"The women of Bikini Kill let guitarist Billy Karren be in their feminist punk band, but only if he's willing to just "do some shit." Being a feminist dude is like that. We may ask you to "do some shit" for the band, but you don't get to be Kathleen Hannah."--@heatherurehere

Thursday, June 08, 2006

Men With Muscles = Child Molesters

Janice Erlbaum has some exerpts from the books she's currently working on up on her site. She gives us a hint of what it was like to go back to volunteer at the shelter that helped her when she was younger:
Now here I was again, age thirty-four, in my pinstriped work pants and my good-enough shoes, sitting around the conference table in the volunteer department with my paperwork in front of me, sneaking looks at the other prospective candidates: A young white girl with her hair in braids, looking to earn college credit, a black woman in her forties, also going for college credit, and a bald, muscular guy with a big tense grin. When the volunteer coordinator asked him why he was interested in volunteering, he grinned so hard he almost broke a sweat.

"I love kids!" he exclaimed. "I've been a foster parent, and I'm really…I love kids. Wanna help 'em out." Grin, grin.

Creep, I decided, for no good reason. Child molester. It was something about the muscles; I could picture him screaming at his foster kids, shirtless, while he made them do push-ups. He grinned at me, and I smiled back, weakly.

Foster parent? Man? Muscles? Must be evil.

On the other (non-sarcastic) hand, if anybody has good radar for creeps, it's probably somebody who found herself in a shelter when she was 12. Still, it's tough to read and not wince and wonder: Who sees me that way when I smile and talk about how much I love kids? Ech. Not that, erm, I have muscles, really. But this makes one want to not go to the gym, for sure.


John said...

I had a training session/special lecture with a person that worked with perpetrator's in prison. This person said that they would never hire a man to babysit their children. Perhaps this is what happens when only working with the certain kinds of people... not enough balance to see that some men aren't perpetrators. Quite unfortunate.

Dave said...

I think I see Ms. Erlbaum's point, or at least I think I see why she had the reaction she did. From this description it seems the man exhibited behaviours that smack of masculinity, and perhaps privilege as well. The muscles, the shaved head. Perhaps a bit of an overbearing attitude.

I don't think it's the professing to love kids that creeped Erlbaum out; I think it's the laid-on-thick masculinity. So as long as you sound more sincere than overbearing, Jeff, I suspect you'll be fine :)

girlbomb said...

Ooh, Ms. Erlbaum, fancy. :)

I was COMPLETELY jumping to conclusions with that guy, letting my imagination run away with me, and I included that detail because my overactive imagination comes into play later in the story.

HOWEVER, as soon as the volunteer coordinator told us we'd have to pass a government background check, the guy suddenly remembered he had something else to do, and left.


So I'd say my reaction had everything to do with:

a) my hyperbolic nature
b) my equally powerful creep-dar.

You, meanwhile, seem like a nice guy. Please don't prove me wrong by molesting a child.

jeff said...

Don't molest a child. Check.

Before I go on: What. The. Heck. I mean, I can't have just bought your book and then you comment on our blog here. That's just *too* small a world, Ms. Erlbaum. Erm. What are you doing over here? You're a real writer and crap. Of books. Or, book. And, from what I've read recently, you're a real writer with a fast-approaching deadline. Get thee back to thy rough draft! We are too new and too-easily-star-struck for actual published/publishing feminist writers to be commenting on our posts.

That said: I think I understood you to be pointing out that you knew you were jumping to conclusions (sorta)--though the jump was a good one, apparently; I still think that your words are a window into how some parts of feminist (and other) culture sees various forms of traditionally masculine traits (like muscles--pronounced musk-els). And what's to be done when how you see those traits is to whatever degree justified (by your experience)? Don't get me wrong, I find muscle-y men who 'love children' creepy too...I just wonder what that means, exactly, for me if I get some muscles and still love children, and for men in general.

Dave said...

I'm going to hazard a guess that girlbomb found this post either via trackback pings or by browsing through her site stats.

And I'm going to hazard another guess as to why musk-ely men ping the creepdar. While there are men who are naturally muscly, or who develop muscle tone simply as a side-effect of jogging or bike-riding or otherwise keeping active, the first impression many of us get when we see a muscly man is of someone who spends time at the gym getting that way. And why does he purposefully make himself muscly? To be more manly. And anyone who has "be more manly" as a goal is suspect.

The unfortunate thing about this generalization is that there are plenty of men who just like to keep active, who are avid swimmers, who do rock-climbing or whatever, and for whom increased muscle mass is more or less a side-effect of their hobbies. In these men there may or may not be issues of "must be more manly."

So in any given situation we each mentally balance the possibility that a man is not a creep against the possibility of him being dangerous. Girlbomb, whether because of experience or luck, apparently made the right call.

jeff said...

Is that a lego guy at a laptop? Very cute.

So: I wasn't really questioning howMs. Earlbaum found us, or that she did, just that she'd deign to spend time commenting...which I of course appreciated.

More on musk-ley guys: Seems to me that there are all sorts of reasons to build muscle mass, including, perhaps, just because one likes it. And, to what degree is 'being more manly' poor goal? This is one of the cruxes of the issue, for me--is 'being more manly' always a bad thing, if one is a feminist? More in another post on this...

Dave said...

One never "just likes something" -- there is always some reason for the liking. The impression that I get of men who like to be not only "well-toned" but "muscly" is that they like it because it is more manly.

It is important to note that I don't know how true this impression is. However, I suspect this perception is common, and we're primarily talking about the way people react to one another. I might at some future point look into interviews with men who lift weights or whatever and come to an actual conclusion about their motivations, but for now I can only draw conclusions about how they are perceived.

As for "being more manly" as a goal: I won't say that being manly is necessarily a bad thing, but to make "be more manly" one of your goals is a little suspect. It reeks of "manly good, girly bad", and of embracing the power and cultural violence that is our birthright. If it's important enough to a man to be seen as or to feel manly that they set aside several hours a week to do nothing but work on their musk-els then yes, I think it is a little suspect.