By Juliet Kelso
For viewers of the hit American television series “How I Met Your Mother,” Barney Stinson epitomizes the “bro code.” Barney is the classic womanizer. Burnt by love in his youth, he re-invents himself as an uber-macho personality who adheres to the present manifestations of conventional gender stereotypes. Barney repeatedly goes to absurd lengths in order to sleep with as many women as possible. This is his primary function, driven by the impulsive sexualization and objectification of every woman he encounters. He stringently resists emotion and is generally unfeeling.
Thomas Keith’s 2011 documentary “The Bro Code: How Contemporary Culture Creates Sexist Men” interrogates masculine-labeled identities like Barney Stinson and their implications to societal gender issues. The film was shown in the Gallery Theater at 8 p.m. on April 10 and was followed by a panel discussion. Initial responses by students in the audience were collectively overwhelmed by shock and disturbance.
Have you ever wondered how we learn to view the opposite sex? Or where our ideas of femininity versus masculinity come from? I would advise you to watch Keith’s film to find out what are most likely the answers to such questions, but unfortunately a copy of the DVD is sold for a steep $250 to colleges and universities and $125 to high schools, community colleges and non-profits. Since the Media Education Foundation refuses to sell the film to individual customers, we can only hope it will show up on the shelves of Ellen Clarke Bertrand Library’s DVD collection.
“The Bro Code” focuses on the dominant role of multi-media in shaping contemporary ideas of masculinity. Essentially, the queues are all over the place, inundating society at large with images of a problematic gender dynamic. Music, comedy, television, movies and sports all contribute to the mass perpetuation of gendered ideals, which sell. The entertainment industry determines what will likely be popular, exposes it to the public, and supply creates its own demand.
Porn is a flawless example. A recent fad in pornography, Gonzo.com, has popularized troublingly violent fetishes. The site’s multi-million-member “hateporn” division features videos which venture far beyond the parameters of some naturally mutual S&M. Most involve the physical abuse and defiling of women by men. Female porn stars are portrayed as struggling, powerless and submissive while their male counterparts appear overtly aggressive, angry and merciless. As Gonzo produces more material and forces exposure, they extend the reach and hype of hateporn, augmenting a mass demand which by natural means never would have existed.
Like never before, porn is readily accessible to an expansive portion of the population. Most young American boys, typically between the ages of 12 and 14, are introduced to sexuality via the fantasized world of porn. For many, this will become their perception of sexual reality. Developing boys are unlikely to be independently aware of their own sexual preferences, and porn teaches them what to strive for. Later in life, they are then likely to find themselves begging their confused and unconvinced girlfriend to reenact a kinky porn-star move they saw on the web. Porn is not reality.
The Bro Code also specifically addresses the prevalence of masculinity issues on college campuses. Keith includes a haunting statistic which states that 56 percent of college men surveyed say yes, they would rape a woman if they absolutely knew they would get away with it. Another clip shows a group of drunk Yale men chanting, “No mean yes, yes mean anal.” Within the context of a relatively safe campus like the University’s, facts like this are difficult to believe, but thought advocating sex-related crimes is not alien to us. A prominent aspect of the bro code is the notion of taking whatever you want by whatever means possible, which rape certainly satisfies. This concept of dominance and entitlement applies to all men and calls them to identify with one of three takes on it: the Wrestlemania physical macho man, the charming and handsome Edward Cullen or the awkward but relentlessly desperate McLovin who is willing to try anything for sex. Those who do not fit into one of the above categories are marginalized and/or often mocked for being the worst thing a man could possibly be: feminine.
It is important to recognize, as Keith does, that women are also culprits. The media is stocked with degrading examples of how women ought to conduct themselves. Maxim and other magazines of the like objectify women as sexual playthings made for masculine pleasure. Many women project these images onto themselves, believing them to be true. In response to the traditional sexist value that men are meant to seek out sex with as many partners as possible, women are expected to compete with one another in desirability. This is reflected in hip-hop, sexist jokes and many other cultural practices. It seems that half of pop songs by female artists are encompassed by sexual competition, with lyrics like the Pussycat Dolls’, “Don’t you wish your girlfriend was hot like me? Don’t you wish your girlfriend was a freak like me?”
The post-film discussion was directed by a panel consisting of four faculty and staff members: Sheila Lintott, Vincent Stephens, Chipper Dean and Kate Parker, and IFC president Pat Zailckas ’13. Attendees discussed how Keith’s ideas apply to the University climate. Assistant professor of psychology Chipper Dean asked the audience what they feel defines the broad culture at the University. Answers included the familiar “work hard, play harder” mentality, the unavoidable overarching Greek system and the University’s adoration of convention and tradition. The latter attests to the concept that although current mainstream manifestations have evolved, campus social structure is nothing new. Women compete, viciously, for desirability. They obsess over social rank and categorizations, largely associated with sororities. Women in relationships are somewhat removed from the competition because they, in a way, have won the game and proven their desirability. Single women gain power by the quantity and quality of men who desire them. In this case, quality is often defined by wealth, charm and power: the three ingredients for the perfect womanizer.
The same traditional sexist values are being imitated by modern pop culture and can be found at the center of University culture. The looming question remains: Where do we go from here? We can’t censor the media and we definitely can’t harness the Internet. We can’t ensure that every child will have a parent, or that those who do are raised to embrace their personal identity, independent of media impositions. But we can educate. Films like “The Bro Code” deliver a fresh perspective on the contemporary social climate, are capable of revealing truths about identity and create leap-off points for open discussion.
“The Bro Code: How Contemporary Culture Creates Sexist Men” was shown as part of the Masculinity Film Series presented by IFC. Upcoming films in the series include “Manhood and Violence: Fatal Peril” on Tuesday, April 17 and “Wrestling with Masculinity” on Tuesday, April 24.