| |

@BrosBeingBasic: Instagram & Gender Performance

The group of people behind the new, viral Instagram account, @brosbeingbasic, set out to answer one question: “What if guys acted like girls on Instagram?” Guys began by posting pictures of themselves (mostly selfies) with a plethora of hashtags commonly associated with “basic white girls” – think: ALLTHEPUMPKINSPICETHINGS, wine, Ugg boots, and leggings for days. The public has loved it with the account gaining over 100,000 followers in the first week. From a sociological standpoint, though, the phenomenon is a perfect example of how we perform gender. In this post, Kim Cochran Kiesewetter will be examining how Bros Being Basic can help explain the social performance of gender.

A man with both tattoos and a goatee stares up at the camera sleepily from his bed, his lips slightly parted, paired with the hashtags #iwokeuplikethis and #longhairdontcare… Another post shows a guy eating cheesecake and drinking wine next to the caption, “Calories don’t count on #Thanksgiving lmao!!! #CheatDay #PumpkinCheesecake #SpinClassTomorrow #LoveMyMerlot”… Yet another has a guy taking a bubble bath with a glass of wine, candles, and a face mask while reading The Help. The posts are catchy and humorous at first glance, but as a sociologist, it was hard not to stop and think about why this was so funny. From a sociological standpoint, one way of understanding gender is through the lens of social constructionism, which is the idea that we create “reality” through our social interactions with one another.

Gender as Social Performance

Social constructionism is a sociological approach that is founded on the idea that we understand “reality” through our social experiences; in other words, our personal reality is actually informed and created by the people we have interacted with from birth and that much of what feels “natural”, “normal”, and “real” to us is actually all socially created. This can seem like a bizarre concept at first, but a commonly-used example to get people thinking about the world in this manner is money. For all intents and purposes, a twenty dollar bill is just a piece of paper… however, because we agree as Americans that it is important and meaningful, and because we have been socialized to understand and value money, money is extraordinarily important to most of us living in the US. It’s likely that at least one motivating factor for why you work and/or go to school is for financial reasons and most of us can’t imagine a life that didn’t involve money.

Similarly, gender feels “real” to us. Males and females seem inherently different from one another – differences that appear to be fixed at birth. However, from a social constructionist point of view, many of the different interests we have as males and females (at least stereotypically) are actually socially created and reproduced over time when we collectively perform gender. There’s nothing biological about girls liking pink or boys liking trucks, but because many of us have been steeped in these interests from birth they feel natural to us. We use all kinds of social cues from how we dress, to what we like, to even how we post on Instagram to let others know our gender. In other words: we are performing our gender for others to see. Social media is a relatively new place to see how these “real-world” gendered interests and behavior translate to a new, different environment.

When it comes to gender performance, there is immense social pressure in our culture to perform the gender we were assigned at birth, meaning that males are expected to behave in masculine ways and females in feminine ways. We don’t often see people performing the “other gender”, but when we do, it’s almost always attention-grabbing. Males who dress or behave “too feminine” can face intense, negative social scrutiny; however, if it’s done ironically, it is often viewed as funny. It’s for this reason that the Bros Being Basic account is humorous – by seeing men display dress, behavior, and interests that are commonly associated with females it highlights that these are things only females should do, while simultaneously criticizing these behaviors as being something men would never really be interested in doing. The fact that it is funny to us also highlights that it is only OK for males to like these things in an ironic or humorous way, otherwise they risk losing their masculinity.

While there are plenty of other ways to analyze this viral Instagram account (see the Digging Deeper questions below!), Bros Being Basic gives viewers a chance to examine the ways in which we are taught to perform gender in our culture. By playing with gender performance, Bros Being Basic actually reinforces gender performances for viewers.

Dig Deeper:

  1. Do you think an Instagram account of females behaving ironically in masculine ways would be as popular? Why/why not?
  2. From a conflict theory standpoint, humor can actually be a weapon in which a more powerful group denigrates an oppressed group. How could the Bros Being Basic account be interpreted through this lens?
  3. From a functionalist theory standpoint, humor can be used to create group cohesion and feelings of belonging. In what ways could the Bros Being Basic account be interpreted through this lens?
  4. Of the two theoretical frameworks from questions 1 and 2 (conflict and functionalist), which do you think makes is the more compelling interpretation? Why?