The Slayers of Men

Selma Labat is a true slayer of anyone who gets in her way.

A common way we frame female bodybuilders is through the archetype of “Slayers of Men.” Within this framework, female bodybuilders are strong independent women who are here to smash gender stereotypes, the so-called “patriarchy,” and the notion that women are destined to be the weaker sex.

This explains why FBBs are often described as queens and goddesses. They are conquerors, leaders, rulers, creators, destroyers, punishers, and decision-makers. This, of course, has more to do with our fantasies involving FBBs rather than how we actually view FBBs. There’s some overlap, but the “Female Bodybuilders as Slayers of Men” trope exists more in our imaginations than in our literal fears.

In real life, female bodybuilders aren’t anymore violent than normal women. Sure, they have the capacity to cause more bodily harm than most, but that’s not the same thing. I’d rather take a punch to the face from Sarah Paulson than Sarah Hayes, but either way neither of them mean any harm to me unless I pose a direct threat first. Which is unlikely.

It is true that the mere existence of female bodybuilders challenges what we’ve previously thought about gender roles and biology – and this fact cannot be underestimated. But there is a big difference between admitting that “women can become stronger than men if they work hard enough” versus “a man ceases to be a man once a woman is able to lift more than him at the gym.” The former is a statement of fact. The latter is a subtle (or not so subtle) admission of insecurity.

There are many reasons why certain guys fear female bodybuilders. They fear them because they’re jealous. They fear them because they remind them that their title of “the stronger sex” isn’t guaranteed. They fear them because FBBs destroy any excuse they have about not getting bigger or stronger. They fear them because FBBs give permission to other women to get stronger – both physically and emotionally – and not take unnecessary bullshit from ungrateful jerks like them.

Oof.

But it should be obvious that these fears say more about (certain) guys than they do about FBBs in general. Guys who aren’t sexist jerks love strong women because they have no reason to be fearful or disgusted by them. If anything, we have every incentive to lift them up, celebrate them, and appreciate their impressive achievements. Female bodybuilders do not challenge our masculinity because real masculinity and strong femininity can peacefully co-exist together. They are not enemies, but rather two sides of the same coin.

Raquel Arranz looking as though she could defeat an entire army by herself.

Men who feel belittled by muscular women are actually expressing deep-rooted anxiety about themselves. FBBs remind them of their own weaknesses – both literal and figurative. That isn’t to say that guys who love FBBs are inherently stronger or possess rare emotional fortitude. Instead, guys who love muscular women have learned to move on beyond a cheap, surface-level understanding of gender roles, biology, and relationships. If a rising tide lifts all boats, muscular women also lift up all men.

One other way to look at female bodybuilders is to think of them as surrogate punishers for past sins. They are like movie monsters; larger-than-life creatures who act as destroyers sent to us to teach us all a lesson. Godzilla is Mother Nature’s way of punishing humankind for its sins of environmental degradation. King Kong is an allegorical reminder that pillaging, plundering, and economic exploitation are sins that will one day come back to haunt you. Even in the heart of New York City, a bright shining symbol of Western Civilization’s technological and social progress. Likewise, female bodybuilders are the physical embodiment of mankind’s punishment for sexism, misogyny, domestic violence, and structural gender-based oppression. Maybe not in the literal sense, but certainly in the symbolic sense.

Female bodybuilders aren’t lurking in the shadows ready to bash in the heads of guys who blurt out unsolicited catcalls or grab women’s butts, of course. That’s an avant-garde Frank Miller graphic novel just waiting to be written! However, from a psychological point of view FBBs essentially play that same role; as a constant reminder that if you’re not careful, women can strike back when provoked. And they can surpass you in terms of strength and size if you’re not on top of your game.

Even if the significance is more symbolic than literal, there is something to be said about female bodybuilders acting as proxy “Slayers of Rude, Idiotic Men” and, at the same time, allies of “Kind, Gentlemanly Men.” These battles don’t have to transpire on Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram in order for them to have real substance. All they have to do is exist in our minds.

Because this is where the real battles are fought: in our minds. FBBs are often viewed as the Slayers of Men because either we fear that they are or we wish that they could be. It’s sort of like imagining Brandi Mae Akers riding on top of a fire-breathing dragon as it incinerates a town down below, Game of Thrones style. Except in this case it’s Miss Akers who’s slaying the hapless townspeople, not the dragon. Whether Brandi Mae ever ends up ruling her kingdom is a secondary matter. What’s really at stake is whether or not she taught those insubordinate plebeians down below a lesson.

And in this hypothetical scenario, it matters whether you’re rooting for Brandi Mae to succeed or wishing that she’ll fail. Do you love her or fear her? Which is it?

In the real world, this paradigm doesn’t have to exist. Female bodybuilders don’t have to be the actual or figurative Slayers of Men. They can be the Allies of Men. That is, if enough men agree to join in this mutually beneficial partnership. A strong woman does not invalidate the masculine identity of a man – no matter how “wrong” or “contradictory” it may feel. One could argue that there is no such thing as “masculine” and “feminine” qualities in any objective sense. I cannot speak to how valid that perspective is, but I understand where it comes from. For the time being, let’s assume that masculine and feminine characteristics are real – at least from a cultural standpoint.

Do not get Heather Armbrust angry!

Masculinity and femininity aren’t two separate spheres in which there is no overlap. On the contrary, there is plenty of crossover. Or maybe, our definitions of these two words are too broad. “Strength” is neither a masculine nor feminine quality. It’s both. Or neither. Maybe it exists on a list of things that aren’t gendered. I’ve argued before that female bodybuilders don’t redefine femininity so much as they expand it. They transform our thinking in regards to gender by forcing us to not think outside the box, but to shatter the box with a sledgehammer. Men and women are different, but not as different as you might think. Or, those differences are arbitrary. Or, those differences can change depending on who we’re talking about.

Your status as a “man” isn’t defined by how many masculine qualities you exhibit. This is because our definition of “masculinity” is unto itself subjective. Nor does it mean that women can’t also showcase a few “masculine” traits without compromising their feminine status. This all sounds complicated because what we’re really arguing about here is definition of words, not objective ideas. Words are more than what the dictionary says they mean. Words also carry heavy cultural connotations, historic baggage, and emotional context. None of those things can be properly conveyed by a simple one sentence definition.

Long story short, who you are as a man isn’t predicated on who women are as well. The same is true going the opposite direction. Seeing a strong muscular woman deadlift more than you at the gym doesn’t mean you’re “less of a man” or not “measuring up” to who you’re supposed to be. We are all allowed to go at our own pace. That woman, whom we’ll nickname Deadlift Lady, exists on her own plain. She is an island, floating around in an ocean full of deep-rooted cultural expectations. The same goes for every guy at that gym lifting weights near her. They are also islands – one particular colloquial expression notwithstanding. Let’s say Typical Dude is deadlifting next to her. He can only lift 215 pounds for one rep. Not bad, but not terribly impressive. But let’s say Deadlift Lady is lifting 375 pounds for 10 reps. That’s quite a lot. Way more than Typical Dude. What do we make of this situation?

Well, not much.

Typical Dude is going at his own pace. He’s setting his own personal agenda. His goals are his and his alone. As long as he’s happy, that’s all we need to know about him. Deadlift Lady, on the other hand, is also going at her own pace. Her personal agenda is probably much different than her male counterpart. After all, no lady who’s deadlifting 375 pounds does so by accident! There’s intention going on here. She’s worked her whole life to make it to this point. The biggest takeaway from this scenario is that the existence of one does not invalidate the existence of the other.

Would you be intimidated if you saw Shannon Courtney lifting next to you at the gym?

They are two human beings working out. They are trying to improve their strength, health, vitality, confidence, self-esteem, and sense of purpose. He may feel slightly insecure lifting in proximity to her, but that’s perfectly okay. And understandable. But it’s not because he has a real reason to feel insecure. It’s because the culture he lives in tells him that he should feel bad. He has no actual reason to feel that way. Deadlift Lady’s remarkable accomplishments do not denigrate or invalidate the accomplishments of Typical Dude. They are two unique, vulnerable human beings trying to make their way through this hostile universe.

Deadlift Lady isn’t slaying Typical Dude. No matter what people around them are saying or thinking, no one is getting “owned” by these two individuals existing side-by-side. They can co-exist because one does not overrule the other. Strong women do not automatically make men weaker. Guys who feel threatened by strong women feel that way because they’re recognize their own shortcomings. The presence of a strong woman makes those feelings bubble to the surface faster than a malfunctioning submarine. Strong women do not make guys feel inadequate; they only bring out those feelings that already exist.

Female bodybuilders not only directly challenge one’s sense of masculine superiority, they also force us to reevaluate how we draw that line between men and women. Is it a hard line in the sand, or one that can easily be washed away by the rising tide?

Do not fear Kathy Johansson. Instead, lift her up!

Strength and weakness. Confidence and insecurity. Superiority and inferiority. Action and inaction. Accomplished and unproven. Happiness and fear. Self-love and self-loathing. Assuredness and doubt. Self-satisfaction and the endless need to prove one’s self.

These feelings are real, even if the reasons they exist are subjective.

The sooner we realize men and strong women are not in conflict with each other, the better off we’ll all be. Better yet, future generations will thank us. Alas, we are not there yet, but I pray one day we will be. Perhaps we can all make an impact, one grueling deadlift repetition at a time.

Strong women are not the Slayers of Men. Men who hate themselves and other women are the actual Slayers of Men. And how do we defeat this mortal enemy?

Easy. In addition to lifting those weights, lift up the people around you.

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The Adventures of Ryan Takahashi: Chapter Three – Saturday Night Gmail Chat

6:30 p.m.

Tick, tick, tick…

6:31 p.m.

Tick, tick, tick…

6:32 p.m.

Tick, tick, tick…

6:33 p.m.

Arg! When will it be 8 o’clock? The wait is killing me!

Sigh. I really need to take a chill pill. Or down a shot of whiskey. I need to do something to calm my nerves. I can’t remember the last time I’ve ever anticipated something quite like this. Not even the release of Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace as an eagerly geeky 12-year-old boy can top this. Yeah, that about sums it up.

So…where is that bottle of scotch?

Let’s hope, unlike Episode I, this chat with Cindi isn’t a colossal disappointment. I still need to keep in mind that Cindi might not even be a real person. It’s possible “she” could be a Craigslist scammer trying to pry money out of my female muscle-obsessed hands.

God, I hope not!

The more I look at her picture the more I fall in love with her. Wow, did I just use the word “love?” How can I love somebody I’ve never met? Can you fall in love with someone when a single e-mail exchange is the total extent of your relationship?

I also need to remember that even if she is real, she doesn’t appear to be looking for a long-term relationship. She wants a “young Asian male for a night of NSA sex,” to quote her Craigslist ad. Does she want to “test ride” me to see if I fit her standards? What standards is she using? Attractiveness? Sexual performance? Intelligence? All of the above? None of the above?

6:45 p.m.

Good. Time is moving.

Maybe I should go on Gmail right now and see if she’s on. Even though she said 8 o’clock, if she sees we’re on at the same time, maybe she’ll want to chat earlier. Let’s give it a try.

I log in to my Gmail account and check out who’s active. So far, not a whole lot. I see Annie Nakamura is on. She’s an old friend who’s essentially the female version of myself. We’re the same age and grew up together. We went to the same daycare, church, school and college. We’ve gone on a few dates before but we never crossed that threshold into “boyfriend/girlfriend.” Maybe it’s because we’re practically brother and sister. It feels weird dating someone you’ve known your whole life.

I don’t know for sure, but I’m going to assume Annie is a virgin like me. She’s never had a boyfriend, much like I’ve never had a girlfriend. She’s quiet, moderately cute, not terribly outspoken and spends way too much time practicing the piano. She’s a wizard at the piano. You should have listened to her senior recital. I’m not much of a music guy, but it blew me and everybody in attendance away. That girl can play.

Like a lot of Japanese girls, Annie is short, petite and has very small breasts. Her breasts are so small, I don’t even know if she wears a bra. I’ve known her all her life and I can never recall a “blossoming” period. But I don’t count that against her. She’s sort of cute and very smart and kind-hearted. She’ll make some guy very happy someday. But not me.

I’ve often thought about the possibility of dating her. This is sort of an awkward subject for us. Neither of us has ever said we want to enter into a relationship. However, neither of us has ever said we don’t want to enter into a relationship. It’s a topic we keep quiet so it doesn’t affect our friendship. Maybe it’s best we stay friends.

But am I “friend-zoning” her? Does she want to be boyfriend/girlfriend but she’s too timid to ask me? Annie is not the type of person who will open up about her feelings. Don’t get me wrong, she’s not a boring person, but she just doesn’t wear her emotions on her sleeves.

Heck, this should tell you something about us. Here it is, a Saturday night, and the two of us are on Gmail chat instead of socializing with friends. What sucks is that she lives in Tacoma and I live in Seattle so we don’t get to see each other very often. Maybe if we lived closer we’d be able to explore our relationship further. But that doesn’t appear to be happening any time soon.

As usual, neither of us wants to chat. Oh, Annie just left. Now it’s just me.

6:53 p.m.

Can time move any slower?

It still perplexes me that Cindi North is nowhere to be found on search engines. I know some people do everything possible to make themselves invisible. Some go as far as to hire a web expert. But why would Cindi do such a thing? Is she a fugitive from the law?

I then look at my Gmail chat list and see Cindi North has just checked in! Holy crap! She’s on now! What do I do? Do I do nothing? Or should I initiate the contact? In her e-mail message she never says who is expected to initiate the conversation. Should I message her and ask if she’s available to chat? Or would that come off as being desperate? Or is this a test to see if I’d message her first, which would tell her I’m earnest in my interest in her? I hate mind games. Or maybe this isn’t a mind game at all…

Suddenly a chat box pops up from a “Cindi North.”

Well, that puts an end to all that speculation.

Her message reads “Ryan! Do you want to talk now?”

I sure do! I respond with “Yes! I’m free to talk now.”

I wait a few seconds which seem like hours. Finally, she writes “Great! How are you doing?”

Sweeeeeeeeeeeeeet! She wants to chat now, not an hour from now. Our conversation thread unfolds like this:

Me: I’m doing awesome! How are you?

Cindi: Spectacular! I got a good workout in today.

Me: Me too. Where do you work out?

Cindi: I work out at the Everyday Fitness in Everett. You live in Seattle, right?

Me: Yes, I do.

(I instantly open a new screen and Google “Everyday Fitness” in Everett. The place is real, apparently. It’s a small chain with five locations across western Washington and one randomly in Kentucky. I click on their company website to see if they have any photos of famous clients. Gyms that are frequented by professional bodybuilders almost always post photos of them to show they’re a legit place to be.)

Cindi: I like your photo. We should meet up. You okay with that?

Me: I’m very okay with that. Who are you, exactly?

Cindi: I’m Cindi.

Me: I know that. But are you a real bodybuilder?

Cindi: I am. Do you think I’m lying?

Me: I Googled you and nothing came up.

(As I type this, I see there are no photos of famous patrons. In fact, there aren’t much photos of anything. This website sucks.)

Cindi: Cindi North is my birth name. But when I work I use a different name.

(Hm. She’s toying with me. She speaks in short, direct sentences and prods me to ask further questions. This doesn’t smell right.)

Me: I’m not saying you’re a liar. I just think it’s weird for someone not to have an online presence these days.

Me: You can’t blame me for doing research, huh? 😉

(There is a long pause. Finally she begins to type again.)

Cindi: My bodybuilding name is Grace Gonzalez.

(Holy shit! Grace Gonzalez? I recognize her! She’s put up some crazy awesome YouTube videos showing her deadlifting 500 pounds and doing some freakish Turkish Getups. I close the Everyday Fitness website and Google Grace Gonzalez. Sure enough, she has a much larger online presence. I enter her personal website and read her biography.)

Me: Wow! You’re really Grace Gonzalez?

Cindi: Yes! That’s me. Cindi North is the name my adopted parents gave me. I never knew my biological parents but I always knew I had some Puerto Rican blood in me. I go by Grace Gonzalez to honor my heritage.

(According to her website, Grace “was born and raised in Los Angeles, California and has been currently living in the Pacific Northwest for the past two years.”)

Me: That’s so cool. I was a little concerned when I researched “Cindi North” and nothing came up. 🙂

Cindi: No problem. LOL

Cindi: If you didn’t look me up, I’d be worried.

Cindi: Do you like strong women?

(Goodness. She won’t let me respond fast enough.)

Me: I love strong women. I especially love muscular women like you.

Cindi: Have you ever met a woman as strong as me?

Me: No, ma’am. I’ve never met an FBB before.

Cindi: It looks like you’re interested. I’m looking for NSA sex, understand?

Me: Yes.

Cindi: I’m not looking for a relationship.

Me: I know.

Cindi: Are you looking for a relationship?

Me: I’m not looking for anything that’s beyond my reach.

(Pause)

Cindi: Smart answer. I like you already. You know your boundaries. I like that in a man.

(She likes that in a man? So she’s interested in men, huh? Her bio claims that she’s “Interested in: Women.” Is she a true lesbian or is she bisexual? Maybe she lies on her website in order to avoid horny muscle-loving men like me!)

Me: You use proper grammar and punctuation when chatting. I like that in a woman.

Cindi: LOL! You’re funny. Do you approve of “LOL?”

Me: Traditionally, no. But I’ll make an exception in your case.

(There is a very long pause. I feel a drip of sweat roll off my cheek.)

Cindi: Let’s meet at my house. I live in north Everett. Do you want to visit tonight?

(My heart stops. She wants to meet me at her house? TONIGHT??????)

Me: I’d love to.

Cindi: Great! Make sure to bring protection!

(I can supply condoms, no problem. Holy fuck. I almost never swear, but this merits an f-bomb. She really wants to meet me at her house right now?)

Cindi gives me her home address and I type it into Google Maps like a madman. She wishes me “good luck” and says I can come over as soon as possible. This shit is getting real, folks! She then leaves Gmail chat. I stare at the computer monitor in still silence.

So…I have her address, her real name, her fake name and that’s about it. I can spend time Googling “Grace Gonzalez,” but I don’t have time for that! I recognize her, so that should be enough to guarantee my safety. Now is the time for me to live out my dream.

I feel my penis harden as I think about having sex with her. Wow! I’m about to make love to an FBB! I want to shout this at the top of my lungs, but that would not go over well with the other people in my apartment building. I have better things to do than to cause a disturbance.

I grab my box of condoms, look in the mirror, inspect my appearance, put on my coat, grab my car keys and head out the door.