How Bro Is a Bro? Let's Consult Our Bro-proval Matrix


And now for the most important question of our time: what is a “bro,” exactly? It was the second-most popular plea for clarity my parents made while visiting me at college (the first most popular was, “Why in God’s name are you basically pursuing a degree in analyzing vampire erotica?”). “Callie,” they would ask, “what do you mean when you say ‘bro’?” And I would feebly reply, “It’s… a guy in a baseball hat… um, sports… beer pong… homosocial bonding… video games?”

The concept of the “bro” is nebulous yet ubiquitous, sort of like that famous definition of obscenity: “I know [a bro] when I see [a bro].” It’s elusive and slippery, like Gollum swimming in a creek — or, more topically, like frozen vodka emanating out of a penis-shaped ice luge. Thankfully, Gene Demby at Code Switch has at last pinned down a working definition, illustrated by the most complicated venn diagram ever conceived of by man or beast. Ryan Lochte is in the center of the venn diagram because duh.

Tangentially, the preliminary conversation Demby engaged with over Twitter is pretty fascinating. He attempted to pinpoint our conception of “bro” in terms of class, race, and sexual orientation — is a bro necessarily white? Does “bro” always imply someone situated in a position of relative economic privilege? Can there be gay bros?

Lots of people told us that yes, a bro is definitely a white dude… Others said that most of the bros in popular culture are white dudes, but there are plenty of actual bros of color in the real world at places like USC. (Alas, even in bro-dom, people of color are underrepresented in the media.) Some folks even suggested that there were lady-bros — think Melissa McCarthy in Bridesmaids. And, of course, many people drew the distinction between bros and the term bruhs, which has a different (but occasionally still fratty) connotation among black folks speaking to other black folks.

Does a “bro” of color or a gay bro somehow gain legitimacy from his proximity to straight, white dudes, or is that just something that’s been misrepresented in the media — which, it goes without saying, has a fairly horrific track record with featuring nonwhite, not straight characters? If it’s feasible that whiteness, straightness, maleness, etc., are not integral to the category, can anyone be a bro? (More importantly, can I be a bro?)

Here are the four major Bro Designations, as decided by Code Switch:

Jockishness: “physical prowess” is an important designation for a bro; aptitude at some sort of sport or game (regardless of actual physique) is central to the category of bro.

Dudeliness: this refers to a bro’s predilection for doing stuff with his bros. It’s definitely just a polite way of saying “homosociality.”

Stoner-ish-ness: This is more of an affect than an actual tendency to consume weed — it’s worth noting, though, that the “bro” is in a position where he can consume all the drugs his heart desires (take MDMA and go to a Daft Punk concert, etc.) without fear of real punishment.

Preppiness: A signifier of social privilege, preppiness encapsulates the bro’s casual-yet-classy sartorial vibe. Also, probably Birkenstocks [EDIT: BOAT SHOES. PLEASE STOP YELLING AT ME.].

So, there you have it: the Four Pillars of Bro-dom. According to Gene Demby, they were constructed after examining living examples of bros and ascertaining what they had in common — most of the living examples, tellingly, were white and straight. All were male. Following Demby’s lead, we’ve made a bro-proval matrix from some of those examples that encapsulates the whole spectrum of jockishness vs. artisticness (the other Pillars being less easy to quantify/having less variation between bros) as well as the spectrum of public opinion.

Feel free to annotate the Bro-proval Matrix with famous bros of you own.

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