Sunday, January 11, 2009

The New Age of Bromance

Interesting article - and sad that what the beginning of the article describes is still essentially true for most men in my age group. But I'm glad that things are changing for younger men. Mature masculinity requires mature friendships between men, rather than the old-school impersonal friendships where men can't - under any circumstances - share their feelings.

By DAN GOOD Staff Writer, 609-272-7218
Published: Wednesday, January 07, 2009


Walk into a gym that smells like free weights and testosterone and ask the powerlifters about male friendship, and they'll laugh at you. Real men don't have male friends.

Real men don't show emotions, either. You get weaned on John Wayne and football and B.B. guns and mischief and back issues of Playboy magazine and you don't shed tears or act vulnerable in front of another man.

Real men don't touch other men, even by accident. That's why guys don't sit next to each other in a movie theater. Someone might see that, or your knees might accidentally touch ... and the consequences to that action would be too numerous to list. Brief physical contact - high-fives and fist pumps, with a chest bump mixed in - is only OK during a sporting event or a night of heavy drinking.

All this social conditioning leaves real men four things to talk about - women, sports, cars and alcohol. By society's standards everything else is just not masculine, so anything that doesn't involve Budweiser, Beamers, brunettes or the Boston Bruins is suspect.

Feminine.

Wimpy.

Or is it?

Gender studies experts say "real men" are afraid of one thing - homosexuality - and that fear is restricting them from being better friends, partners and fathers. Those experts say there's nothing un-masculine about being vulnerable, showing emotions or being friends with other men - and that male friendships can be beneficial.

Popular culture is immersed with examples of male bonding, the latest being MTV's "Bromance" - a reality show that follows twentysomething Brody Jenner as he chooses a new guy pal. The show's second episode airs Monday at 9 p.m., and the season promises frat boy hijinks, along with some emotions and tears. TV and movies have portrayed this side of male friendship more frequently in the past five years. Think "The 40-Year-Old Virgin" or "Superbad."

But real men don't show emotions, right?!

Scott Hamilton, 38, and Joe Ciapanna, 46, don't think so. The friends - just friends! - spent a night at the bar at Chickie and Pete's in Egg Harbor Township, catching up on life, watching sports and throwing back some beer. Hamilton is married and Ciapanna is divorced, so their conversations revolve around finding Ciapanna a new woman and Philadelphia sports teams. They used to work together. They do this once a month. They each have two other guy friends.

"There's less rules and less stress when you're hanging out with male friends," Ciapanna says.

But real men don't have male friends, right?!

Real men had male friends in the 1800s, expert Peter Nardi says. Back then it was okay for men to share beds and write deep, emotional letters to each other.

"Historically, men's friendships were considered the ideal, and great male friendships were held at the highest esteem in classic literature and poetry," said Nardi, an author and sociology professor at Pitzer College.

Nardi says male interaction was socially accepted until the late 19th Century, when psychiatric theories classified too much male bonding as an illness. By 1900 the definition of masculine as strong and independent and emotionless was here to stay.

So a couple generations of stone-faced, calloused American men plodded through the 1900s and fought overseas and made money for the family. Child duties? Making plans with friends? Those were women's roles. Being a shoulder to cry on? Don't think about it. Instead men joined Kiwanis and Elks clubs, places where they could go and hang with the guys without a deep emotional attachment, places where they could go and just be men.

Masculinity was alive and well, then the 1960s happened. The feminist movement, built in the shadows of the Vietnam War, gave women more opportunities and incentive to work outside the home, to pursue their own goals. Nardi says the revolution begat a more sensitive man, a man more willing to open up and pour his heart out to another. Maleness survived the '60s, but so did bromance.

"Culture has shifted in the last several decades to allow men to show that emotional side, and while stigmas still exist, people younger than 30 and 40 have a different view on masculinity," Nardi said.

Michael Kimmel has studied masculinity for 25 years, and his books include "The History of Men" and "Manhood in America: A Cultural History." He says the problem with male friendship is that it's built on a flimsy foundation. In order to be a true friend you need to show patience and empathy and vulnerability, the very things that so-called "real men" avoid.

"Homophobia is the organizing fear of men's lives, and that fear is so overwhelming that it undercuts all the other sides of men's lives," Kimmel said. "We have this stigma of men running everything, but we're afraid of sitting next to each other in a movie theater."

Some men aren't afraid of male friendship. Chris Patterson, 47, of Galloway Township, goes hunting and fishing with his brother or other friends, and on those trips he can talk freely about his love life or the things that bother him, and it gives him a clearer outlook on things. It also gives him something to talk about with his girlfriend when they're sharing a cigarette on the porch. She takes trips with her girl friends ... why shouldn't he take trips with his guy friends?

"If you don't associate yourself with somebody other than your significant other, you lose a part of your identity and become dull, and friendships allow you the opportunity to talk about things you might not talk about with your significant other," he said.

Talking about things with another man? Being emotional? Maybe real men can do those things, after all. But let's not get too excited - the breakthrough has its limitations. Real men still can't sit next to each other in the movie theater or sit next to each other on the bus. Some things still take time.

2 comments:

Anonymous said...

It's about time! All that 'what makes a real man' stuff has too long denied men their fullness of existence.
I wonder if Dan Good knows of Robert Bly, or has read Iron John (copyright 1990)? In recognizing this hole in men's lives, Bly participated in (and may have organized) gatherings of men for over ten years.

MissMysterics said...

I have several problems with this article.

1.Brody Jenner's Bromance is a prime example of what shallow bastards do when they want publicity and money, it has nothing to do with male bonding.

2.People do not fear intimacy out of homophobia, they just fear intimacy, emotions are private and special, they are not for the public to see, and you can't just give them away to anyone.
It is healthy and normal to be afraid, just not controlled by the fear, giving someone such great trust is putting a large responsibility on their shoulders, a responsibility it seems few people can take.

3.Men sit side-by side all the time, there no issue there.