From Achilles and Patroclus via Holmes and Watson to Frodo and Sam and beyond – with a multitude in between – Bromance is everywhere. But what do men think about it? Why do women like to write about it? And, by the way, where is the female equivalent in literature? What does it all mean?
This three-part (rather frivolous) discussion will look at these questions.
First: Bromance.
When I started thinking about this subject, I did wonder if the modern literary theme of male/male platonic bonding was an entirely female fantasy. There are an awful lot of women writing about it (guilty as charged, m’lud: see ‘A Case of Domestic Pilfering’. And, I wondered as a starting point, what does Bromance, as a fictional genre, mean to men? Is it something they welcome? Does it amount to a kind of demeaning objectification of males, akin to the ‘Male Gaze’ of the heterosexual male artist first defined by Laura Mulvey back in 1975?
First of all, is it a real thing?
Well, of course it is.
I came across a study into ‘The Bromance: Undergraduate Male Friendships and the Expansion of Contemporary Homosocial Boundaries’. It’s a small study in a small social group, but all these straight chaps were clear: “There was a conclusive determination from the men we interviewed. On balance, they argued that bromantic relationships were more satisfying in their emotional intimacy, compared to their heterosexual romances.”
There is no space here to discuss the limitations of this study, of course, and it doesn’t answer my question about whether men feel happy that Bromance features in many a fictional setting; but it does show that it’s a recognised social phenomenon.
In order to get a view on male opinion, it’s necessary to stray from ‘Bromance: Straight, Platonic’ to ‘Bromance: Gay, Sexual’ – and here there are online comments to show that gay men do not necessarily feel over the moon about being continually squee’d over, puppified or, indeed, represented as obsessed with buggery. They’re in the middle of daily political and personal struggles and although ‘cuteness’ probably is a soft power of social change, it is easy to understand a gay man’s outrage at having his sexuality co-opted and made to serve straight female needs . This is where the Female Gaze gets demeaning.
There are jungles of Slashfic out there (‘slash’ due to the ‘slash’ between characters’ name in a ‘ship’ e.g. Kirk/Spock) and to stray into them is to be … quite surprised by what the readers are writing and the writers are reading. Not least because this research shows that up to 80% of online fan fiction is written by females in the U.S. (57%) – the only country to come near that was the U.K. (9.2%) – and they’re in their MID-TEENS. Again, there’s no room here to discuss why that is: the age range is significant, I think, indicating perhaps that it’s a safe way for straight girls to explore their sexual feelings towards men (sometimes by projecting them onto gay couples).
However annoyed gay men feel about this, these online fandoms vocalise the romance in the bromance. Important as mainstream LGBTQ fiction has been, a lot of it (written both from the male and the female perspective) has tended to be Worthy and Political and therefore sometimes rather like chewing a bran-based breakfast cereal. You know it’s good for you but it is a little cardboardy; and the off-stage sound of Axes being Ground gets distracting.
Next time, I’m going to look at Womance – the almost non-existent phenomenon of straight men writing adoringly about relationships between female characters. Where’d it go?