Breaking Down Your Brocabulary

May 3, 2014
So apparently men need their own yoghurt brand. At least, according to the recently released product “Powerful Yogurt.” Hitting the shelves late last year, Powerful Yogurt claims to cater to the “active male lifestyle.” Packaged in black containers 33% larger than your average yogurt and shaped like tubs of protein powder, it’s advertisements feature white men with washboard abs and bulging biceps. It’s slogan? “Uncover your inner abs”—god forbid there be anything else hiding in there instead, like, say, emotion. The product’s handy infographic features no less than five flexed biceps, numerous sporting references, and a series of recipes using the yogurt—don’t worry men, they can all be made in a blender. Ounce for ounce, Powerful Yogurt has the same protein content as regular Greek yogurt, but its bulky packaging presumably excludes delicate, dieting, inactive females from consuming it. Within days, media outlets had nicknamed the product “brogurt.”

That’s right: brogurt. Use of the word “bro” might’ve peaked in 2011 with the rise of the Bro Bible and Bro Code, but it seems to be experiencing a revival. The number of men practicing “Broga” has grown immensely this past year as the yoga company of that name expanded from a single studio to 27 different studios across 13 states. “Bro” has infiltrated bookstores, with Barnes & Noble selling copies of On The Bro’d, Jack Kerouac’s iconic travel narrative On The Road, retold in bro-speak by humor writer Mike Lacher. And, of course, brogurt has entered our grocery stores.

With the addition of brogurt to the list, the brocabulary has pole-vaulted across the line of acceptability. Although said with an ironic wink, the word “bro” has powerful implications for how we conceive of masculinity. Hiding behind this veil of humor allows the word “bro” to continue to narrow societal notions of masculinity without being challenged, as critics are immediately dismissed as being too serious and men think they’re in on the joke. (For proof, see almost any Australian beer ad). But, since the gendering of milk products is more than society should accept, I’m willing to risk being called humourless. It’s time we broke down the brocabulary.

What is bro?
Used as a prefix, “bro” qualifies certain behaviors, words, and even foods as sufficiently manly and, in doing so, defines the scope of masculinity. It’s not gay when you hug your mate, it’s bromance. You’re not crying over the NBA score, you’re just getting bromotional. And you’re not actually studying for that exam, you’re being effortlessly broductive. Basically, “bro” is the urine that marks the territory of mandome.

As a qualifier of the non-masculine, “bro” gets to the heart of masculinity. That is, masculinity is defined more by what it’s not than by what it actually is. And what it’s not  is anything feminine or homosexual—as the sociologist Robert Brannon put it, masculinity means “no sissy stuff.”

Consequently, “bro” is attached to any stereotypically feminine trait like emotionality (e.g. “bro-hug”) concern over appearance (e.g. “bro-tie”), the non-physical realm of intellect (e.g.“bro-science”), and domesticity (e.g. “brocery shopping”). Affection between males must also be bro’d (“bromosexuality” or “bromance”) to clarify that it’s “no homo.” As long as men throw in a “bro,” they can justify almost anything as masculine.

By claiming men need their own milk products, brand of yoga, and dialect, the brocabulary tries to assert the unassailable, superior nature of masculinity. The irony of this is that the very need for such a language actually proves its fragility. Masculinity must be continually performed and reasserted. Select a diet yogurt once without adding the word “bro” and your man-card will be swiftly revoked. That companies can successfully market products using bro-lingo proves the depth of societal anxiety over masculinity.

So what now?
One recent victim of this linguist blight is the word “broga,” popularized in 2009 when two men began a yoga studio of that name. The company’s aim was market yoga to men, as women comprise over 80% of yoga practitioners in the United States, according to a 2012 study by Yoga Journal. But the “bro’s” don’t end there—Broga offers a range of “Brograms” and “Broga retreats” to budding brogis.

Instead of preaching mindfulness and inner calm, Broga is presented as a “workout” designed to give men “that pumped-up feeling”—a phrase that conjures images of weightlifting and competitive sports. To enhance the “fitness” aspect of the practice, instructors add push-ups into yoga sequences. The Sanskrit names for poses are avoided, chanting is replaced with rock music, and poetic instructions are substituted with instruction that is “more like a buddy giving you pointers.”

Broga’s ability to gain a male following by rejecting the mental, meditative and emotional side of yoga in favor of the physical suggests that these internal elements aren’t sufficiently masculine. Just like the Charles Barkley “Lose Like A Man” campaign for Weight Watchers and Dr Pepper Ten with its “10 manly calories,” Broga’s marketing implies that actively caring about one’s health is for women and not men. As with dieting, calmer or more cognitive approaches to health and fitness need to be cloaked in sporting metaphors or the word “bro” in order to retain their man-points.

Broga’s need to add push-ups to make yoga man-appropriate demeans the physicality of traditional yoga and, by extension, the abilities of the women who typically practice it. The deep irony of all this is the fact that yoga was invented by men and practiced exclusively by men for centuries. In ancient India, women weren’t allowed to do yoga, as it was believed they would distract the men from their goal of spiritual enlightenment.

So, to bro or not to bro?
As broga and brogurt perfectly demonstrate, the word “bro” perpetuates a gender binary that prizes men over women. It defines masculinity against stereotypical notions of femininity and homosexuality, resulting in a narrow definition that few—if any—men can actually attain. This brand of macho masculinity is unemotional, anti-domestic, athletic, heterosexual, and young (20-30 years old). It expects men to be paradoxically unconcerned about their appearance while maintaining the physique of Zyzz. Also, it’s typically white. The jump to whiteness is particularly perplexing given the word “bro” was originally used by black men, and it wasn’t until the 1970’s when it entered into more general usage. Now, the vast majority of ads marketed using bro-lingo feature white models and are targeted towards white men. The need to exclude other races and skin colors only further proves the extent of society’s anxiety over masculinity.

Although the word “bro” dramatically narrows the definition of masculinity, it simultaneously broadens the scope of permissible masculine behaviors. This is the paradox of bro. With the disclaimer “bro,” men can eat low fat foods, hug each other, cook, go grocery shopping, and do yoga. Perhaps the brocabulary is a stepping-stone to a broader version of masculinity that permits these behaviors without qualification. Perhaps there’s hope.

Until that day, I’m not your brother. I only have one, and I call him by his name. It’s not bromance, it’s friendship. It’s not broga, it’s yoga. And it’s certainly not brogurt

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I wanna date you, Hollywood-style

April 1, 2014


Girl, I’m tired of fooling around. I’m done with Tinder and Grouper and Grinder. I’m looking for the real thing: flowers, fireworks and a few radical plot twists. Girl, I wanna date you, Hollywood-style.

I want to meet you at an indie coffee shop where we reach for the same drink. Babe, I want to win you over after a dramatic courtship involving multiple misunderstandings, like when you learn I’m actually a journalist on assignment or part of the royal family or only dated you to get close to your friend. After losing you at the worst possible moment, I’ll earn back your trust with a spontaneous group dance performance or some freestyle rap.

I want to take you back to my place, girl. My apartment will be unfeasibly large considering my low-paying job and the current real-estate climate, but this will go unmentioned. Once we’re inside, I’ll remove your many-buttoned dress with the steady hand of a surgeon to find lacy underwear at odds with your dowdy daily get-up. I’ll then reveal an implausibly chiseled body given my chosen profession and throw you down on my conveniently uncluttered desk.

Our first time together will be poetry in motion, baby. We’ll effortlessly navigate cuts and panorama shots to try out every sexual position. You’ll have the flexibility of a dancer despite never having taken a class. I’ll be oblivious to any blemishes and won’t accidentally eat your hair. Not even once. It’ll be like a Bikram yoga studio in there, but neither of us will even sweat. To preserve the PG-rating, you’ll leave your bra on and I won’t remove my boxers. But we’ll have seamless sex regardless, ‘cause clothing ain’t no barrier baby.

When we wake up the next morning, your hair will be flawless and your make-up still intact. You’ll leave in a hurry muttering something about work/family/time travel. The sex will have changed everything. I know; I’ve seen it in the movies.

In the weeks that follow, you’ll return to your job at an art gallery because apparently that’s where all women work these days. I’ll survive solely on take-out Chinese and watch seasons pass by in a montage of loneliness. I’ll pen you hundreds of heartfelt letters you’ll never receive before learning from a friend that you’re leaving the country. Naturally, I’ll race to the airport to stop you. I’ll pass through airport security without a single form of documentation only to arrive at the gate seconds after you’ve left.

Years later, I’ll see you in the street and we’ll make small talk. We’ll both have perfect nuclear families and no debt but we’ll pine for our lost relationship, though neither of us will say so. One day we’ll tell the story to our respective kids. Maybe they’ll make a movie about it. That’s how I wanna date you.

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