“He’s fine on his own, but he’s so different when he's with his friends.”
It’s a commonly shared sentiment, especially among girls romantically interested in a particular male individual, that guys tend to be great one on one, but awful among their "bros." We’ve all overheard it, been subjected to it, or even been part of it, in some shape or form — the seemingly inane banter narrowing in on shallow objectification often meant to be taken in jest. It’s the kind of conversation that degrades to the point where a “normal” person wouldn’t be able to hang around; you have to be a “bro.”
In the recent past, I was rather shocked to discover from two of my closest male friends that I’m not considered a bro; I'd just assumed that, because we hang out so much, by default I’m one of them. But apparently I’m not privy to specific topics of discussion that would repel me — or so they believe. While this initially upset me, as I automatically associated this displacement from the “bro” category to mean that I’m not as close with them as I’d thought, I actually don’t think I want to be a bro at all anymore.
Regardless of my lack of bro status, I do have some inkling of what goes on in those circles of guys, including the ones I know so well and with whom I’ve had some really valuable conversations — most of the time individually. And yet, the way they talk about people, specifically girls, and even their own friends who are involved with girls, is acutely uncomfortable for those who don’t necessarily have the “bro” personality or tolerance. When these guys are friends with both the boy and the girl in the relationship subject to discussion, somehow it’s still OK to tell the male, albeit jokingly, to pursue certain activities with the girl, using particular language that definitely would not float well with her or make her feel like anything more than a slab of meat. And somehow it’s acceptable and even funny to make fun of one of their own friends for going out or hooking up with a girl whom they don’t consider hot, or whom they’ll outright call ugly. They’ll say, “Thank goodness I didn’t get with ________,” to which any one of us girl friends would recoil and retaliate bitterly, though always under our breaths, “Yeah, thank goodness — she’s way too good for you.”
While, on a case-by-case basis, this behavior may seem harmless and all in good fun, this specialized way of talking absolutely permeates the real world and industry lifestyle, and thus contributes to the continued oppression of women in the regular community and the workforce.
One of my friends, who recently told me how much she dislikes the way her guy friends collectively belittle girls so casually, said she thinks it’s because those individuals just aren’t mature — but I’m not so sure that’s exclusively the reason.
Having physical desires and talking about them isn’t necessarily the problem, especially since those are more private things we wouldn't share with just anyone. And I’ll admit — maybe part of the discomfort and exclusion that occurs as a result of this kind of prevalent group interaction also stems from the endemic societal repression of females that has been internalized and insidiously forced women to conform to unfair standards from a very young age. But much of this also comes from the way boys are raised, enabled by parents and society and each other so that they believe it’s acceptable to make such comments and talk this way, so that they believe it's not their problem but always others'. If someone's not OK with how "open" they are with certain topics, it's because that person is too sensitive or uptight.
This is the source of a larger problem with a long history, and that’s why it’s such a complicated issue that can’t be solved with a simple solution. It’s the result of a trickle-down effect, from an era when everything was a lot worse, and everyone was, as according to the norm, significantly more narrow-minded and ignorant.
Perhaps now, the males in our generation need validation from each other, and much of their “locker room talk” (excuse the terminology) is fear-driven. One of my closest friends — a “bro” who does not count me as his bro — told me that “bro talk” could be viewed as being starkly honest, but being honest about a situation that isn’t good, or being honest in circumstances that render that honesty negative. He said, a group of guys trusts one another that judgment won’t be passed amid all the slander and crassness bouncing back and forth, because they all know, “None of us are actually like that.”
But the way males communicate with each other is actually a reflection of the present dynamic between men and women.
We all want to be “chill,” and so we try so hard to fit ourselves into the contorted mold of a person who can flow with this kind of bro talk — they always seem to be the ones who have fun, who are so laid-back, who are in the (patriarchal?) majority — but why should we? Just because it’s common and widespread, doesn’t mean it’s OK.
In a more progressive world, women and men alike would be able to talk about each other in equal terms on equal levels. Guys can openly talk about whether boobs or butts are better, so shouldn’t girls technically be able to discuss men’s penises and butts just as loudly?
In an ideal world, qualifiers like “pretty” and “ugly” wouldn’t be any indicator of personal merit. (If someone can be called attractive, the opposite technically should naturally be allowed. Sadly, a distinct value is placed on external judgment, and somehow appearance-based qualifiers become a validation or invalidation of the individual in question.) After all, a good solution isn’t exactly to fight fire with fire, is it? There seems something wrong with saying that the solution to bro talk is the female equivalent — objectifying men, essentially.
I think we should all be aware of the consequences of our words, what we're saying, and who’s listening. Perhaps our closest friends know that’s “not really ‘me’”, but we cannot underestimate, nor undervalue, how that might make someone outside of that context and social circle feel. And we can’t underestimate the effects of a group of five guys perpetuating the exclusivity of bro talk on a woman struggling to climb up the ranks in Wall Street, on a young girl figuring out where she fits in on the elementary school playground — on female identities of all shapes and forms.
We are all guilty of condoning and even encouraging this type of behavior, but maybe we can all contribute to eroding the barriers and exclusivity of "bro talk" — whether that be by combatting it with our own curated, more "open" way of talking, or by educating each other on what's hurtful and what's not. I don't believe anyone should ever feel unsafe or so acutely uncomfortable among his/her own friends. Especially for us females, we already have to fight the whole world; we shouldn't have to fight our own friends.