Real men give each other brohoofs: Masculinities and My Little Pony

In my earlier post (“Welcome to the herd: The Bronies”), I mentioned that the Bronies could constitute a subculture in the sense that they are considered non-normative and possibly occupy a marginal position in the overall male gender structure. Non-normative because boys shouldn’t like ‘ “girl” things’ (Angel 2012). And boys who like ‘pink and sparkly’ (ibid) girl things especially like MLP are emasculated. They fail to live up to some standard of masculinity.

As Robertson (2007) notes in his review of  Connell’s relational model of gender, one way gender could be seen is ‘as being about sets of relations between men and women, but also between men and between women.’ (p. 32) ‘An adequate theory of masculinity…’ and gender, he  (2007: 32) notes, requires acknowledging the diversity of identities amongst men whilst retaining ‘a focus on the differential power relations between men and women, and between different groups of men, and how these both create, and are created and sustained, through social structures.’ (ibid) The bronies, as suggested above and in many of the attacks against them, clearly fall out of what Connell terms ‘hegemonic masculinity‘ – ‘that form of masculinity which is culturally dominant at any one time’ (Jones et al 2011: 227) Connell (1995) in his relational model of gender argues that masculinities in the ‘current Western gender order’ (Robertson 2007: 32) are ordered hierarchically. At the top, there is the previously mentioned ‘hegemonic masculinity’ or ‘the configuration of (gender) practice’ (Roberston 2007: 33, addition mine) that legitimates patriarchy and guarantees the dominance of men. However, ‘the superior position of any one hegemonic form is never secure; it is always subject to resistance and contestation both by other forms of masculinity and by oppositional femininities.’ (Jones et al 2011: 227) In showing their enthusiasm for a cartoon series and toys conventionally associated with girls, bronies thus appear to contest the current hegemonic configuration of gender practice. They may constitute what Connell (1995) terms a ‘subordinated masculinity‘. In order to do ‘hegemonic masculinity’ successfully, culture dictates that boys and older male fans should watch cartoons made for men i.e. those which feature/emphasize upon violence, strength and power, technology, male heroes who always get the girl and rescue the world etc. Watching a cartoon centred around the theme of love and friendship, with very little violence, which features ‘girly’ colours such as pink on the other hand entails not only a failure in doing masculinity (Butler 1993) but also cultural stigmatization amongst other consequences (Robertson 2007)

But even as the bronies have been condemned in many quarters, they have also been increasingly held up as a movement that’s ‘changing the definition of masculinity’ (IDEA Channel, 2012). ‘By un-ironically enjoying a show that’s only supposed to be for little girls, bronies are actually challenging what constitutes masculinity…bronies challenge the usual nature of masculine media consumption. Girls are supposed to watch TV shows with cute pink animals and boys are supposed to watch shows where aliens and robots blow each other.’ (ibid)

Beyond challenging the usual nature of masculine media consumption, bronies can be argued to challenge and redefine masculinity in other ways as well. Haenfler (2004) in his study, “Manhood in Contradiction: The Two Faces of  Straight Edge” notes how male straight edge (sXe) members redefined masculinity through practices that ‘resisted the emotional distance so common in male relationships.’ (p. 83) He noted how male sXes openly displayed their affections for one another, for instance through the giving of hugs. Bronies in Singapore claim to display love and tolerance for one another (what the show preaches) through their frequent meetups (Lee in Ann Zachariah 2011). In addition, masculinity is redefined to include an acceptance of affection for ‘cute things’. Fan art of ‘cute ponies’ are often shared by male SBS members in addition to being frequently commented upon for their cuteness.

Fig. 1 DJ Fluttershy (Note the caption, Shooo cute!)
Exhibit 1.Example of a comment made by a male user (‘love love love love‘)
Exhibit 2. Example of a comment made by a male user

But as much as masculinity is redefined by the SBS, hegemonic masculinity too is in other ways reinforced. Haenfler (2004) notes that as much as the sXe movement possessed the potential in moving towards a ‘more progressive masculinity’ (p. 95), it too ‘maintained aspects of dominant, patriarchal masculinity.’ (p. 93) Utilising Kimmel’s (1996) descriptions of the ‘three primary ways men’s movements have responded to the crisis of masculinity’ (Haenfler 2004: 87), he illustrates how self-control, exclusion and escape by the sXe movement reproduce hegemonic masculinity. Kimmel (1996), for instance, notes that the creation of ‘homosocial settings‘ (p. 315) within men’s movements protect men’s privilege even as they enable men to become closer to one another. In the case of sXE, ‘crews’ (Haenfler 2004:91-92) were ‘essentially boys’ clubs’ that became associated with hyper-masculinity. Within the SBS, there too exist similar homosocial, female-excluded spaces (note however that there is no explicit exclusion of female SBS members) such as their Minecraft server and video gaming group. A survey of the latter’s membership revealed a total of 7 female members out of 117.

In addition to this, MLP has enabled bronies to overtly reassert certain aspects of hegemonic masculinity notably that to do with the man as sexual predator and woman as sexual object. Angel (2012) for instance, notes that ‘When a brony talks about plot, they are NOT referring to the events happening in the storyline, rather “plot” are the flanks of a pony. As in, “I only watch the show for plot.” ‘
I observed something similar at the SBS page.
Fig. 2 The Ponies as Anime Schoolgirls

As earlier mentioned, typical comments about MLP fan-art often remark on the character’s/characters’ cuteness. Comments on this image however were highly sexual in nature, ranging from descriptions/discussions of the character’s/characters’ boobs to the insinuated/proclaimed desires of the commenters to masturbate after having seen this image.

It is undoubtedly evident from the bronies that multiple expressions of masculinity are expressed within the movement. The progressive ‘face’ of  brony masculinity is no doubt displayed through their consumption of a formerly gender specific media product as well as their acceptance that men can like ‘cuteness’ and proudly proclaim it. But even so, progress is inhibited by their practices of exclusion and escape. Worst still, a negative aspect of hegemonic masculinity and one dangerous for women especially i.e. the man as sexual predator is reinforced through the sexualisation of fan-art.

Bibliography

Angel, Rebecca. 2012. “In Defense of Bronies.” Wired, May 27.

Ann Zachariah, Natasha. 2011. “Pony posse.” Straits Times, October 30.

Butler, Judith. 1993. Bodies that Matter: On the Discursive Limits of ‘Sex’. London: Routledge.

Connell, R.W. 1995. Masculinities. Berkeley and Los Angeles, California: University of California Press.

Haenfler, Ross. 2004. “Manhood in Contradiction – The Two Faces of Straightedge.”, Man and Masculinities 7(1):77-99.

Jones, Pip, Bradbury, Liz and Le Boutillier, Shaun. 2011. “Feminist and Gender Theories.” Pp. 208-235 in Introducing Social Theory. Cambridge, UK: Polity Press.

Robertson, Steve. 2007. Understanding Men and Health (Masculinities, Identity and Well-being). Maiden, England: Open University Press

Bronyspeak
Brohoof: The phrase Brohoof is often used to express approval towards another brony, and comes from the term “bro fist”. This can be used in an image macro, or by typing. It is also commonly used as a greeting towards fellow bronies. Other words and gestures that feature a hand in some way have also been changed to their hoof equivalents. So is the Facehoof a derivative of the “facepalm”, commonly used as a reaction to something silly or senseless.

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2 thoughts on “Real men give each other brohoofs: Masculinities and My Little Pony

  1. Prof P. says:

    Seriously, a very informative entry. Great job — I learned from it 🙂

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    informative. I am going to watch out for brussels.
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