Bromance and Hookup Culture: A Study in the Performance of Masculinity by College Men.

AuthorPoost, Anna-Sophie

College is the most opportune time for the development of young adults, most likely due to the population's similar age ranges, shared spaces, interests, and priorities. It is during this time that people find their passions, plan for their futures, and build friendships. It is a time when people believe they will find themselves. Sociologists argue that individuals do not find themselves, but instead learn to define and perform a role based on societal standards and pressures. While there are many different elements that go into a person's role, gender is one identifier that plays a large part in our society.

College is a prime space to develop gender performance as the atmosphere lends itself to testing the limits of gender roles by identifying what behaviors are socially acceptable. In the last decade, certain cultural trends and norms have taken root. Some generational norms, which previously may have been perceived as calling into question a man's sexual nature, or homoerotic, have come to be more acceptable. One such prominent practice is "bromance," which this study examines to understand its intricacies and part in performative masculinity. This paper argues that in order to maintain gender norms and the societal understanding of masculinity, homoerotic or feminine exercises, such as bromances, must be offset by compensatory hypermasculinity or clearly heterosexual masculine behaviors, such as partaking in hookup culture. Both halves are important due to the cultural understanding of masculinity and the widely accepted theory of gender fluidity and performance, and as such these norms are making a rise. Using analysis of previous research that explores the different factors at play, such as confidence, social settings, and boundaries, and data collected during comprehensive interviews with members of the population, the paper explores underlying behaviors and reactions of college-aged men that exemplify such trends.

The culture of cisgender, straight, man's man heteromasculinity surrounding these two cultural trends are heavily dependent on an over exaggeration of performed actions as well as a balance of habits that fall on the scale of homosexual in appearance and hypermasculinity. The one side of this scale includes behaviors that could be perceived as homoerotic, or sexually charged, specifically with someone from the same sex. This homoeroticism exists in bromances in a joking manner, and in moving far beyond the limits of social acceptability for homosexuals it is considered acceptable for heteromasculine individuals. In the off chance that this could be mistaken, it is offset by hypermasculinity, or exaggerated male behaviors. These actions can act in a reparative manner, as often times they will occur in tandem with perceived homoerotic behavior, as such it is considered compensatory hypermasculinity.

Theory: Goffman's Dramaturgy

Performativity in regards to social roles was first born as an element of Erving Goffman's Dramaturgy, which is a part of the theoretical school of symbolic interactionism. In his book, The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life, Goffman presents this theory, which is built on the idea that every public action or reaction is a choice that an individual makes to appear a certain way. (1) The theory claims that each person is an actor, life is their stage, and those they interact with are their audience or observers. Each person maintains control over how they act and consequently, how they are perceived.

Within each controlled interaction, the actor works on a spectrum between two distinct approaches. On one end, is the 'sincere actor,' who believes in the truth that he shares with his audience, "We find that the performer can be fully taken in by his own act; he can be sincerely convinced that the impression of reality which he stages is the real reality." (2) For this performer, their actions seem so close to their understanding of reality, that even they are fooled into believing their acting is the truth. Moreover, oftentimes the observer will believe the performance, thus convincing both actor and audience. Upon this occasion, the only one left believing this to be a false reality is the sociologist themselves. (3) Due to the genuineness with which this interaction takes places, this individual is called the 'sincere performer.'

The opposing end of the spectrum is the 'cynical actor,' who by Goffman's definition, "May not be taken in at all by his own routine." (4) As is often said, we are our own worst critic, and in this vein of understanding, it becomes more difficult to believe themselves to be acting fully truthfully when someone knows the full extent of the truth. When people are performing in such a manner, they will often come to the point where they understand their ability to bend perceptions and as such may feel inclined to do so in order to reach a wanted result. The cynicism for which this side of the spectrum is named, refers to the very end of the spectrum at which point the actor, is fully aware of his lie and does not care whether his audience even believes him or not. (5) Despite the negative connotation that comes with this description, it can be offset with the idea, as presented by Goffman, that, "a cynical individual may delude his audience for what he considers to be their own good, or for the good of the community... " (6) At times giving false convictions to one's observers may seem necessary as it provides them with a more positive experience in that interaction. For this reason, it becomes clear that both types of performance have positive and negative reasoning to support them.

Goffman's theory of 'front stage' complexifies our understanding of 'performance.' This sub theory gives depth to 'performance' by explaining not only where the actors perform but also the perceptions of the audience for each fixed setting. Goffman notes that 'Front Stage' is a specific part of Dramaturgy that explains when and how an individual chooses to play their part when there is the possibility of continuous interaction with the audience. (7) Goffman's theory examines the many parts of the 'Front,' which includes 'Setting,' 'Manner,' and 'Appearance.'

The setting, which is the location or situation in which the actor performs, provides a clear framework for a person's performance. The setting within the front stage acknowledges that an individual's performance is not complete, and as such not correct, without taking place in the proper environment. By building this environment the setting gives distinct beginnings and ends: "Those who would use a particular setting as part of their performance cannot begin their act until they have brought themselves to the appropriate place and must terminate their performance when they leave it." (8) The setting is the overarching term to explain the restrictions of a performer that act both preventatively and precursory. For example, this study and the interactions discussed in it are set against a college campus setting, more specifically the social life that occurs within the college climate.

While acting on the 'front stage,' there are specific qualities that are coupled with a performance. Goffman notes 'manner and 'appearance.' The 'manner' element of Dramaturgy describes how a person chooses to comport themselves and address an interaction based on what they are presented with before entering the scenario, alternatively appearance specifically dictates social standings. (9) The different variables that are found in any given interaction mold how a performer will react due to what they expect to be dealing with and the outcome they are seeking.

It should be noted that Goffman also discusses the role each person plays as an observer. When acting as the audience, we expect that we can take what others are showing us at face value. Goffman states, "When an individual plays a part he implicitly requests his observers to take seriously the impression that is fostered before them. They are asked to believe that the character they see actually possesses the attributes he appears to possess." (10) Overtime, observers may come to realize the duality to this 'truth.' With experience, people learn as the audience to be more aware of what they see and question the factuality of what is presented to them. As such, their doubt guides their actions as an audience member. Goffman argues that, "So common is this social doubt that observers often give special attention to features of the performance that cannot be readily manipulated." (11) It is only after interacting that the observer will decide whether or not to trust the actions of the actor. Experience as an observer and the awareness that comes with it helps to form a 'generality.' This concept contends that those who have seen enough relatively similar performances are able to compartmentalize said performances and use their experiences to respond accordingly. (12) In so doing, they can then limit the mental capacity taken up by reactionary measures and still manage a myriad of situations. (13) Generality is Goffman's interpretation of what many in psychology would term as 'schema.' Eventually with experience, both the performer and the audience come to understand and experience both sides of performances--genuine and distrustful.

Gender Performativity Theory

Performance seems to be an element of just about every aspect of society, and gender is no different. Traditional gender theorists, such as R.W. Connell and Judith Butler, suggest that gender is a performance built on each action and reaction of an individual. This performance means that gender is not fixed, but evolves based on an individual and their actions and behaviors. In her book Masculinities, Connell explains that each new interaction provides a space for which gender performances can be changed and upheld. (14) Such malleability makes gender and masculinity not as much a social institution an...

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