Ask Jenn Viscous: Listen, Bro

By: Jenn Vicious 

20080727_eastcountybro

Jenn Vicious is the radical community’s Agony Aunt, providing life coaching and social etiquette answers for radical cultures.  Need poly, kinky, or queer dating advice, need to to know what to wear to court or a family function (you know, one you have to look “respectable” at),  want to understand what to and not to say in some contexts, ask Jenn Vicious.

I’M WORRIED THAT I LOOK LIKE A BRO, AND THAT PEOPLE WILL TREAT ME AS SUCH, BECAUSE I KNOW THAT I TOTALLY PREJUDGED BRO LOOKING PEOPLE BACK WHEN I DIDN’T LOOK LIKE A BRO. I RECENTLY MOVED TO A NEW TOWN AND I WANT TO MEET NEW PEOPLE; I CAN’T JUST SIT IN MY CUBICLE ALL DAY. OMG, LIKE, WHAT SHOULD I DO VICIOUS? – ANONYMOUS

Keep your shirt on, Bro. Let me tell you a story. The other evening around dusk I was walking through my neighborhood thinking about your question. Along the way, three bros came out of a house and started walking behind me, where I couldn’t really see them. They were talking really loudly. Much louder than they needed to be to have a conversation amongst themselves on such a quiet street. They also were completely oblivious to the idea that having three dudes catching up to a smallish woman at sunset might make said woman a tad uncomfortable. I didn’t have to see them to know they were bros.

My point here, Bro, is that it isn’t how you look, it’s how you act. So I’ve devised some basic tips for not acting like a bro (littered with a few real bro examples I have actually encountered):

  • Think about how you talk. It seems like most bros talk really loud. I can only assume that they are worried that the people on the other side of the restaurant won’t be able to hear them. Not everyone in the entire room wants to hear about 5.10.c wall you just scaled. Tone it down.
  • Listen to other people. Other people have really interesting things to say. If you would stop talking, you might find that out. For instance, if a woman is telling you about how she is studying to be an astronaut, do not interrupt her to tell her everything you know about space, which, it turns out, is only whatever you learned from watching a youtube video about an astronaut wringing out a towel. I know it was really exciting, but that lady was trying to tell you about her life. Youtube videos can wait.
  • Be aware of the space you take up. I know this one can be really hard for bros to understand, and even harder to control. But take a second to consider it. Remember what I said about the bros walking too close behind me? I know they didn’t think anything of it. They experience the world as a fairly safe place where people are not going to touch them without their permission, generally. I, and probably most female people, experience the world as a place where people pose some threat to our bodies. We don’t think that because we are little scaredy-cats, or because we are so weak, or anything like that. We think that because it happens to us. Daily. Our bodies are on display, and STRANGERS feel free to comment or touch us without our permission. It sucks, and it gives us a distinct perspective. When I’m walking down the street and am passing a dude, I brace myself, look for possible exits, and strategize a plan of action, just in case. You know why those three dudes walking close behind me bothered me? They put me at a tactical disadvantage. I know that wasn’t their intent, but since I have been attacked by men on the street before, I can’t just assume that I was already safe. Bros don’t think about things like this. They don’t think about the impact they are having on the people around them. They tend to walk close and to talk close, sometimes bumping into people or taking up two seats on a crowded bus, without being aware of the person or people they are interacting with.
  • Don’t make assumptions about people. It sounds like maybe you’ve struggled with this one in the past. I get bros making assumptions about me all the time, and it usually revolves around the idea that I need their help. I don’t, actually, and I don’t mind you offering but don’t be offended when I refuse. Bros make all kinds of assumptions about people’s outward appearances: what they are into, what they know about, what their life experiences are. Just don’t. If you want to know who people are, get to know them. If you want to tell them about surfing, ask if they surf first. It’s easy, and will lead to more interesting conversations.
  • Resist the feeling the you need to control the situation. To be honest, this isn’t just for bros, it’s for pretty much all guys. This is something I’ll admit I don’t fully understand but I have talked to enough of my male friends about it to know that it is a real thing. Dudes seem to be under this constant pressure to DO something. For one of my dude friends, he crumbles under silences in conversation. If there is a silence he feels like he HAS to say something funny, (and it usually leads him to say something accidentally offensive). Other of my dude friends feel like they HAVE to speak up, or take control in meetings, or all of these other strange behaviors that I can only barely comprehend. But in those moments, where you think something is expected of you, just take a deep breath. Take a step back from the situation, and ask yourself a few questions. Do other people need you to intervene in this situation? Will whatever you are about to do or say contribute to furthering the conversation, or make it stop in it’s tracks? If you are still worried that something is expected of you by the other person, just ask. That would be a lot more refreshing than you just jumping in and taking control.

I think really what it comes down to is that if you don’t want to be a bro, you have put yourself in other people’s shoes. You have to think outside of yourself to the impact you are having on the people around you. I’m not advocating that you not be yourself. Absolutely do your thing. But make sure that you leave space for other people around you to do their thing too. That’s what sets you apart from the bros.

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