The Bromance parody’s latest iteration on FX’s The League (2009-2014) has been widely received as the most hilarious and complex television depiction of pseudo-romantic ‘bromosexuals’ (Castillo & Mack, 2014). The ‘mock-macho’ sitcom (Hanke, 1998) follows a group of long time and life-long friends and their hyper-competitive fantasy football league—wherein these ‘emotionally-stunted man-children’ profess their feelings through parodied bro-on-bro intimacy, homosocial shenanigans, and a “love language” of faux-expert football commentary. Yet, the most “liberating” promise the show holds lays in how the five best buddies actually allow a woman into their satirical cohort of misogyny. Not only does the sitcom stretch the “unspoken” rules for bro-couples beyond its exclusive one-on-one dyadic pairing between two buddies (Chen, 2012), it ventures toward upending the long-standing social codes of the ‘Men’s Club’ (Bird, 1996) which has held to two strict, clear-cut rules: No women and no gay men (Dowd, 2010).
Jenny, the only female main character, represents a revolutionary figure in BromCom entertainment for how she successfully performs female masculinity while simultaneously holding onto her traditional feminine roles (faithful wife, nurturing mother). Jenny even seems to navigate the fantasy league with more savvy than her husband, Kevin. She often gives Kevin advice on draft picks; she remains more skilled at bribery and “insider” player trading than Kevin; she even renders Kevin’s manhood the focal of ridicule when she beats him in a head-to-head playoff match-up. Yet, Jenny’s co-opted performance of complicit “bro-masculinity” does not actually challenge male dominance so much as it retranslates dominant gender hierarchies. Jenny embodies a complex kind of hegemonic masculinity, which refers to “not a single, static masculinity but a range of multiple and shifting masculinities” (Connell, 1995). One way hegemonic masculinity maintains the global gendered social order is to not eschew typically ideal masculine traits but to conceal itself, rendering its power invisible. Hegemonic masculinities, writes Connell (1987), are the dominant mode of power from which all other identities become measured and judged—namely, women, homosexuals, and feminine-acting men. Because masculinity is not a fixed biological trait automatically inscribed onto the body (Connell & Messerschmidt, 2005), but rather a learned set of performativities (Butler, 2004) open to being performatively engendered onto female bodies (Halberstam, 1998), Jenny understands -- however unconsciously -- that “performing power IS performing masculinity” (Hatfield, 2010).
Considering FX’s faux-empowered brand of female masculinity, I hope to spark a fan-discussion over how (or whether) 'The League' does the hegemonic work of Hollywood as well as works on feminized bodies. I wonder: how does Jenny’s bro-masculinity work in a hegemonic position over other forms of male femininity like Andre’s—with his sensitive traits, naturally feminine posturing, and love of fashion? Of simultaneous critical importance, I wonder the extent to which doing femininity in any of its forms gets policed in bromantic relational dynamics: Why does Jenny become only permitted to perform heterosexual monogamy while her husband and his “bros” are allowed (and, to some extent, expected) to participate in homosocial bonding? Ultimately, how does doing female masculinity (e.g. Jenny’s performance) and feminized masculinity (e.g. Andre’s performativity) fit into a hierarchy of masculinities that ultimately condemns femininity in all forms? When looking at female bro-inclusion intersectionally (Crenshaw, 1989), why is the bromantic identity almost always upper-middle class and never a person of color?