Bromance and Hookup Culture: A Study in the Performance of Masculinity by College Men

By Poost, Anna-Sophie | International Social Science Review, December 2018 | Go to article overview

Bromance and Hookup Culture: A Study in the Performance of Masculinity by College Men


Poost, Anna-Sophie, International Social Science Review


College is the most opportune time for the development of young adults, most likely due to the population's similar age ranges, shared spaces, interests, and priorities. It is during this time that people find their passions, plan for their futures, and build friendships. It is a time when people believe they will find themselves. Sociologists argue that individuals do not find themselves, but instead learn to define and perform a role based on societal standards and pressures. While there are many different elements that go into a person's role, gender is one identifier that plays a large part in our society.

College is a prime space to develop gender performance as the atmosphere lends itself to testing the limits of gender roles by identifying what behaviors are socially acceptable. In the last decade, certain cultural trends and norms have taken root. Some generational norms, which previously may have been perceived as calling into question a man's sexual nature, or homoerotic, have come to be more acceptable. One such prominent practice is "bromance," which this study examines to understand its intricacies and part in performative masculinity. This paper argues that in order to maintain gender norms and the societal understanding of masculinity, homoerotic or feminine exercises, such as bromances, must be offset by compensatory hypermasculinity or clearly heterosexual masculine behaviors, such as partaking in hookup culture. Both halves are important due to the cultural understanding of masculinity and the widely accepted theory of gender fluidity and performance, and as such these norms are making a rise. Using analysis of previous research that explores the different factors at play, such as confidence, social settings, and boundaries, and data collected during comprehensive interviews with members of the population, the paper explores underlying behaviors and reactions of college-aged men that exemplify such trends.

The culture of cisgender, straight, man's man heteromasculinity surrounding these two cultural trends are heavily dependent on an over exaggeration of performed actions as well as a balance of habits that fall on the scale of homosexual in appearance and hypermasculinity. The one side of this scale includes behaviors that could be perceived as homoerotic, or sexually charged, specifically with someone from the same sex. This homoeroticism exists in bromances in a joking manner, and in moving far beyond the limits of social acceptability for homosexuals it is considered acceptable for heteromasculine individuals. In the off chance that this could be mistaken, it is offset by hypermasculinity, or exaggerated male behaviors. These actions can act in a reparative manner, as often times they will occur in tandem with perceived homoerotic behavior, as such it is considered compensatory hypermasculinity.

Theory: Goffman's Dramaturgy

Performativity in regards to social roles was first born as an element of Erving Goffman's Dramaturgy, which is a part of the theoretical school of symbolic interactionism. In his book, The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life, Goffman presents this theory, which is built on the idea that every public action or reaction is a choice that an individual makes to appear a certain way. (1) The theory claims that each person is an actor, life is their stage, and those they interact with are their audience or observers. Each person maintains control over how they act and consequently, how they are perceived.

Within each controlled interaction, the actor works on a spectrum between two distinct approaches. On one end, is the 'sincere actor,' who believes in the truth that he shares with his audience, "We find that the performer can be fully taken in by his own act; he can be sincerely convinced that the impression of reality which he stages is the real reality." (2) For this performer, their actions seem so close to their understanding of reality, that even they are fooled into believing their acting is the truth. …

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