COLLEGE

The State of the College Bro in 2017

The Trump era is undoubtedly an exciting time to be an oblivious, entitled, straight college dude. For some bros, however, it's also a time of reflection.

av Mike Pearl
2017 03 30, 6:57am

Photo by Getty Images / Drew Angerer

This article was originally published on VICE US.

It's the Trump era, and two forces are warring for the heart of America's horny young straight college guy. On one hand, the new president has made unbridled, old-fashioned chauvinist rhetoric more widespread than it has been in years. But the sort of PC privilege-checking that defined the previous presidential administration hasn't gone away. And on college campuses, it still seems to reign supreme.

As you may recall, interest in bros reached a fever pitch in early 2015, and "bro-bashing" (whatever that is) was at its zenith. Shortly after that, according to Alexander Nazaryan of Newsweek, the bro actually "died," as absurd as that sounds, from "a combination of social inutility, creepy sexuality and cultural vapidity, not to mention the scorn of many of his fellow Americans." But, of course, 2015 was an entirely different political epoch, so it's easy to understand Nazaryan's mistake.

The discourse around bros during the Obama era pretty much amounted to: "Straight men? How about they go kill themselves?" Misogyny was unacceptable, but misandry was hilarious. Male tears were guzzled from mugs (much in the way liberal tears are consumed today). Mansplaining was discouraged by major political figures. The internet rape-threat bonanza known as Gamergate was thought of as a mere temper tantrum thrown by a bunch of Mountain Dew–swilling toy enthusiasts, and certainly not any sort of political groundswell. A female president was on her way, and the patriarchy was done for.

Even some college bros took notice, as parodied on South Park in 2015.

Donald Trump, meanwhile, did not care about being #woke. Unlike Hillary Clinton, Trump never bothered weighing in on the issue of campus sexual assault. "Rape culture" may be an ill-defined term, but regardless of your definition, you'll surely agree it was on display when Trump sat on a bus with Billy Bush in 2005 and talked about women as though they were Fleshlights with legs. His surprise election demonstrated that despite America's apparent feminist awakening under Obama, a confessed pussy grabber can still be president.

So what's the atmosphere like for bros on America's college campuses in 2017?

According to Michael Kimmel, Stony Brook University sociologist, and founder of the academic journal Men and Masculinities, we're in a new, anti-PC epoch. "It's true that today there are far more people who are willing to scream out about their opposition to political correctness," he told me. "On college campuses, you might hear some of that, and in workplaces among younger people."

"It's a good time to be a guy, but at the same time it's a bad time to be a guy," Grant Garcia, a senior studying political science at the University of California Los Angeles, told me. "It's just that whole male white privilege thing."

Salvatore DiGioia, a junior and fraternity member at the University of Michigan, has a vague sense that the post-election political climate is "weighing on certain relationships, but those are more personal issues," he told me in an email. Overall, he explained, "I've primarily been exposed to goal-oriented women who are often quick to define their boundaries." By way of an example, DiGioia told me that earlier this month, St. Patrick's Day went off with out a hitch. Fraternity and sorority members partying harmoniously together—"feminists and rare Trump voters alike, [and] it didn't look much different from last year."

Charlie Parkhurst

According to sophomore Charlie Parkhurst, another political science major at UCLA, politics is a touchy topic on campus right now. Trump was popular around Parkhurst's frat during the election, he said, because, "everyone's conservative there." Election Day gave license to some "douches" to get in people's faces on campus about their victory, he told me. But that didn't last long. "Even the guys that were being really ignorant and annoying, they're now like, OK. I understand he's not fit to be our president. Even the conservative ones," Parkhurst said.

But that's obviously not the case with all conservative bros. Some appear to be doubling their efforts to be douches. Bigger douches than ever, in fact.

Milo Yiannopoulos, who recently became a pariah on the right due to the sudden and unwanted publicity of some of his pro-pedophilia remarks, fashioned himself into a cult figure among right-wing bros who once flocked to videos of their hero dropping ostensible truth bombs on feminists. Yiannopoulos himself probably wouldn't be considered a bro according to the most basic reading of the bro stereotype because he's a very feminine-presenting gay man (though this is a huge can of worms in its own right), but he surrounds himself with bros. According to a piece for Pacific Standard by Laurie Penny, his tour bus was a tube full of boobie-obsessed straight dudes. Still, as we saw in February when an unruly protest halted his appearance at UC Berkeley, Yiannopoulos's schtick didn't play well on actual college campuses.

Other right-wing bros need a harder drug than Milo and find him tame or downright liberal. He told a crowd in January that white nationalism "isn't the way to go" and earned a rebuke from a blogger at Return of Kings—an all-in-one combo plate for internet readers who crave a mix of pick-up artist tactics, anti-feminism, and white nationalism.

White supremacist groups with apparent bro-appeal began online, but moved into real life in 2016 to support Trump's campaign, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC). And some, like American Vanguard, have a pretty college bro-y vibe. Mixed in with the testosterone-flavored white nationalism at American Vanguard, there are claims that feminism is bad for America because it "gave us the most bitter, unhappy, angry, and sorrowful women on the planet."

Then there's Identity Evropa, which considers itself a "fraternity," according to its website. Identity Evropa members are engaging in something called "Project Siege" these days, which involves visiting college campuses and posting photos of the idealized male form in classical sculpture, with white supremacist slogans written over them.

These white supremacist infiltration campaigns can't possibly be easy. Even in a reddish state like Michigan, college towns like Ann Arbor—where college bros spend their time—tend to be bastions of liberalism. In September of last year, some explicitly alt-right flyers got posted around the University of Michigan. DiGioia told me that the posters (along with other minor incidents) demonstrated that "bigoted sentiments do exist here, at least in some capacity." He said the main response was "fear and outcry within the Ann Arbor community."

"We're seeing these outbreaks of bigotry, and it's almost exclusively male," said Bostwick, a senior at UCLA. "I haven't seen any female white Neo-Nazis."

"There's something going on right now in our country, and it's fairly dramatic," Mark Potok of the SPLC told reporters during a phone conference I attended in February. According to the new SPLC report, 2016 saw an increase in the total number of hate groups, from 892 in 2015, to 917 in 2016. But Potok also told me that the kind of alt-right sentiment you may see on a college campus is much more widespread than those numbers suggest. The SPLC just isn't capable of quantifying the alt-right yet.

Bostwick said guys on campus would come to blows over politics before the election, but that groups like Identity Evropa don't set the tone of the conversation on campus. Rather than hate, he told me, "I see a lot more love."

Garcia took it a step further: "I feel like this divide is almost creating a unification," he told me. "It's bringing together people that feel like they're being shafted by what Trump is promoting. That's uniting people that wouldn't otherwise come together, against one foreign enemy—or rather, domestic enemy—that is Trump."

On the whole, Kimmel isn't worried, despite the existence of the alt-right. "I tend to be pretty sanguine about this generation of guys," he told me. "The long-term trend is that young women and young men are more equal today than they've ever been, and they're more comfortable about it," he told me.

"Having said that, I'll qualify it," Kimmel added. "The reason men are so comfortable with that is because they still rule."

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