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BROS101: Introduction to Brogressive Politics

Self described Cool Guy Ashton-Martyn and Tough Guy Mills are best mates and have written this piece about recognising progressive dudes with problematic behaviours, aka brogressives.

When we first met a dude who could tell us the difference between equity and equality we were like “wait, what?” We’d just clawed our way out of Christchurch, where there remains a grimey layer of ENSOC bros shrouding the city in “get back in the kitchen” memes and culturally appropriative Undie 500 costumes. We were literally picking the last fragments of dudes yelling “get your tits out” at us at 11am on a Tuesday from under our nails and entering into a new life in Wellington, where dudes seemed to get it. It seemed like it was absolutely, positively time to develop some friendships with these men (and to also probably make out with them—fire emoji, hundred emoji, winky tongue out emoji).

Four years later, armed with some seriously well cultivated cynicism, a bunch of work done on our basic af “pay equality here we come” feminism, and a plethora of extremely confusing relationships founded on some deep cognitive dissonance, we figured a lil somethin’ out. These dudes with their extremely vocal “I’m ready for Hillary!” progressive politics aren’t always exactly what they seem. You can vote for the Green Party, find a reason to talk about Helen Clark’s snap story, and fave my tweet about obnoxious bros at gigs all you want, but that doesn’t stop you from reproducing these harms that you’re so emphatically not for or about.This can honestly be a really difficult zone to navigate. We’re not talking about an easily distinguishable binaristic zone of people with “good politics” and “bad politics,” we’re talking about somewhere in between. These are the people you come across in all areas of your life who you might share any type of relationship with. They’re often people you love, trust, and admire, people you work with, or who are coordinating your courses. We’re calling them brogressives. Dudes who actively flaunt their progressive politics, their opposition to oppression along lines of race, ethnicity, class, gender identity, sexuality, ability, and age. They advocate for shifting power dynamics to more equitable forms, yet these dudes are still perpetrators and reproducers of these harms.

We’ve put together a starters’ kit for identifying these dudes in your life to save you some time. You’ll find six profiles detailing the shapes and forms of brogressives you might come across out in the wild: that guy from your PHIL 106 tutorial, that dude from three tinder dates ago, your ex, your colleague, the known and beloved lecturer, and, the hardest and most heartbreaking of all, your very good friend.

***

That guy from your PHIL 106 tutorial

Natural Habitat: Class once a week, your lectures, the occasional house party.

Call: “I may not be a woman, but…”

Characteristics: Seen often interrupting and talking over women in class, will only take a woman’s opinion seriously if immediately echoed by another man.

You guys sat next to each other on your first lecture and he almost seemed like your next friend target. He’s mildly well dressed, doesn’t immediately seem to carry himself with arrogance, and you saw him use a keepcup the other day at Vic Books. You end up in a tute together and you’re discussing gender. He seems to be getting it, to be on the level so to speak. On closer inspection, you hear him explaining to two women the difference between an opinion and a fact. But like really explaining it, with a privilege forcefield so strong that the nonverbal cues radiating from the women around him don’t even flicker on his radar. This is the type of dude who’ll talk to a woman when she’s clearly reading a book or listening to a podcast. He seems to genuinely believe in equity, but doesn’t seem to believe that women can truly know or learn things without the assistance of a dude—one time he congratulated you for using a big word in a tutorial.

 

Dude from three tinder dates ago

Natural Habitat: Three grey dots in a text convo, sitting across from you at a bar, your suggested friends list.

Call: “I basically majored in feminism for how many gender studies papers I took.”

Characteristics: Talks about how much he doesn’t like the way men treat women. Likely to be sweet apple pie on your date, but will ignore you when he runs into you.

Your tinder date went pretty well, considering. He seemed smart and onto it, you guys had some pretty good banter, and he smoothly suggested that since the Tinder chat app was so bad could he add you on Facebook? Nice. His photos don’t involve him posing with dead animals, you have a couple of mutual friends, and he’s liked The Spinoff and Metiria Turei on Facebook. Nice. But his interest in social justice and your feminism seems suspiciously shallow, and you soon realize his understanding is about the equivalent of seeing the headline but not reading the article. You also realize that you let your blind belief in the unicorn of Tinder dudes (the one who is genuinely committed to progressive politics and personal growth, does he exist, or has he just been made up to sell us the idea of heterosexual monogamy?) dull your senses to fill in the gaps of what he was saying to seem remotely sensible or interesting. Later, he messages you asking for nudes.

 

Your Ex

Natural habitat: Random 10pm Facebook chat messages, still hanging out with a bunch of your mates, parties you both end up at.

Call: “You don’t actually think that, you’re just saying it so that you can disagree with me.”

Characteristics: Links you an article about Brexit / the death of Taylor Swift / emotional labour asking for your hot take, immediately dismisses you in order to voice his own opinion.

This whole friendship kinda feels like when someone asks you what grade you got, but only because they wanna tell you theirs. A classic move for making anyone feel undervalued, whether intentional or not, and your ex is pretty good at it. These guys are tricky. Your current friendship feels totally loaded with your old relationship despite the fact you broke up like two years ago, and it makes it hard to call him out on the problematic shit he says. Especially when he seems to think everything you have to say to him is some reference to when you were dating or a manifestation of your long lasting bitterness towards him. The ex is great at touting how good your friendship is without ever really letting you transcend the ‘ex’ box into the ‘full and autonomous human’ box. It’s not really a box, it’s more like a societal construct.

 

Your Workmate

Natural habitat: Consistently one rung up from you in the ladder of opportunities, comfortably nestled into the public side of your achievements.

Call: “Hey, do you think you can help me with something real quick?”

Characteristics: Understands that being a white man might afford him a bunch of privilege but that won’t stop him from putting you in support roles for everything.

You guys probably started out all good. You’re team players, you bonded over how all your superiors were old white dudes, but little did you know he was an old white dude of tomorrow. It starts small, he has worked this job longer than you, so maybe it makes sense that he gets listened to more, right? But soon he’s saying the same thing as you straight after you said it, getting the credit and not correcting anyone. This is when it all goes south. You find out he got a $1.50 pay hike when you only got $0.50, for doing the same job. You’re both angry and weirded out but he’s not prepared to approach your boss with you to address it. Ouch. A couple of weeks later you realize he only talks about the men head honchos in management with respect and occasionally refers to your women colleagues ‘bitching’ about work problems. Double ouch. You wonder if he’ll notice if you unshare the Google doc with your and his startup ideas on it.

 

Your lecturer

Natural Habitat: 150 students away from you, comfortably within a sick professorship, a couple steps up the ladder of abstraction.

Call: “I know some of you would prefer me to use gender neutral pronouns, but it’s not very grammatically correct.”

Characteristics: Devotes a third of a single lecture on feminist perspectives, but seems to otherwise forget that oppression exists out there in the real world.

Lecturers are pretty smart and this tends to make their brogressive traits a lil difficult to spot. Sometimes it’s tucked away, buried deep within their lecture material, manifesting itself as an obscure snarky remarky. Most commonly though, it comes out with the everyday behaviours that slide past you because it’s 1:48 and you wanna get a cheese scone from Vic Books. But sometimes you’re like hang on, why does Professor Smart Dude only call on men when he takes questions? Why he only use male pronouns when talking in hypotheticals? Why he only talk about other Professor Smart Dudes and why no Professor Smart Ladies? Eventually one micro aggression leads to another and he just straight up admits that the reason they haven’t included any texts by women in the course is because, well, frankly they just weren’t as good as the others, and we’re over that gender politics bullshit from the 80s. Yikes.

 

Your Very Good Friend

Natural Habitat: Most places you are, your Facebook memories from six years ago, close to your heart.

Call: “This doesn’t have to be an argument.”

Characteristics: Insists that he is just trying to learn, but will do none of the learning independently.

Honestly, this is the hardest of them all. The Very Good Friend (VGF) is close to your heart and you love him heaps. After being surrounded by all these other brogressives in almost all aspects of your life, sometimes you just wanna sit down with your old mate from high school and talk shit. But like actually talk shit. You want to be able to say things like “dudes are garbage” without getting stuck into a “Not All Men” debate. You want to just once talk about the constant, exhausting battle that is living within a patriarchal society that insidiously belittles and demeans you on an institutional level without a pair of puppy dog eyes looking at you saying, “but what about me?” The VGF is likely keen to learn and genuinely a good person (you guys are mates) but he doesn’t want to do much of the learning himself. When you try confront him, he remains defensive and instead of listening to what you are trying to say he brings up that time when you were 17 and drunkenly wrote “dick is abundant and low in value” on his friends fence. The VGF is one of the most exhausting brogressives because you care enough about your relationship to want to keep believing that the hurt you feel from him not understanding isn’t going to eventually push you apart. The biggest ouch of them all.

***

We’ve tried to make this article funny and relatable, because in reality this whole situation is pretty sad. If this article has hit a little too close to home, and you’re halfway through typing up an angry stuff.co.nz comment, maybe think about how if the shoe fits. Becoming an adult and growing as a person involves realising that you aren’t always right, your way of doing things isn’t always the best one, and in this case maybe you aren’t always doing your best to uphold the values and politics that you believe in. Sometimes you just have to admit you’re wrong. We get it, we totally do—your fave is problematic because we’re all problematic. There’s pretty much only one way to learn, and that’s to listen to the people that surround you, and listen to the way they hurt. And it’s going to be worth it. Doing our best to work through these uncomfortable conversations is going to help us cultivate and strengthen our relationships with each other in ways we can’t even imagine without doing it. Trust us and try it. You’ll feel closer to understanding the people you love and you care about than you ever have before.

Activism and progressive politics are at a funny point at the moment, with the feeling that a lot has been accomplished and put to bed, but also that there is an ever growing list of new and important things that need to be tackled with the same energy and vigour as the old. It’s tiring and hard, and sometimes you wanna drop out of it like that 100 level interest paper that was really of no interest at all. And there is something to be said about recognising how far you’ve come—you’re no longer writing “dick is abundant and low in value” on strangers’ fences at 4am—but that doesn’t mean there’s a stop point. Just because you’ve got the fundamentals down, doesn’t mean there aren’t more fundamentals to work on. This is all pretty bleak but in a way it’s uplifting, because it shows that there is always further to go, and there are always ways to make the world around you better and bigger for yourself and others (yellow heart emoji, grass in the wind emoji, triple star emoji).

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