Bro Code Decoded

bro code

In my last post, I discussed the socialization of boys and men, and how it relates to sexual harassment and the #MeToo movement. In this post, I discuss the concept of the Bro Code which is part of the male socialization process.

Bro Code

In popular culture, the Bro Code is a friendship etiquette to be followed among men or, more specifically, among members of the bro subculture. In laymen’s terms, it means men put men before women. In slang terms, it means bros before hoes (defined as any woman that is not your wife or direct family member).

Men spend their entire lives in a hierarchy. They are taught key lessons early on from the games they play (think sports, war, cops and robbers, or video games). These “rules” are reinforced through socialization pressures. Boys are taught that there’s a clear pecking order in life. They are taught to be competitive, to maintain status and power, and that winning is the most important thing. However, they need each other’s help to maintain status in the hierarchy.

The unspoken purpose of the Bro Code is to gain horizontal solidarity from other bros, and to gain superiority over girls. Adhering to the Bro Code means never ratting out another guy, even if their behavior is bad and even if you know it’s wrong. If they do, they’ll be ostracized from the brotherhood. So, what could possibly go wrong?

As you might imagine, this code means dismissing or ignoring the needs of women. In addition, it keeps men from acting ethically. It requires a pack mentality that can lead to devastating and negative impacts on others. For example, men cheating on their wives is kept secret by other men. Bullying and dominance over women is condoned and even encouraged is some situations. Sexual harassment and even rape consistently goes unreported and unpunished.

How many times have you covered for a buddy who’s behavior made you uncomfortable?

The Bro Code not only keeps bad behavior secret, it reinforces it.

Girl Code

Despite the prevalence of the unwritten Bro Code, women do not have an equivalent Girl Code. Young girls play games focused on process (think dolls, house, dress up, or tea party). Power is evenly distributed in these games. The socialization process teaches girls that relationships are the most important thing and should be preserved at all costs. Unlike men, women do not live in a hierarchy. Women live in a flat culture, so maintaining status in the hierarchy is unimportant to women. Thus, there is little need for a Girl Code.

In fact, women will not hesitate to call out bad behavior of other women, and often times will not support other women (this will be a topic for a future blog).

For instance, when JFK ran for president, Catholics rallied around him, regardless of how they felt about him personally. When Barack Obama ran for president, African-Americans rallied around him and voted in record numbers. However, when Hillary Clinton ran for president, women did NOT rally behind her.

Women don’t abide by a Girl Code, but they do need to support each other more.

How Can We Decode the Bro Code?

First, men need to call each other out. This can be quick and easy, and will have a significant ripple effect. For example, any man, at any age, anywhere, can say “Dude, leave her alone”, or “Cut it out, that’s not cool”. At work during a meeting, any man could say, “Hey, let her finish”, or “Stop interrupting her.” As part of the Bro Code, men respect other men and will listen if you just simply say something.

Second, if you are a man, you must hold yourself to a higher standard. Can you imagine an older guy putting their hands on your 25 year old sister, daughter or wife? What about excluding her from a key meeting or event? Or worse, what if she is sexually harassed or assaulted? Even though these examples relating to the women you care about sound absurd, these situations happen every single day. And, these women are someone’s sister, daughter or wife.

Third, when determining whether to cover for another guy, ask yourself, “What if this behavior was made public?”, or “What if this was on the cover of a magazine? Would it make you uncomfortable? Would you still act the same way? Is the urge to stay quiet worth it?

Fourth, instead of dismissing the needs of women, all men need to listen to, value and respect all women. The true leadership and strength of a man is not about dominating others, it’s about equality and fairness with others.

Fifth, have the courage to break with the Bro Code when you have the opportunity to do the right thing, to do the ethical and moral thing, and to help out someone else.

I dive deeper into these issues in my new book, “The Power of Perception: Leadership, Emotional Intelligence, and the Gender Divide”.

To learn more and access free resources, you can also go to my website at