No Man Left Behind
Bro culture— the phenomenon that Upper School math teacher, Tom James, defines as “a hyper masculinity”— seems to appear in every corner of Packer’s Upper School. If you wanted a visual representation of how bro culture manifests itself within a Packer classroom, all you would need to do is walk into AT Physics, a class comprised of 16 male students and only one girl.
The history of female students being pushed out of advanced classes, both in attendance and airtime, is felt in many AT classes, but science and math classes seem to feel it the most. The fact of who is taking up space, both physically and verbally, is one of the many consequences of bro culture existing in a classroom environment.
“I find that a certain way of participating is privileged in those spaces [advanced STEM classes] that emphasises on competitiveness, speed, volume,” says Mr. James. Growing up, girls are taught to be polite, quiet, and patient. Thus, in classes physically dominated by male presence, femininity is not only limited but looked down upon. As Mr. James describes, bro culture emphasizes an “avoidance of traits that could be perceived as feminine or queer adjacent. It’s very tied up with putting distance between yourself and femininity and homosexuality.”
For the women who are in the advanced STEM classes, there is an immediate pressure to “prove yourself” in a space where you will be automatically viewed as lesser.
“When I show up in a STEM space, because I am a white, cisgender, able bodied man, who also wears glasses, I’m often given the benefit of the doubt, and assumed to be capable and smart, before I even say anything. Whereas students who aren’t male, black and brown students in particular, don’t get that same benefit of the doubt,” explains Mr. James.
Dark humor, defined as offensive jokes that usually revolve around serious or sensitive topics, is often cited as a major player within bro culture.
As Lea Wong (‘21) explains, “with the STEM people, I think [bro culture] revolves around dark humor and dark meme culture and I think it becomes kind of anti-minority, or anti-anything other than cis het white men. As a girl in that space it can be intimidating.”
Dark humor seems to be a common factor between the bro culture that exists in classrooms, and the bro culture that exists in Packer’s social scene. While the group of boys who rule over the student center are often different from the group of boys who rule over STEM classes, both groups find value in the use of offensive jokes.
“The ability to make dark jokes becomes something that they think is attractive in women,” continues Lea. “The phrase that is code for that, that’s thrown around often, is ‘she’s chill’, which means she won’t call you out if you make an offensive joke or share an offensive meme, but she’s not really “chill”, she’s ableist and racist.”
Other than dark humor, participating in the bro culture that dominates Packer’s social scene revolves heavily around hookup and party culture and whether you are a part of it or not.
“I think that the popularity of certain circles at Packer is contingent on their whiteness and wealth which lessens the consequences of certain actions like drinking, smoking, hook-ups, and partying,” says Nick Yohn (‘21). “In that way, I think the friendships of certain groups and the conversations they have are a result of their status and the privilege it gives them.”
Though it’s not a rule that in order to participate in bro culture you have to be white, rich, and male, without those traits, it would probably be incredibly difficult to fit in with one of these social groups. This unwritten rule effectively excludes minorities from bro culture, unless they are deemed “chill”, because of how they tolerate offensive or exclusive behavior.
Beyond offensive humor and exclusivity, perhaps the most dangerous part of the bro culture that exists within these social groups is, as Olivia Azzolina (‘21) puts it, “the mentality of protection and always protecting each other— whether it is just or not.”
This need to protect friends isn’t necessarily always negative, or exclusive to the social groups that participate in bro culture. The steadfast loyalty that is often seen in those groups could easily just be considered a trait of any close friendship.
“It is kind of like a brotherhood, kind of like this wolfpack mentality of no man left behind,” says Owen Smith (‘21). “Which I think can be positive and can be negative. But I do think that is true in a lot of friend groups, I just think guys in a bro culture setting tend to amplify it a little bit, they make it an overly masculine thing. But in a girl friend group or a non bro-y friend group I think they would have their friends’ backs. I just think in a bro culture setting, guys need everyone to know.”
That sentiment of “guys need[ing] everyone to know” is what turns protection into harm. Olivia cites a personal experience concerning an investigation of one of the boys who participated in this kind of bro culture:
“I found out that he was leaving the school by his friends posting on their Snapchat stories “free the boy”, and there was this whole “free my son” movement that was going around— without having ever spoken to me or hearing what was actually going on. That was the first time I really realized how the social scene at Packer worked. It made me feel so insignificant and inspired a silence from me for a lot of years. Not just in that particular incident, but in how they acted towards me and how there was kind of a push to exclude me. Bro culture at our school quite literally silences people.”