The association of female muscle fetishism with violence is an uncomfortable reality that cannot be overlooked. Anyone with even a casual level of knowledge of female bodybuilders and the men who love them can see this relationship underscored everywhere.
Guys who love female bodybuilders often fantasize about being dominated by them, disciplined by them, trampled by them, tied up by them, punched by them, pinned to the ground by them, verbally abused by them, and having other physically demeaning activities done to them. This is not to put all female muscle fantasies in the same boat, however. This is merely an observation of a trend that cannot be denied.
Nothing about this is inherently wrong. Nor is anything about this explicitly scandalous, surprising, or unethical. As far as I can tell, as long as all the parties are consenting, openly communicating, and enjoying these activities, there isn’t anything to complain about. I have no quarrel with a guy who becomes aroused by a female muscle dominatrix teasing him, pouring hot candle wax on his skin, and calling him all sorts of filthy names. I’m not personally into that, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be allowed to.
Whatever floats your boat, as the old saying goes.
However, I must be completely honest. I am a bit uncomfortable with the close association of female muscle fetishism with violence. Any decent human being should abhor violence in any form. We live in a particularly violent world filled with shootings, riots, terrorism, war, political repression, rape, abuse, genocide, and a whole host of other unspeakable acts of brutality. I’d like to think we live in a more peaceful world today than our ancestors did hundreds of years ago, but it only takes reading the news for five minutes to have that belief shaken to its core.
This is why the mixing of sex with violence should make any free thinking person squirm a little. You don’t have to be an ardent critic of “50 Shades of Grey” to hop on board this train. While experienced BDSM practitioners are, for the most part, intelligent people who define their sexual play with meticulous rules that ensure safety and mutual consent, accidents do happen. But more than that, it’s the root of BDSM fetishism that can create a cause for concern.
Why does sexuality have a violent component to it that seems, well, unavoidable? Surely, I am not the first person to have ever raised this question. Critics have argued that the proliferation of BDSM into pop culture could have the unintended effect of “justifying” rape and sexual assault in the eyes of people who are already prone to commit such atrocities. I cannot speak to how warranted these concerns are, but they are definitely worth mentioning. How can you not fear such a backlash?
Our pop culture reinforces these messages in other ways as well. I love the James Bond movie franchise just as much as anybody else, but it is clear what 007’s two chief pastimes are: Making love to beautiful women and shooting/punching/blowing up the bad guys. He also happens to participate in both activities in immodest quantities. And worst of all – to put myself in the shoes of a feminist media critic – Bond is “rewarded” with the former after doing the latter.
American football games feature scantily clad cheerleaders right next to big burly men pummeling each other to a pulp. The “Sex and Violence” motif is found everywhere: sports, movies, TV shows, video games, music, literature, advertisements, religious texts, folk tales, and so on. It even infests the evening news. Bombings in Baghdad are shown side-by-side with stories of young female teachers having sex with her teenage male students. It’s everywhere you look. It’s so pervasive it’s sometimes hard to see it because of how saturated it is in our culture. Because it’s everywhere you don’t actually notice it.
This motif is also deeply embedded within the world of female muscle fetishism. Of course, I’m referring more to the fantasy aspect of the fetish. In no way shape or form are female bodybuilders more inherently aggressive than non-muscular women. But maybe there exists in the imaginations of some of us the belief – or the desire – that this is somehow true. Or that we want it to be true because it titillates a part of our deeply held kinkiness.
One of the reasons why many people in society look down upon guys who love muscular women is because they’re also uncomfortable with how this fetish is played out. Perhaps they’re just as unnerved by the undertones of violence as I am – although I am less troubled by it than others are, for sure. But it is completely understandable why this uncomfortable reality exists…and why we need to talk about it.
I am not of the belief that sadomasochistic sexual activities are explicitly dangerous, oppressive, or dehumanizing. If it’s safe, consensual, and enjoyable by all parties involved, I have no bad words to say about it. But on the other side of the equation, I get why this makes some of us cringe. So I’m not trying to make a point so much as I’m trying to articulate a topic that I think needs to be discussed.
It should be stated that very rarely is any single act, interest, hobby, or creative endeavor inherently evil. Unless we’re talking about terrorism, overt political repression or murder, most activities exist in a gray area. Whether it’s “good” or “evil,” “valuable” or “trash,” all depends on the context in which it exists. A book unto itself isn’t evil. A science textbook, for example, can be a force for good. Books such as “Mein Kampf” or “Mao’s Little Red Book” on the other hand, could be used to spread hateful and dangerous ideas. So it’s not the object of a book that’s up for debate. It’s the intent behind creating a particular book that is. And the results.
If a guy fantasizes about a strong female dominatrix giving him physical pain because he finds it exciting, there’s nothing (on its surface) harmful in that. If this guy goes out of his way and pays a professional dominatrix to perform such acts on him, that also isn’t necessarily a red flag. The presence of violence within female muscle fetishism isn’t a bad thing, nor would I want to change a thing about it. However, what should be talked about is why this is and whether this should concern any of us.
From the beginning of human civilization to the present day, conflict has been a constant theme throughout our history. And not just conflict between groups of people, nations, governments or tribes. There has been conflict between individuals, ideas, cultural norms (both from without and from within), assumptions, and social hierarchies. Without getting too deep into the history of humankind, let’s just settle on this conclusion: Conflict has always been here and will be here to stay.
This is especially evident in the relationship between men and women. Or, to be more politically correct, between masculine and feminine dynamics. Whatever your worldview may be, the Battle of the Sexes is something we’re all familiar with. Hollywood screenwriters have made a fortune capitalizing on this. Lecturers have gone on tour and sold books purely on the basis of telling us how we can alleviate this perpetually awkward relationship. It’s the topic of endless discussions over coffee, beer, cocktails, and happy hour chicken wings. Men and women – and people who are not comfortable identifying as either of these two choices – just can’t seem to get along 100% of the time.
For better or for worse, we’ve managed to exist for thousands of years despite these tensions. And we will continue to exist. So will the next generation. And the generation after that one. And so on. Unfortunately, we are all too familiar with how violence has been intertwined in this ongoing conflict. Domestic violence, spousal fights, disagreements that lead to physical altercations, and cultural norms that accept these acts as being normal – or at the very least “acceptable” if it’s not openly talked about – have created a cycle of conflict that isn’t healthy. This won’t go away anytime soon, but that doesn’t mean we have to like it or turn our heads in the opposite direction whenever it happens.
This is why BDSM culture strikes a nerve in so many people. This is why people who are supportive of this subculture feel inclined to vehemently defend it with their dying breath. This is why so many of us don’t want to understand these things to begin with. After all, how can you argue in favor of violence? How can you possibly win that debate?
BDSM aside, female muscle fandom is different…but not at the same time. I’ve long argued that one can be not into BDSM but still really dig female bodybuilders. They can be mutually exclusive. Yet, the perception exists that they aren’t. For lots of folks, they are definitely interconnected.
Lots of guys love it when a female bodybuilder wrestles them into submission. Or pins them to the ground and holds them there against their will. Or verbally abuses them. Or smacks them with a paddle. Or “forces” them to do things upon command. This dominant/subordinate relationship carries the underlying theme of violence to its literal interpretation. However, because it’s all “fun and games,” it’s not really violence, is it?
Well, no. But yes. Uh, maybe both?
The relationship between a muscular woman and a normal-sized man can be jarring. It’s unusual. It flies in the face of social norms. We don’t expect to ever see such a sight. It challenges our notions of gender roles. It forces us to ask ourselves questions that we’d rather not contemplate.
Are women the weaker sex and men the stronger sex? Well, most of the time. But not all of the time. What does that mean? And how do we proceed going forward? Is an FBB more than just a woman, or is she just a “normal” woman with an abnormal physique? And is this man really a man, or an emasculated man? Wow, this is bonkers!
And yet, these questions don’t really come up with we witness a muscular woman and a normal-sized man quietly enjoying drinks at the pub. Or silently riding the subway together. Or holding hands while strolling down the sidewalk. If they physically appear to be a “normal” couple, we may stop and stare but we don’t necessarily ask these questions.
We only start to wonder about the dynamic of their relationship if we witness any conflict. What if they start to argue? What if they fight about who will pay the bill? What if she slaps him in the face? Will he slap her back? Or does he not dare? If he doesn’t hit her back, is it because he’s scared of her, or is it because he’s not naturally inclined to do such things? If she were “normal-looking” like him, would his reaction be different? How could we know for sure?
Whew! All of this is so confusing. But this does bring up a crucial observation: When we see a female bodybuilder, our minds automatically – whether we consciously know this or not – wander off into the realm of violence. We wonder how rough their sex lives must be. How are they like in bed? Is she domineering? Does she prefer weaker men or men who are strong like her? How does she react if she’s angry? Is she naturally aggressive? Are men scared of her? Are other women scared of her? Is she fearful of people and that’s why she became so big and buff in the first place? Was she physically abused as a child, with bodybuilding acting as a “shield” against future abuse?
So it’s pretty clear that whenever we’re presented with a strong muscular woman, our natural inclination is to think about her within the framework of violence, self-defense, and aggression. Yes, we also think about her beauty, impressive strength, and numerous accomplishments; but doesn’t it seem like the first thoughts that pop into our minds consist of whether she can crush me with her thighs or if any of her ex-boyfriends have ever been sent to the emergency room after an argument?
Perhaps this speaks to the cognitive dissonance that muscular women create in our brains. We cannot accept the sight of a strong woman being “normal” or “no big deal.” There must be an explanation why she wants to look that way. And she must be a completely different person now that she does look that way.
But alas, these ideas are not always true. Maybe she always was aggressive, “alpha,” and assertive even before she ever picked up a dumbbell. Maybe for her, bodybuilding is an avenue for channeling her strong personality, not a result of it. Who knows?
The larger point to be made is this: Society, both fans of FBBs and everyone else, cannot seem to separate female bodybuilders and violence from their imaginations. I’ve written this before but will rewrite it again. My ultimate female muscle-related fantasy has nothing to do with violence. It has more to do with a romantic candle-lit dinner, a fine bottle of wine, a nice long walk along the beach, and an entire evening of passionate lovemaking. No one gets tied up. No one gets paddled for being “bad.” No one gets verbally abused. No one feels any pain. Everything is pleasant, sensual, low-key, and most of all, idyllic. In other words, I’d love to spend an entire night with Alina Popa in a setting that looks more like a cheap romance novel than a creepy bondage-themed Dark Web video.
Yet, not everyone shares my pacifistic fantasy. There are lots of folks – and this is not a negative judgment about them – who want a more “antagonistic” experience. They want Miss Popa to burn them with hot candle wax. They want her to pick them up and toss them to the ground like a rag doll. They want her to punch them in the belly until they surrender. They want her to crush their head between her thighs until they “tap out.” They want all that…and more.
Well, to that I say this: That’s fine.
That’s fine. But that’s not for me. And it probably never will be my cup of tea. I tend to have a “live and let live” attitude toward most things in life. I have nothing against violent fantasies unless things cross a certain line. Yet, there is a significant part of my brain that feels uncomfortable with this. Why must we think about female bodybuilders within this context? Why are we unable to separate FBBs from the violent chambers of our imaginations? Why do our minds automatically go there? Is this unhealthy, or just the cost of doing business? Is it possible to love female bodybuilders in a non-violent way, or is it inevitable that this motif will always seep its way in?
I have no good answers. Only more questions.