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The Most Goddamn Admirable Thing I’ve Seen All Year

2012 July 26

There is an international organisation which protects abused children in a unique way.
The alpha-masculinity of the men is honourable and has a positive effect on the community.
The women in it are equals, fully involved in the work of being a physically intimidating deterrent.

Oh yes, and it’s a biker gang.

The Arizona website recently published this story about BACA – Bikers Against Child Abuse. The theory behind the group is simple, and works very well: if an abused child is scared of their attacker returning, if their home no longer feels like a safe haven, or if the outside world and school feel too exposed, their new family will stand guard for as long as they need.

(Warning – you should definitely read the whole article, but if you do there is a high chance you will cry your eyes out and have your faith in humanity restored. As the comments put it: “How come ninjas are cutting onions in my living room?” “Ahh they’re at my office too!” Not too triggery except in the general discussion of the topic.)

Photo of a black motorbike against a red brick wall. Free image from Against Child Abuse is a non-profit organisation started by a social worker in 1995. John Paul Lilly realised that the 8-year-old boy in his care was too scared to leave the house, and remembered what had successfully taken away his own fears as a child: having a biker gang look out for him. He developed safeguards and checks to make the idea work in a therapeutic environment, and now there are chapters in the United States, Canada, Australia, Italy, The Netherlands and Belgium. The details of precisely what they do are extraordinary.

First of all, the child meets the whole local gang and becomes part of their family. They get the same t-shirt as the gang. They get a biker name. They are under no doubt that these men and women will be there for them from now on. For the bikers, this involves training from qualified social workers and discipline from their leader around how they behave during that first meeting.

I don’t want to see any tears coming out of your eyes, and the child doesn’t either. Remember why we’re here: to empower the child. If you can’t handle it, keep your shades on.

After that, two bikers are assigned as the child’s “Primaries”. (Always two, and no biker is ever alone with a child – two is the minimum number at any meeting and parents/guardian must give permission each time as well). They will be on call, a mobile number the child can ring whenever they need to. And that’s important, because being present and being seen (especially by the child) is what they’re there for.

If the man who hurt this little girl calls or drives by, or even if she is just scared, another nightmare, the bikers will ride over and stand guard all night. … if she has to testify against her abuser in court, they will go, too, walking with her to the witness stand and taking over the first row of seats. (They) will tell her, “Look at us, not him.” And when she’s done, they will circle her again and walk her out.

The emphasis is always on keeping the child safe from fear, of being a wall of friends between them and the influences making them feel vulnerable. And it works, again and again.

I’ve written for BadRep before about how society’s definition of ‘manliness’ STILL involves violence and requires complete isolation from anything feminine, and how this obviously doesn’t help feminism (or indeed men). But there are also many other aspects of alpha-maleness which directly harm men, women and equality. Male aggression is (rightly) regarded as often negative in modern life, and we haven’t come up with new ways of valuing masculinity since the office worker replaced the hunter and warrior.

The challenge facing these bikers is exactly the same as for anyone trying to be a White Knight in the modern age: it’s a very, very narrow and fragile path to stay on. These men and women are valued because of their capability for violence, at least by reputation. Their quiet physical intimidation is precisely what makes them useful to society, and that’s actually a rare role these days.

But a successful warrior is defined only by being the best at combat. If any warrior loses the approval of the community due to being untrustworthy, indiscriminate in who they attack or just out of control, then they become a rabid dog who needs to be contained for the safety of others. A superhero only has the public cheering them on in fights if they don’t take cheap shots, attack a child, injure the defenceless, or any number of things which can break their honourable image.

In the same way, these bikers cannot be seen to be harmful to the children, aggressive to the public or openly criminal – not one of them, not even once. This charity (which I approve of and respect so much I was nearly moved to tears) works only until the first biker breaks that trust. What this means in the real world is that there are incredibly tight restrictions on how these particular alpha males can channel their masculine image, forcing them to be extremely honourable at all times. It sets up a rare situation where private individuals on the street following their own decisions (not soldiers following orders in an army) are able to display all the violent alpha male traits which usually result in problems for society, and use them to create trust, healing and safety from fear.

I thought this post was a good fit for BadRep not because I’m under any impression that biker gangs are bastions of feminism and equality – I know nothing about it, but expect that any chapters led by women are in the vast minority and regarded differently. But while all the women in the article were treated as equals in a family, this time it was the role of the men I particularly wanted to mention.

The article describes such an atmosphere of caring, security and trust between these bikers and the children that it’s made many readers into instant converts. I can totally believe that this approach would work on even the most terrified brain – anything coming for the victim will now have to go through their big friends first. It’s a real-world solution which lets children sleep at night, and I love that both women and men are out there doing it with such selfless dedication on their own time and at their own expense. (In the article, two bikers stay on watch outside a girl’s house from 8pm until 2am, when two more arrive to take the next shift. In another example this rolling watch is kept up continuously for two and a half days, by people travelling two hours to get there.)

An online friend of mine and her husband are members of The Patriot Guard, bikers in the US who (strictly at the invitation of the family) will attend funerals of servicemen to protect the event from protesters such as the Westboro Baptist Church. (The WBC picket funerals of LGBT personnel, shouting that God killed them because of their sexuality.) It’s precisely the same thing: bikers using their image to – when invited – protect the emotionally vulnerable. It’s a hugely positive way to use alpha male traits in the modern world.

The judge asked the boy, “Are you afraid?” No, the boy said. The judge seemed surprised, and asked, “Why not?” The boy glanced at [the bikers] sitting in the front row and told the judge, “Because my friends are scarier than he is.”

2 Responses leave one →
  1. July 31, 2012

    Biker culture is … interesting, and significantly varied. The type of chauvinism I’ve encountered in my local community is different from what I run into in normal culture. For one thing, it is easier to opt out as a woman, and even women who don’t opt out seem to me to be treated as individuals, if that makes sense. They may be likely to be defined by their relationship to men, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t expected to ride, to know about bikes and be interesting people with things to say. Bikers have conversations with women they aren’t sleeping with and don’t intend to sleep with (I spent time around tech; this is not a given.) Even the on-a-pedestal-women are admired for participating in some, but not all, of the toughness culture.
    They are also admired for being sexually available and attractive, but I’ve encountered less double-bind culture there and it’s an older hobby; it’s not the case that women leave when they get past 30. There is a good chunk of hard-core objectification around, especially in marketing, but often it is objectifying women who aren’t in the culture. There are sort of four options: bikers (who can be men or women), passengers (who are almost all women), non-bikers (men and women and kids, whatever) and sexy women (who bring beer and are used to sell stuff to bikers).

    I think much of this is because it is an opt-in subculture. Women who enjoy going to events are there because they want to be, just like the men (married men often ride alone if their wives don’t want to participate.) It’s decidedly a working-middle-class hobby (being able to afford a second vehicle to drive around just for fun is a luxury, but it’s not an urban or uber-rich hobby), and that means it tends to be a more sufficiency-culture. There are lots of charity events (which I associate with rich people, generally) and people toss in more than needed to cover those who might be tight. Where I live it involves a lot of middle-class people who grew up poorer or more rural than where they are now, and it is a way to hang on to a more community-centric culture that doesn’t look down on you for where you came from.

    At least, that’s certainly why I participate.

    • Miranda permalink*
      July 31, 2012

      This was a really interesting comment to read, thank you for stopping by! If you ever want to guestpost about it you’d be welcome.

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