Expansion of Contemporary Homosocial Boundaries
The Bromance: Undergraduate Male Friendships and the Expansion of Contemporary Homosocial Boundaries
Stefan Robinson1 & Eric Anderson1 & Adam White1
# Springer Science+Business Media New York 2017
Abstract The present study provides the first known qualita- tive examination of heterosexual undergraduate men’s con- ceptualization and experiences of the bromance, outside re- search on cinematic representations. Drawing on semi- structured interviews with 30 undergraduate men enrolled in one of four undergraduate sport-degree programs at one uni- versity in the United Kingdom, we find these heterosexual men to be less reliant on traditional homosocial boundaries, which have previously limited male same-sex friendships. Contrary to the repressive homosociality of the 1980s and 1990s, these men embrace a significantly more inclusive, tac- tile, and emotionally diverse approach to their homosocial relationships. All participants provided comparable defini- tions of what a bromance is and how it operates, all had at least one bromantic friend, and all suggested that bromances had more to offer than a standard friendship. Participants de- scribed a bromance as being more emotionally intimate, phys- ically demonstrative, and based upon unrivalled trust and co- hesion compared to their other friendships. Participants used their experiences with romances and familial relations as a
reference point for considering the conditions of a bromance. Results support the view that declining homophobia and its internalization has had significantly positive implications for male expression and intimacy. Conclusions are made about the bromance’s potential to improve men’s mental health and social well-being because participants indicate these rela- tionships provide a space for emotional disclosure and the discussion of potentially traumatic and sensitive issues.
Keywords Bromance . Homosocial . Homohysteria .
Masculinity . Men . Stoicism . Suicide
The concept of friendship between both heterosexual (Ibson 2002) and gay men (Nardi 1999) is well-examined in the social sciences (Hruschka 2010). Although friendship is pri- marily experienced by individuals as a complex psychological phenomenon (Poplawski 1989), its dimensions, behavioral requisites, and prohibitions are nonetheless socially defined and regulated (Van Duijn et al. 2003). The present research contributes to the sociological research on male friendships by examining the contemporary notion of Bbromance.^
Whereas most of the twentieth century investigations of male friendship explicitly focused on missing emotional and physical intimacy, compared to what exists in women’s friend- ships (Lewis 1978), the concept of the bromance has been recently used to describe a new form of friendship between men: one based in intimacy. The term has been used, variably, by scholars (DeAngelis 2014; Thompson 2015), normally as a cultural discourse on friendship. DeAngelis (2014, p. 1) de- scribes a bromance as Ba term denoting an emotionally intense bond between straight men,^ and Davies (2014) goes as far to say that a bromance often surpasses the romantic closeness that men share with their wives and girlfriends.
Electronic supplementary material The online version of this article (doi:10.1007/s11199-017-0768-5) contains supplementary material, which is available to authorized users.
* Adam White Adam.White@winchester.ac.uk
Stefan Robinson StefR121@hotmail.co.uk
Eric Anderson Eric.Anderson@winchester.ac.uk
1 Department of Sport and Exercise, Faculty of Business, Law and Sport, University of Winchester, Sparkford Road, Winchester SO22 4NR, UK
Sex Roles DOI 10.1007/s11199-017-0768-5
Although recent research has discussed the emergence of bromances and how they connect to homosociality (Anderson 2014; Chen 2011; Hammarén and Johansson 2014), there are no known systematic examinations of its conceptualization, behavioral requisites, or limitations. Instead, its meanings have been culturally mapped through recent comedy movies and television programs popular with the 16–25 year-old male demographic (Boyle and Berridge 2012; DeAngelis 2014; Hansen-Miller and Gill 2011).
For its comedic connotations and depiction, social scien- tists have failed to consider the bromance as a serious and legitimate relationship type and have ignored its importance in the lives of everyday young men (Emsliea et al. 2007; Way 2013). However, increasingly, new studies suggest that young men’s same-sex relationships are becoming more emotionally nuanced and intimate, owing to a shift in masculine socializa- tion processes (Anderson 2014; Emsliea et al. 2007; McCormack 2012; Way 2013). In order to address: (a) the lack of definitional literature on bromances and (b) the implications of having such relationships, we carried out in-depth interviews with 30 male university students in the United Kingdom who identified as heterosexual or mostly heterosexual.
Male Friendship: Non-Intimate Connections
The level of physical and emotional intimacy expressed be- tween men in a given context is highly contingent on their awareness and inclusion or rejection of homosexuality. When examining heterosexual men’s preference for same- sex socializing and friendship—known as homosociality—in the past 50 years, significant regulation of masculinity related to men’s socially perceived sexuality is evident (Lipman- Blumen 1976; Sedgwick 1985). This is despite men’s same- sex friendships being described as highly intimate (Deitcher 2001), even romantic (Rotundo 1989), before the modern era. A century ago, men not only posed for staged photography in physically intimate ways (Ibson 2002), but also wrote endearing letters to one another and slept in the same beds. Exemplifying this history, Tripp (2005) highlights that, for 4 years, President Abraham Lincoln shared a bed with his male partner, Joshua Speed, and President George Washington wrote endearing letters to other men.
At the turn of the twentieth century, the western popula- tion’s awareness of homosexuality grew (Miller 1995). At the same time, Sigmund Freud published three influential essays on the Theory of Sexuality (1905). His works proposed that young men were being converted to homosexuality as a con- sequence of a feminine upbringing and socialization process. He further suggested that absent fathers, as well as a lack of male role models, contributed to the homosexualization of children. Cancian (1986) explains that these concerns were
propagated by certain social, economic, and geographic shifts that occurred during the second industrial revolution. The mass migration of workers from the agrarian to industrial life- style destined men to work extended shifts away from home, contributing to the demise of rural and family life.
At this time, the general public broadly believed that sex- uality was socially constructed as part of a child’s upbringing and was widely understood to be a permanent, Bother^ sexu- ality (Foucault 1984). Simply, Anglo-American societies be- lieved that the embodiment of femininity caused homosexu- ality (Weeks et al. 2003). Although not intending to stigmatize homosexuality, Freud inadvertently promoted the structure of the nuclear family, something for which homosexuality was a direct threat (Anderson 2009).
Consequently, the late Victorian era is described as a ho- mophobic one (Kimmel 1994). The same-sex intimacy that Tripp (2005) describes began to be socially policed as aware- ness of homosexuality grew in the twentieth century. By the 1980s, the romantic friendships that Rotundo (1989) highlighted became entirely limited to gay men and lesbians (Diamond et al. 1999). In other words, straight men feared being socially perceived as gay for displaying physical or emotional intimacy with other men. This constriction had sig- nificant implications for the development of close friendships between men (Morin and Garfinkle 1978; Komarovsky 1974). Lewis (1978, p. 108) wrote that men Bhave not known what it means to love and care for a friend without the shadow of some guilt and fear of peer ridicule.^ Jourard (1971) showed that self-disclosure, a vital component of emotional intimacy, was largely lacking between men in their friend- ships. Instead, young men knew that they had a friendship with another man when they engaged in activities together, like playing sports, drinking, fixing things, or gambling (Seiden and Bart 1975). However, by the 1990s some research showed that men began to share feelings with other men (Walker 1994).
Anderson’s (2009) concept of homohysteria explains the shift in the physical and emotional dispositions of men before the first half of the twentieth century and the decades of the latter half. McCormack and Anderson (2014) define homohysteria as the fear of being socially perceived as gay—something made possible because heterosexuality can- not be definitively proven among straight men in a culture that is both aware and fearful of homosexuality. Subsequently, men were culturally compelled both to perform certain overtly heterosexual behaviors and to avoid engaging in those that would feminize them.
It is important to understand that this cultural landscape has left a generation of heterosexual men with a life of non- intimate connections, as well as with friendships that may never achieve the level of intimacy to which they should have been entitled (Collins and Sroufe 1999; Connolly et al. 2000). We cannot say for certain that men are inherently predisposed
to be less emotive and expressive than women, but scholars would argue that twentieth century culture has certainly predisposed men’s emotional boundaries to be more rigid and distant (Anderson 2014; Connell 1995; Hruschka 2010; McCormack 2012). As Fehr (1996) explains, men have tradi- tionally chosen to align with orthodox masculine archetypes, even when they may internally desire open, emotional, and tactile contact with other men. Importantly for our study, cul- tural restrictions on male emotionality have drastically affect- ed men’s ability to emote and confide (Bowman 2008), sig- nificantly reducing their coping strategies to deal with internal conflicts such as depression, anxiety, and suicidal thoughts (Cleary 2012; Scourfield 2005).
Contrasting with traditional notions of male friendship, women have been said to emphasize their same-sex friend- ships through emotionality and the disclosure of personal secrets. Wright (1982) is commonly cited for his suggestion that male friendships operate side-by-side whereas female friendships are more face-to-face, distinguishing that women prefer to bond through closeness in the dialogue. Indeed, broader socialization processes have also exaggerated a dual- istic and naturalistic perspective on the emotionality of wom- en and stoicism of men (Beasley 2008; Cancian 1986; Hruschka 2010). Hence, women have been socially permitted to display a broader range of gendered behaviors than men have (Kring and Gordon 1998).