F*#! Buddies and Friends With Benefits: Understanding The BroBabe in the Context of Hook-Up Culture Today

Abstract

My paper will explore the growing trope of the “BroBabe” (Definition: a whiskey drinking, sport game watching, casual sex having hottie, who can hang with the “bros” but still maintains an appealing allure – i.e. “the ideal woman”), in the context of heterosexual “Hook-Up Culture” among young adults. It will examine the “exceptionalism” these women have in terms of being viewed as both desirable but not demanding, and easy going but not “easy.” It will focus on the roles, women specifically, play in interactions with men, and the “performance” they utilize to engage in “BroBabe” activities. It will look into how, through language, women perform these roles; through swearing (or not), talking dirty (or not), and through sex talk with their friends. Finally, it will demonstrate how the growing trope of the “BroBabe” is influencing how young adults view sex and relationships today.

Keywords 

Casual Sex, FWB, BroBabe, performativity, sexual relationships, hooking up.


Introduction

In recent years, the millennial dating culture has established a new category of women. No longer are women forced into seeing themselves as “the rule” and/ or as opposed to “the exception,” but now can mosey their way into male dominated circles by altering the stereotypical gender of their performance. Through interactions with both their male counterparts and their female friends, this generation has constructed a category of women who are equal parts; male personality and female attractiveness. The women who have adopted this stereotype have acquired an essence of idealism for both men and women alike, and hold a specific kind of exceptionalism in the eyes of their potential male partners and female competitors. We’ve coined this role the “BroBabe” (Wallace, 2011).

Like in any role, there are contrasting highlights and hardships that go along with being a BroBabe, and like in any culture, there are a set of expectations that women in this position must adhere to. This paper will discuss those expectations as well as the standards involved in youth hook-up culture – as the two concepts seem to go hand in hand – today. It will also explain the criteria women follow to acquire the title “BroBabe,” and how that title colours their relationships with male “love” interests and their female friends. Finally, this paper will pose the question of whether or not the role of the BroBabe is a position of power, success, and sexual equality for women, or if it is actually hegemonic masculinity masquerading as contemporary feminism.

 

Who is the BroBabe?

The BroBabe criteria has not been explicitly set in stone. However, all working definitions utilize similar aspects of the following:

BroBabe |brō-bāb|
noun (informal)
1. a woman who can be considered “one of the guys”
2. a whiskey drinking, sport watching, car-oil changing, beer belching, poker playing, casual sex having hottie who understands that “boys will be boys” and is happy to act like one too
3. a woman who is desirable and comfortable with “no strings attached” relationships, is devoid of stereotypical “female” emotions, and is interested in the undefined nature of hook-up culture
4. a woman who is not offended, and even sometimes engages, in casual derogation of women – in terms of critiquing their sexual availability (or lack there of) – swearing, and dirty talk
5. an easy going woman who is happy to be a wing(wo)man to her guy friends, and might hook up with them once or twice, usually when inebriated.

The concept of this role is ever present in our pop culture today. In the popular TV series How I Met Your Mother (2005-2014), Cobie Smulders plays Robin Scherbatsky; a career driven Canadian who can down double the shots as her three male friends and then call a penalty for the Vancouver Canucks or shoot a caribou in the forehead. Likewise, in hit movies we have Mila Kunis in Friends With Benefits (Gluck, 2011), Imogen Poots and Mackenzie Davis in That Awkward Moment (Gormican, 2014), Natalie Portman in No Strings Attached (Reitman, 2011), and Olivia Wilde in Drinking Buddies (Swanberg, 2013), all of whom portray young, flirty, independent, successful, and incredibly sexy women, actively taking on the role of the BroBabe and encouraging young women to believe that by taking on this role, they too, can “have it all.” Not only that, but these roles also set a bad president for men who, by watching these films seek out women who emulate this fantasy character. To understand this character in greater detail, we must dissect each of her components individually:

Mental

The BroBabe is smart, successful, and sexy. She knows what she wants and often acquires the means needed to get it. She is independent and opinionated,  but not introverted, or demanding. In terms of her mindset, she has investigated the aspects of “male culture” and can pull out her knowledge of such things when needed. For example: She doesn’t just like whiskey, she likes Jameson or Johnny Walker Black. She not only knows the difference between ales, lagers, and IPAs, but knows which one she prefers. She’s knowledgeable about cars, sports, and poker, but does not feel the need to educate or promote her knowledge unto the minds of her male friends. Not only does she keep up in male dominated environments, but she is also an active contributor in the conversation.

Physical

The BroBabe is conventionally attractive. She was often born with a womanly physique, but also works out to maintain it. What makes her exceptional, is that she doesn’t just “workout,” she lifts. The BroBabe knows her way around the weight room and has been known to accept (and even sometimes win) push up competitions with her male friends. She has curves in all the right places, and always looks surprisingly fit even considering the number of beers she shotguns and burgers she eats. She is comfortable in jeans and a t-shirt, but also can stun a crowd in a little black dress at one moment and pull off the “sweat pants and sports bra” look with “exceptional perfection” the next. She is aware of her “hotness,” but does not rely on it. However, the BroBabe has been known to get out of a sticky situation, unscathed, simply with a wink, a smile, or a belch from drinking her beer.

Verbal

The BroBabe is well educated and can hold her own in any conversation. What makes her different, or “exceptional,” from the “regular” woman (McEwan, 2011) however, is that she never undermines her male counterparts intelligence, eradicates his position, or asserts her own ideas in a forceful or “bitchy” manner. This is not to say she silences herself, but instead she advocates her own opinion through wit, humor, or passive male speak. Her language is more active than suggesting, but more passive than instructing. She has found a way to engage in “equal” conversation with men, by manipulating the system. To do this, she often refers to her male counterparts as “bro,” “dude,” or “man.” When critical of their position, she will resort to male insults such as; “stop being a pussy,” or “you’re such a little bitch sometimes.”

In situations where her “coolness” is vulnerable (ex: when she asks a love interest/ sexual partner on a date), she’ll employ passive male speak such as; “wanna hook up later?”, “let’s hang out sometime”, or “hit me up tonight” – ambiguous suggestions – as not to compromise her “detached” position (Gordon, 2014). In sexual situations she is not only well educated and often comfortable with experimentation, but has also been known to use “dirty talk.” In these instances, she does not use language to emasculate her male partner or criticize his knowledge and experience, nor is she demanding about her needs. Instead, she employs “dirty talk” as a means of playful suggestion and sexual stimulation (Bland & Barrett, 2009). Outside of the bedroom, she is often comfortable engaging in conversation about her own sexual prowess and experiences, with both her male and female friends alike (Pichler, 2009). Furthermore, the BroBabe regularly utilizes profanity and insults; “bitch,” “dick,” “asshole,” “fuck,” and “pussy” without fear of sounding “un-ladylike” or diminishing her female allure (Bean & Johnstone, 1991).

Emotional

One of the main reasons the BroBabe is so appealing is that she often identifies her own emotional complexity with that of her male friends. In terms of single sex friendships, BroBabes often have a handful of female friends with whom they interact. However, these female friends are often BroBabes themselves who have a separate male friend group of their own. BroBabes are success driven singles and have acquired a maturity around other women. The reason BroBabes don’t see other BroBabes as inferior is because they have a mutual understanding and respect for each other, that other women, whom they consider “catty,” don’t understand (Rae, 2015). Another appealing attribute of the BroBabe, is that they can offer their female friends to their male friends, and have their female friends offer them to her male friend group (Messado, n.d.). BroBabe girlfriends applaud each other’s success, congratulate each other on their sexual conquests (as men do), and get along by motivating each other through tales of their sexcapades. In terms of BroBabe-male relationships, BroBabes willingly play the part of the wing(wo)man, often assisting their male friends in scoring with attractive women. However, as depicted in the definition above, BroBabes can also be caught hooking up with their fellow “bros.” For this, we turn to the next section “The Hook-Up Habitat.”

 

The Hook-Up Habitat

Hooking up fosters a community of poser hippies: young adults who are supposedly eager to engage in “free love,” yet are so adamant about not labeling their sexual encounters that they are permanently unclear of the status of their relationships. When we engage in this culture we are perpetually summoned into an abyss where Fifty Shades of Grey is not just a really bad movie, but also a contract that commits the BroBabe to a constant lack of clarity. There are very few concepts as obscure or indecisive as hook-up culture among young adults today. The criteria for what defines a “hook-up” alone is one which has been debated over many times and has yet to come to any clear settlement. For the purpose of this paper, I will use the loose definition given by Donna Freitas in her book; The End of Sex: How Hookup Culture is Leaving a Generation Unhappy, Sexually Unfulfilled, and Confused About Intimacy, which asserts these three rules: “1. A hookup involves some form of sexual intimacy. 2.  A hookup is brief—it can last a few minutes or, at the most, a few hours. And, 3. (This is the most important part) A hookup is intended to be purely physical in nature and involves both parties shutting down any communication or connection that might lead to emotional attachment” (Masciotra, 2013). With this definition in mind, we look to the BroBabe to understand her place in hook up culture today.

The millennial generation, predominantly women, have been taught to assert their independence in all facets of their lives. While this has allowed them to make great leaps and gains in many areas, in the context of hook-up culture, it may be one of the most detrimental components to their emotional health. Like young men, BroBabes oppose “labeling.” The idea of having a “boyfriend,” or being in a monogamous “relationship” makes the BroBabe cringe. The archaic practices of courting are the antithesis of everything the BroBabe stands for. It is for this reason that BroBabes and Hook Up Culture are each others soulmate. The BroBabe is meant to engage in and enjoy the uncertainty and non-definitive nature of the hook-up. On the positive side, hooking up allows BroBabes the benefit of releasing their sexual tension without losing face or having to “show their hand”… or their heart. However, when contrasted with the negatives; a potentially bad hook up, the lack of consistency, the questionable aftermath, and the worst of the worst, the potential of emotional attachment, the BroBabe is put in a position of constant limbo. If it is a one time thing, the dominant issue is the potential of a bad hook up, but when the hooking up (with the same partner) persists – potentially developing into a FWB situation – there are many other complications that get thrown into the mix (Masciotra, 2013 & Hamilton, Armstrong & England, 2010). For example, what happens when a hook-up turns into “hooking up?” Or further more, what happens when your “bro” becomes your “friends with benefits?” You can see how things can get a bit sticky.

 

The BroBabe Looks for Love: The Heartless Unearths the Hopeless Romantic 

BroBabes are expected to engage in casual sexual relationships without becoming emotionally invested. However, no matter how easily she may take a shot of Jameson, win a game of beer pong, or call a foul play, the BroBabe’s biggest shortcoming is that eventually, and inevitably, her “idealism” is shattered by feelings (Messado, n.d. & Hamilton, Armstrong & England, 2010). Often times, the BroBabe will deny these feelings, or “discount” her intentions (more on this in “Kiss and Tell”), but that does not make them seize to exist. In the spirit of maintaining their independence, BroBabes are conditioned to “play it cool” and believe that not caring or emotionally investing themselves in a relationship is attractive. After all, sex without the feelings is what all men – and so, BroBabes by extension – want. Right? In her article Female Chauvinist Pigs, Ariel Levy argues that “it seems legitimate to wonder if feminism has unwittingly equalized the sexual playing field to allow women the freedom to behave with as much recklessness as men” (Masciotra, 2013). By maintaining a somewhat “heartless” exterior the essential exceptionalism of the BroBabe is captured. However, in the inevitable occurrence that a BroBabe finds a deeper compatibility, in addition to the sexual competence with her bro, the BroBabe becomes an illusion, her veil of “coolness” vanishes, and she unearths a “hopeless romantic.”

 

Kiss and Tell

Aside from playing the role of motivational competition, the reason BroBabes have female friends is so that when instances such as the one stated above occur they have someone to turn to. BroBabes love to kiss and tell. With their fellow bros they carry themselves with an air of sexual freedom, competence, and prowess. The BroBabe not only “gets laid” but also does the laying. As previously discussed, the BroBabe exercises her sexual freedom and often times vocalizes her sexual desires. However, when the BroBabe encounters emotional compatibility she often turns to her girlfriends to analyze the situation (Pichler, 2009). Even with this single sex outlet however, the BroBabe still works to maintain her effortless and casual allure. To do this, when she’s not ignoring her feelings all together, she often “discounts” them by not holding herself accountable for the feelings she has, letting herself “off the hook,” and insisting on having alternative intentions. For example, in some single sex talk a BroBabe may begin by telling her girlfriend about all the wonderful sex she had this weekend with the FWB she’s begun to develop feelings for. After her girlfriend applauds her sexcapades, the BroBabe might casually segue into specifics of what he said, or little things he did. The two will then question and analyze his motives, a form of female gossiping. When the girlfriend inevitably asserts that the BroBabe might be starting to develop feelings, instead of acknowledging them, she will discount them by saying things like; “no, but it’s just casual… I don’t even like him like that;” “yeah, but all I care about is getting laid, I’m too busy to be emotionally invested;” or “I mean, yeah, you might be right, but it was also probably because we had been drinking so I was probably just more vulnerable than usual.” By making excuses for her uprising feelings of attachment, the BroBabe is able to convince herself that she is still “in the clear.”

 

Thank You for Playing

Through discounting her feelings and engaging in the perpetual gray of hook up culture, the BroBabe constantly reaffirms to her male counterparts the misconception of what women want in a relationship. The problem with this “BroBabe” ideal is that by engaging in “low risk” relationships, women expect to be handed a reward in the form of the fairytale endings we see in our pop culture movies (Gordon, 2014 & Hamilton, Armstrong, & England). In all the film examples above; Friends with Benefits (Gluck, 2011), That Awkward Moment (Gormican, 2014), and No Strings Attached (Reitman, 2011), with the exception of Drinking Buddies (Swanberg, 2013), the bro eventually sees the error of his bachelor like ways and falls for the BroBabe, who consequently abandons her independence for the safety of love. This is not to say that BroBabe-like women don’t exist. Can women enjoy sex as much and as often as men? Yes. Is is possible for a woman to enjoy a glass of JW on the rocks as opposed to Sangria? Absolutely. And, is it common for a woman to slap on her Yankees cap and watch the game over beer and a cheesesteak instead of reading the latest Nicholas Sparks book? Definitely. But does all that mean that women who engage in or prefer such activities are devoid of the need for emotional stimulation and support? Absolutely not. Unfortunately, and inescapably, BroBabes are human too (Messado, n.d.). The problem with the BroBabe is the disconnect. Where men see a friend who is smart, sexy, and carefree, women think that their casual sex having tendencies will lead their undefined sexual partner to fall in love with them, and when he doesn’t, the motion picture illusion is shattered, and BroBabes are left wondering, “why?”

 

Conclusion 

In conclusion, like most aspects of millennial culture, there is no definitive answer to whether or not the BroBabe exists without caveats and discrepancies, and furthermore if this role is a positive or negative contribution to women and relationships today. When considering Levy’s assertion that the sexual playing filed has been equalized, it is also good to question whether the uprising of the BroBabe is less a gain in sexual equality for women and more actually a loss on the women’s part – who, by adopting an “if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em” approach, have allowed hegemonic masculinity to masquerade as contemporary feminism.

Perhaps we’ll never agree on whether the BroBabe was a progressive or detrimental addition to our culture. But lack of agreement does not mean that the BroBabe has not found her place in our society and social, and sexual relationships. Although she may not fulfill every criteria set above, the BroBabe does exist and manifests herself in different ways in many young women today. In order to have a BroBabe maximize her full potential, we must not pigeon hole her into the stereotype set out for us in pop culture entertainment. We should abandon the specificities of her trope and recognize her role as an evolving character in mainstream culture. Furthermore, we must also recognize the disadvantages perpetual hook-ups can do to young adults, and notice how the infiltration of such encounters has demolished millennial dating standards. In order to understand the BroBabe and her place in our society we must accept her constant flux and notice how her performance alters the circles she interacts in. Most importantly, we must allow her to play by her own rules and say what’s on her mind, for it is the BroBabe that – regardless of her shortcomings – may be the first reliable bridge connecting the minds, attitudes, and performances of men and women today.


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