BY KRIS FANT
Have you ever faced gnarly terrain while unfamiliar riding partners looked at you with question marks in their eyes? Ever been the only woman in a 10 person off road group ride? Has anyone ever been surprised to find out you are not a pillion?
It is not unusual for there to be one or two women in a large group ride, however, women are a growing segment in this market.
Since the inception of Women ADV Riders, I’ve been immersed in images of strong, independent, female riders, yet occasionally caught myself questioning “why is this so important?” After all, I rarely participate in women’s-only activities, and love to ride with my husband. I’ve always wanted to think of myself as “one of the boys” when we are out with friends. Yet, there is a reason that Women ADV Riders is vital at this moment in our history.
First, join me in an experiment. Stop for a moment and think. What do you think of when you think of women adventure riders? Be honest, did you take a moment to think? What was the first image that popped into your mind? Some folks first thought is a scantily clad woman draped over a motorcycle. Others picture a woman astride a BMW R1200GS wearing full adventure gear, rolling down intense rocks. For some it is a pillion as a ‘backpack’ and others, a strong female pillion is leading the way from behind. At times, it is a lady decked out in pink. Some picture slow riders, some picture falling. Interested in what your unconscious might tell you? Click here. Scroll down and click on Gender and Careers. It is not motorcycle specific, but does speak to our biases around women and home. I’m sure you can think of 100 reasons your results came back the way they did. I certainly did. We are culturally programmed from birth on with beliefs about how each gender should behave.
The historically perceived differences between men and women are being socially challenged. Physical anatomy no longer defines gender, and people are challenging socially assigned gender roles in every area of life. Researchers agree that there was an evolutionary advantage toward men being thrill seeking conquerors, however that potential evolutionary proclivity has been socially nurtured through the centuries. Female outdoor adventurers, including ADV riders, can face gender specific challenges. Women often feel they need to prove themselves to their male counterparts. “Females are expected to be clean, gentle, and docile.” Have you met a clean, gentle, or docile adventure rider? When I’m riding I’m dirty, stinky, I cuss like a sailor and have to be assertive with my motorcycle to get where I’m trying to go. At this point in history, being a woman rider in a mixed gender riding group means having your competence questioned, regardless of the statistics showing women riders are involved in fewer crashes overall.
How Do We Fix It?
Implicit bias is going to continue to exist until as a society, we have been exposed to enough positive female role models to actually modify our unconscious mind. To overcome implicit bias, acknowledge the reality of women riders today, develop a personal desire and commitment to change your bias, whatever it is, and put yourself in the place of anyone who has been at the receiving end of this bias. Seek out counter-stereotypical role models. Look for the strong female role models. Moms and Dads: tell your daughters they can do anything, expose them to every possible activity regardless of it’s typical fan base. Watch for subtle micro-aggressions and stereotypes, and confront them, every single time. Don’t make jokes at the expense of someone;s gender or engage in conversations that paint women as weak. In your words, show all genders are equal.
This is why Women Adv Riders and other women’s publications, groups, and events are vital to the success of women in motorcycling. In order to be seen as equal by ourselves and others, to be able to show up as a rider rather than a ‘lady rider,’ and to get our needs for gear and machines met, we must come together, every gender, to make motorcycles a passion and vocation where everyone is equal. We will succeed.