I feel obligated to write a quick few paragraphs on brogrammers because they combine together two topics of interest: geek subculture and masculinities. (If you aren’t familiar with the recent press on so-called “brogrammers,” check the gee-whiz-y Business Week article here, and the more comprehensive Mother Jones piece here)
Looking beyond the narrow confines of geek subculture, I see shades of the 1980’s “crisis of masculinity” where enthusiasm for the “new man” of the 1970s turned intro criticism of their wimpiness. Think of how the reaction to the “sensitive new age guy” was to forge the image of the manly-man that didn’t eat quiche. Danilo Stern-Sapad’s claim that “we’re the cool programmers” reveals that brogrammer is a consciously reactionary identity that is positioned against previous software developers of the 1990s & 2000s, which were stereotyped as introverted and anti-social. Enter the ridiculously hypermasculine dude-y brogrammer, who drinks on the job, works out obsessively and wears mirrored aviator shades in their best Top Gun imitation.
It’s also important to keep in mind that the brogrammer reveals the internal language of male geeks to the public eye…. This is hardly a defense of geek chatter just because it’s private, but neither should geeks being misogynistic be particularly surprising. Lori Kendall, in Hanging Out in the Virtual Pub: Masculinities and Relationships Online, observed that males in an online community called BlueSky use terms that denigrate women even as they fall short of societal norms of masculine ideals. This occurs not in conversations with women, but in an attempt to connect with other men: “men in groups create sexual and gender narratives that may not resemble their lived experience but nevertheless form important elements of their masculine identities and their connections with other men” (p. 87). In other words, even though the sexist banter in their online roles don’t match with their offline lives, it’s still a way for them to connect with other men.
When Van Horn stammered “I’m sorry for being sexist, I apologize in advance” before starting a presentation on “bikini babes” he was acknowledging an awareness of the offensiveness of the material before proceeding to violate norms of public and professional conduct. The presentation fell flat because the blatently sexist (antiquated, really) imagery was evaluated in public rather than a small group that would be either receptive to the ironic stance, or at least wouldn’t spread it around social media with quite the same enthusiasm. In part, it’s another story of violation of public & private norms through social media.
I was reminded of Ariel Levy’s Female Sexist Pigs when an anonymous commentator commented that “‘Brogrammer’ isn’t an exclusionary term… the female equivalent is called a ‘hogrammer’.” The rise of raunch culture lowers all expectations. The female version of the term is a pejorative for sexual promiscuity, not fraternal inclusion. Yet what is especially worrisome is that some smaller companies seem to have few qualms about incorporating the brogrammer image into recruitment campaigns. Masculine representations are expressions of power, and it’s dangerous when companies signal that the “talent” they seek equates to a particular gender. While we’re at it, what hasn’t gotten enough attention is the completely heteronormative nature of brogramming in an industry that, frankly, I’ve found to be pretty damn queer-friendly. Luckily it doesn’t seem like brogramming has much traction among larger companies.