Motorcycles: The Best Thing to Happen to Women Since the Hoover Vacuum
Updated: Feb 17, 2022
Riding motorcycles and the culture surrounding them, talk of “bitch-seats” and “fender fluff”, have rarely seemed instrumental in the empowerment of women and their want to ride. Such efforts have been made throughout American history by women of all walks of life and different periods of time, all with a common goal: defy gender norms and have a freedom they can claim as their own.
Now, it is safe to assume that motorists of all genders can agree, the emotions a person gets when it is just them and the bike is comparable to a spiritual experience. The pleasures of riding a motorcycle are undeniably gender neutral. Despite this, people instinctively accept the notion that, those who experience these joys are male. To some degree, they are not wrong to do so.
From a young age, I have had a mechanical passion and a love for the ride. Motorcycles have always had a special place in my heart, even before the ideas of “gender norms” and “gender roles” were introduced. I remember many summers sitting in garages, tinkering on machinery in various bays.
There is something poetic in the sound a motorcycle makes; the click of the start switch, the way your heart skips a beat at the sound of the motor kicking just before twisting the throttle. Endorphins kick in and the world becomes a blur at 70 miles per hour; your reality slips into a colorful buzz and heart lumps in the back of your throat as you and your two-wheeled friend leave traffic behind and never look back. Just a rider and their steed on the open road.
Statistically speaking, in 2018 only 19% of all riders in America were women—an 11% jump since 1998’s 8%. With each generation, the hunger to ride, rises. As gender norms and roles evolve, so do the woman who seek newfound freedom. The next adventure. By rebelling against the status quo of the predominantly male ruled world of motorcycles, women who ride their own reinforce the idea that a woman’s place is wherever she damn well pleases.
Pop culture portrays the motorcycle as a manly machine for men to operate and women to sit behind and look pretty. (See Steve McQueen, Marlon Brando, and more current, the FX show Sons of Anarchy) Why is this? Why must the motorcycle be just for men? To answer that, we must look at the history of man and machine.
Historically, machines belong to manufacturing and labor, warfare and militarism; all in which men built a strong relationship with. During the rise of the industrial age, men would leave the farm and go off to work in factories, while the women stay home to take care of the children and home. This allowed women to build their relationship to machines within the domestic sphere.
For example, the Hoover line of household products, Bissell brand carpet shampooer, irons, etc.; household machines which tag the phrase, “She’ll be happier with a Hoover” and “I’d love a pretty Bissell…so would my little girl”. These products gave the woman a more “fun” way to clean the home, be up to date on technology, while adhering to society’s view of gender-norms and the roles put in place for them. Fast-forward to today’s advancement of women allowed in cars alone. As per societal standards, the car remains an extension of the home—tote the kids, pick up groceries, run errands for the family and the home—tasks not “ideal” for 2-wheels.
To add, the public is quick to associate motorcycles with criminal activity and anger, due to a few real-life events, which happened to be centered around people who ride motorcycles. From the Hollister Riots in 1947, to the motorcycle enthusiasts who happen to be involved in crime, motorcycles always “seemed” to be vehicles rode by a man who engages in shocking behavior and illicit activities.
By pop culture’s standards, the biker is portrayed as a dirty “Mad Max” adrenaline junkie; one who wears nothing but leather; and even as a metrosexual crotchrocket riding type (no offense to the sport bikes! All bikes matter!)—but always a man. In contrast, women who ride or associate with machinery outside the domestic sphere are a strong alpha female—from the lesbian babes in the 1969 cult classic “Sisters in Leather”, to the pleather Gore-Tex wearing Uma Thurman in “Kill Bill: Vol. 1”. Some would argue this as progress, the female is now trading in her Hoover for a motorcycle. While others could argue the objectification of these women in revealing clothing riding a bike; thus, prompts an issue for another day.
Unfortunately, until the public shows more motorcycle ads with women riders or products geared towards women as riders and not passengers, until we have more women motorcycle clubs and more inclusive family oriented clubs, then we as a gender will have to keep correcting the assumptions made by the masses. Yes, this is my bike. Yes, I know how to ride it all by myself.
On the bright side, it is not the machine that causes the controversy. The masses can do that all on their own. Remember, women in motorcycle culture prove that the love of the open road does not know gender. So, whether you are a Anne Hathaway “leather-and-lace”-type who does not like to get dirty but gets weak in the knees from the smell of burning rubber, a technician who tinkers on their own, or a commuter who just needs that thirty minutes of wind before setting foot into your daily life—never let someone get in the way of that sensation. That freedom. Your freedom.