WARNING: Since I’m tagging this as ‘bromance’ and I don’t myself like tagging hate (though I don’t really see this as hate?) most of this is going under the cut, and the good/neutral things I have to say about the issue are above it.
Bromance is a portmanteau of the colloquial term ‘bro’ and ‘romance’ and is commonly used to denote a particularly strong friendship between two males.
Ignoring context, there really isn’t anything wrong with the meaning of the word itself. Anyone regardless of gender identity should feel safe to express emotion or attachment to anyone else without fear of retribution for failing to conform to rigid gender roles. But language doesn’t exist in a vacuum – it is informed by the social constructs of the culture it derives from and its use can enforce cultural norms (like, oh, heteronormativity) in a positive feedback loop between language and culture.
Built into its etymology is the denial of other relationships (the derivative ‘bro’ of ‘brother’), such as strong friendships between women, platonic but still strong friendships between a man and a woman, and others.
The word ‘bromance’ is also strongly associated with a straight male sexuality. These connotations allow the term to celebrate straight male friendships in literature and on screen while simultaneously denying the same status to other relationships. It can be (and has been) used to deny homosexual readings of characters, of trans* readings of those characters, and to deny women any place beyond ‘hero’s love interest.’
Most recently, the destiel comments that made it fairly clear that we would never get any main characters in any openly homosexual relationships in Supernatural, or any hints at it beyond joking jabs. In Merlin, the title character’s feelings for Arthur were only made canon in a DVD commentary after the fact and never brought into the series in an obvious way. A kiss would have been nice, a confession would have been nicer, but I guess the magic was a big enough reveal? sarcasm
The heyday of bromance hasn’t done much of anything besides support the status quo, because strong male friendships are already celebrated in literature and television. There’s a reason the Bechdel Test exists and works as well as it does – there isn’t a lack of straight male characters in any type of media, so straight male characters can have as many variations as they want to of essentially the same relationship.
As long as you’re white and cisgendered, at least – look around tumblr and see how many gifsets are dedicated to Tony Stark and Steve Rogers, who have been in one movie together, known each other for only a little while, and hated each other for most of that time. Now look for gifsets celebrating Tony and Rhodey – you remember Rhodey, don’t you? Tony’s best friend? He’s known him for nearly twenty years? Two movies? He was in the first response team that Tony met when wandering the desert after he escaped from the Ten Rings, so he was out looking for his best friend in the middle of a warzone for three months when there was no indication that he was even alive. But he doesn’t fit into the ‘bromance’ mold, so he gets ignored (though I have been seeing more of him in the fanfiction realm, so good on you, writers).
On a personal level, I have heard and read in a lot of places women wondering: what’s the girl version of bromance? Why can’t we have bromance? Of course, there isn’t really anything stopping women from applying the term to their own friendships, but it comes from a long line of using male pronouns and male gendered words to enforce maleness being the standard to which all other expressions of gender are judged.
I’m here to tell you that such a word already exists. Well, two words, really.
A less problematic term to use would be ‘Romantic Friendship.’ Romantic friendship carries the same connotations as bromance – an unusually strong relationship between two individuals that goes beyond the bounds of normal friendship or acquaintance – but it also jettisons some of the baggage. Romantic friendship doesn’t make exclusions based on gender identity or sexuality preference. It’s perfectly gender neutral in a language where we have a really hard time finding anything gender neutral. Anyone can have a romantic friendship, and a lot of the most famous ‘bromances’ could be described using that term.
I could waste your time and mine by listing them out, but I’m sure I would miss some and I’m sure you already know most of them because you are on tumblr and there’s only so far you can run before someone you know reblogs a Johnlock gifset.
Living half in Science!tumblr and half in Fandom!tumblr is really weird.
Obligatory disclaimer where I say I love all the shows I mentioned even though I know they’re problematic. Obligatory disclaimer where I say doing a feminist critique doesn’t mean I think the people I’m talking about are bad people.