of the Bro in society. The list of the Bro’s positive qualities, presented above, is unfortunately missing patience, humility, empathy, diligence, thoughtfulness, and true, unaffected love. Together these qualities can constitute an idea of goodness, which is a consideration quickly dismissed by many young men when confronted with uncertainty and fear. It is much easier to be hurtful and rash when you are confused, rather than admit your own ignorance, especially when the confusion is conflated directly with a role or purpose that should be, it seems, inherently understood. Boys should know how to be men, right? Unfortunately, we don’t. We’re Bros.
Every man is a Bro from the advent that he is a boy, becoming invariably a multitude of men. When Bros gather together into groups, they do so for the support and the opportunity to observe and imitate other Bros. We are searching for a solution and a purpose to the process of becoming men. What we seldom witness, however, is an idea of goodness, which is found more readily through self-reflection and personal understanding. Bros, according to their popularized image, are incapable of such things. Self-reflection is not manly.
But what if I don’t want to chug my beer? What if I want to sip it slowly to think about why I enjoy drinking? Is that manly? At the age of eighteen I was, for some reason, asking these questions, and that’s what my friend’s girlfriend liked about me. I was upholding an idea of goodness, which she hoped might influence her boyfriend. This is a conversation we should be having with ourselves, as men. It should be that the modern Gentleman is a Bro possesses an awareness of the influence of his character. And it is not the voice of the party-pooper. It is the voice of the GoodBro saying, “Sup dude-bros! Let’s try being gentle men.”