The Evolution of the Bro

What women really think about news, politics, and culture.
Jan. 16 2014 10:57 AM

The Evolution of the Bro

They’re down with boobs but not rape culture. Meet the gentlemen of BroBible.

Frat bros drinking fratty drinks at a fratty bar.
Have the bros truly grown into men? Not exactly.

Photo by John Lund/Annabelle Breakey/Thinkstock

When the FBI released surveillance photographs of Boston Marathon bombing subject Dzhokhar Tsarnaev on April 18, 2013, Brandon Wenerd spied something familiar in the image of a 19-year-old guy strolling through Boston in a gray Adidas hoodie, his crop of curly hair tamed by a backward white cap. “I thought, ‘Wow, this is truly the world our site exists in,’ ” says Wenerd, a senior editor of BroBible, a website that serves the interests of 18-to-34-year-old men—girls, beer, finger foods, etcetera. “He lives in the Northeast. He’s a college student. By all means, he could even be a BroBible reader.”

So while police combed Watertown, Mass. in pursuit of its fugitive, Wenerd and his fellow editors tapped into their brocial networks. The next morning, BroBible editor Andy Moore published Tsarnaev’s personal Twitter account on the site, confirming its authenticity through a classmate of the suspect at the University of Massachusetts–Dartmouth. BroBible beat Gawker, BuzzFeed, the New York Times, and CNN to the scoop. “It was a really cool, newsworthy moment for us,” says Wenerd. “Dave Weigel gave us an awesome hat-tip.”

It isn’t every week that the frat publishing community produces a story with national security implications. But over the past few years, BroBible has graduated from a purveyor of hot girl photo galleries and sick kegger stories to become a reliable source of mainstream news on the scandalous behavior of college-aged men, and the deranged sorority girls who love them. When the site launched in 2008, Gawker dismissed it as an outlet for "eHighFiving about Jaeger and pussy.” Five years later, viral content providers ignore BroBible at their own peril. Whenever a bro drunkenly flips a car, smears on blackface, drapes an American flag over his penis, or pens a fraternity-wide guide to conversing with Jewish sorority girls, BroBible is there first. Platforms like Jezebel, the Huffington Post, and the Daily Mail aren’t far behind. (According to Quantcast, the site now attracts 6.3 million unique visitors per month, up from a peak of 2.4 million in 2011; 81 percent of them are men). And BroBible isn’t the only fratty publisher feeding the viral beast. Bro-centric site Guyism was one of the first to amplify last May’s video interview with Charles Ramsey, hero to Ariel Castro’s kidnapping victims. And though Total Frat Move launched as a repository for one-line jokes about frat boys—“Requiring a stewardess’ assistance in order to fasten your seatbelt. #TFM”—it’s since established a tip line for collecting evidence of real-life fraternity antics.

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Early bro Internet icons, like Tucker Max, rose to infamy by celebrating their own misanthropic tendencies. But BroBible’s editors are more evolved, making a bid for mainstream recognition by drawing fine moral distinctions within their own community. “There’s still a negative stigma attached to the word bro,” BroBible managing editor J. Camm admits. “But we’re slowly changing that connotation.” On first glance, BroBible’s worldview tends toward the sophomoric—recent story subjects include bouncing boobs, painting boobs, and a potato that looks like boobs. But read closer, and you’ll find that much of the site’s content trades in more enlightened views. BroBible supports gay bros. Rape culture is in the BroBible vocabulary. When a feminist group recently pranked the site by mocking up a fake BroBible post to help spread its message of consent, BroBible’s editors supported the effort. And when, last month, a Georgia Tech bro sent an email to his fraternity detailing how to lure in “rapebait” at campus parties, BroBible’s and Jezebel’s editors were equally outraged.  While sites like Jezebel seize on incidents like that to draw a line between the misogynist and the feminist, BroBible’s moral landscape is divided into “bro-worthy” and “douchey” behavior. Bros surf awesome Oahu waves; douches take advantage of drunk girls. Celebrating the bros and shaming the douches is “the yin and yang of our editorial mission,” Wenerd says. And for the record: “Guys like Tucker Max are douchebags.”

Have the bros truly grown into men? Not exactly. Holding up extreme douches for scrutiny is just one arm of the site’s editorial strategy; it also courts its core audience by indulging in the type of softly offensive material that keeps bros clicking. On BroBible, “bruised bacon hole” is an acceptable synonym for vagina, and the ideal position for a woman is bent over at the waist. It’s a place where young men are still free to indulge in the type of base material that boxes women out—as long as they don’t state their allegiance too pointedly in a fraternity-wide email. In an op-ed for BroBible that pleaded for the public to differentiate bros from “misogynist fucking douchebags,” Wenerd waxed nostalgic for “the time when bro was defined as simply being ‘a guy in board shorts with a taste for cheap beer.’ " If that guy seems chill, it’s because he’s a relic of a time when bros were judged only by the color of their Solo cups, not the content of their character.

Amanda Hess is a Slate staff writer. Email her at amanda.hess@slate.com, or follow her on Twitter.