The Journey

Sexism and motorcycling: a frustratingly cosy pair

Above is a picture from Victory’s UK Facebook page, taken at a motorcycle show in 2014. Can you identify what’s wrong here? If not, let me phrase the question differently: How many women do you see in this photo?
I see two: the eye candy. Everyone else in the photo appears to be male. Now, take into consideration the fact that statistics show more and more women are buying motorcycles and ask yourself again: What’s wrong with this picture?
I have long felt frustration toward the latent sexism in motorcycling. In fact, I tend to list that among the myriad reasons I spent so many years not riding after I earned my license at age 18. Sure, I dated a girl who rode a Kawasaki Ninja, but overwhelmingly the riders I encountered were male (and white, and usually 20 years older than me), and much of their world seemed to objectify and demean women. 
Remember that I grew up in the American Midwest, the same region in which you will find Sturgis, South Dakota. If you disagree with my suggestion that the motorcycling culture of that region is demeaning to women, I dare you to type the words “Sturgis women” into an image search and view the results at work.
Even as a young man I couldn’t see how that world would attract the sort of girl I was inclined to chase after.
Older and living in another country, I now accept that the Midwestern BS is only one facet of motorcycle culture. Additionally, I am mature enough to not see the world in absolutes; just because I share certain interests with people doesn’t mean I have to adhere to all their beliefs and ideologies. But even so, I am made uncomfortable by the general level of sexism I see in motorcycling.
Too many manufacturers and motorcycle racing organisations treat women as motorcycle accessories — as if the whole point of being a female is to accentuate chrome. I understand the idea that sex sells, but I feel that this kind of selling actually damages the companies who use it, as well as motorcycling overall.
Don’t get me wrong; I like what I see. I’m not a prude and I am highly appreciative of the female form. But I am equally appreciative and respectful of the female mind, and it seems to me that such an intense focus on the former is an insult to the latter.
I’ve found myself thinking about this a lot lately, ever since I visited the Victory display area of Motorcycle Live, where I wanted to strangle the company’s marketing guys for their boneheaded strategy. The area had a handful of underfed girls in inappropriate clothing (it is never warm enough in Britain to prance around in nothing but Lycra, but that is especially true in late November) who were there for nothing more than idle titillation. 
If you wanted, I suppose you could have gotten your picture taken with them, then showed it to all your buddies to falsely present yourself as a lady’s main, a la Cool Hand Luke. But had you tried to ask them questions about the product whose name was stretched across their chests, you would have gotten blank stares. At one point there was a demonstration of Victory bikes and I saw a guy teaching one of the girls how to start a motorcycle. THE GIRL SHILLING MOTORCYCLES DIDN’T EVEN KNOW HOW TO TURN ONE ON!
And when I see crap like that, I can’t help but think of how my wife would respond. Imagine if I wanted to buy a Victory motorcycle (which, actually, I do — despite their poor marketing). 
It makes sense that I would want my wife’s input; I love her and care about her opinion. Plus, her support of my buying decisions help prevent domestic arguments. This is one of the reasons I am so particularly fond of Triumphs. My wife loves them, and that means she won’t necessarily see my owning one as frivolous or wasteful.
So imagine that I take Jenn to some sort of Victory event, so she can see the bikes in person — perhaps even go on a test ride with me. And when she gets to said event she sees these Lycra-wrapped anorexics and a bunch of men muttering crass things about them. What she doesn’t see is anything that necessarily appeals to her as a female. And subtly, therefore, the message is communicated to her that she is effectively pointless. Her role is to serve as accoutrement.
I cringe to think of the sort of whithering sarcasm I’d face if I were to thereafter suggest a desire to meet Victory’s asking price on a new model. Not to mention how much an experience like that would put her off motorcycling in general. How would I be able to convince her to take up riding herself if that were her impression of the motorcycling world? Who wants to be part of something that devalues you?
An exception: Alicia Elfving runs the popular Moto Lady website.
I have no doubt many women feel similarly. And I have no doubt that many women over the years have simply turned their back on motorcycling as a result. There’s no way you can say that doesn’t damage motorcycling. Because you’re not just pushing away women, but also the men who value and respect those women.
Fortunately, there are exceptions. There always have been. Some of the most inspiring riders in history have been female: Bessie Stringfield, Vivian Bales and Elspeth Beard immediately come to mind. Stephanie Jeavons is a modern inspiration who is currently travelling around the world solo. And, of course, don’t forget Alicia Elfving or the Miss-Fires.
My frustration is that these women are too often an exception; they exist despite the marketing and mentalities that demean them. In some cases, they exist in deliberate rebellion of those things. But not everyone wants to be an inspirational trailblazer. Motorcycling needs to be more open and more accepting of everyday women. 
A few intelligent motorcycling companies (actually, I can only think of one: Harley-Davidson) have recognised that money from a female is just as good as that from a male, and that by welcoming and encouraging women into motorcycling they increase its overall appeal.
Statistics show more and more women are taking up motorcycling and I’d like to see that accelerated and expanded. Motorcycle manufacturers can help this happen (and, in turn, help themselves) by acknowledging that women have a worth beyond using their physical attributes. If nothing else, that’s just good business sense.
I mean, imagine again the scenario of visiting a Victory sales event. And instead of being confronted with the assertion that she is nothing but boobs and butt for a bike, my wife is encouraged to consider the freedom, independence and sense of individuality that can come from riding a motorcycle. Rather than ruining a sale, they might earn themselves two new customers
Elspeth Beard rode her BMW R60 around the world.