In the late nineteenth century when speaking on the subject of bicycles, a preacher from Baltimore proclaimed " ... they are full of guile and deceit. .. it bucketh like a bronco and hurteth like thunder. . Strong words indeed, but such was the social view of bicycles at the time. Remarkable as it seems, some individuals of that era had the courage to shun society's etiquette and ride the demon bicycle. Women who rode bikes during that period had the toughest time of all. They were true pioneers who threw off their corsets and dared to wear bloomers. The courage that those women displayed may never be truly appreciated, especially, when one considers that, like many women motorcyclists today, the women of yesteryear often had trouble finding support for their two-wheeled passion. Many of them rode alone and therefore faced the world's judgment alone. The women of that bygone era are the ancestors of today's motorcycling women. Sometimes disapproved of, routinely misunderstood, yet ever bold-spirited, two-wheeled women have ridden the span of more than a century.
One can not help but wonder what Susan B. Anthony would have had to say about women motorcyclists of today. In 1896 Ms. Anthony declared, "1'11 tell you what I think of bicycling. I think it has done more to emancipate women than any other one thing in the world." While Ms. Anthony may have been right, most female cyclists of her day rode simply because they chose to ride. Only a few were attempting to cause a social revolution. Not unlike today's women motorcyclists, most were everyday women just doing their thing. However, being a woman and doing one's thing often comes with a price, an emotional one in the form of guilt.
THE EXPERT VIEW
According to a branch of psychology called "social psychology," guilt is an individual’s negative reaction to a judgment about a choice she or he has made, as opposed to having done something mandatory or inevitable. Riding is, after all, generally a choice. So, when confronted with adverse judgments about being a female motorcyclist it makes sense that guilt becomes a psychological factor with which to contend.
Lisa Childs, a high school teacher/educational consultant, said this about guilt and riding. "I was raised Catholic. Girls weren't supposed to be outside having fun and learning how to master something as powerful as a motorcycle. Both my brothers rode while I was stuck in the house cleaning, baby-sitting and cooking. I started riding dirt bikes in my mid-40s. It is so much fun. I can hardly believe that I have embarked on this new adventure. I am known for screaming with delight on the whoop-de-dos. I even trained in Hollister with Debbie Matthew's traveling riding school for women." She continues, 'The first couple of years I rode, I found myself feeling guilty afterwards for having had so much fun and leaving my caretaking responsibilities at home. My younger brother rides, but my sister-in-law has sold her bike and has sworn off riding forever now that she has a new baby, and since they lost a good friend to a motorcycle accident. My elderly mother expects me to follow my sister- in-law's example. I am mystified that my brother is still riding. After all, he is a new parent as well." She concludes, "Finally, I feel life is for enjoying, I'm fast approaching half a century. My friend told me he started ridding at 55. I was determined to own the bike of my dreams by my 50th. Now I own a 650 dual-purpose Aprilia Pegaso. I still had to deal with the guilt of having spent that kind of money on myself. I can honestly say that I'm having more fun than I ever had in my whole life. Motorcycles are teaching me a kind of mastery I never knew about myself."
Thirty-eight-year old Daria Jordan of southern California is no stranger to guilt over her love for motorcycling. During our interview in a Harley shop, Daria appeared to be right in her element amidst the gleaming chrome and thundering engines. She said, "I knew in my heart that even though my boyfriend rides he wouldn’t be supportive of me riding. It's just the way he is. Yet he's taught his son how to be a very good [dirt] rider. So I just went out and bought a bike. I told him that I bought a Harley. He said, 'I could swear that you said you bought a Harley.' He couldn't believe it. He hadn't been listening. So when I bought that bike he would never ride with me. Then the one time that we did ride together, the choke stuck on my bike and it went down. He was all concerned about me, but I wasn't even harmed. Then I was starting to believe him that maybe I shouldn't be riding. That night he gave me a sort of scolding and I felt this big [showing me a pint-size mime with her hand]. .. very guilty. All of a sudden I regressed to a child. Also, I was upset because his son had had accidents [in the dirt]. Yet, my boyfriend assured his son that it was OK. But I didn't get that kind of support from him ‘cause I'm not a guy."
THE ROOTS OF GUILT
Guilt over riding can come from many different sources. While Lisa and Darla's stories are representative of many women, other female motorcyclists experience guilt due to riding while pregnant, having small children, as well as endless other reasons for which they may be judged for being motorcyclists. Naturally, men can also feel guilt about riding. Fatherhood is a common circumstance which men are often criticized for when they continue to ride. It is not so uncommon for men to second-guess their choice to ride after the birth of a baby. Continuing to be a motorcyclist despite such feelings of guilt truly demonstrates personal courage. Clinically, this type of personality trait is known as "psychological resiliency," the ability to experience sorrows and utilize them as lessons from which to be learned. Individuals who are resilient draw strength from painful experiences instead of bitterness. People who are resilient still feel guilt. However, these folks understand the difference between feeling and acting. They act upon their strengths. Many of these people are motorcyclists.
A person who is psychologically resilient is able to reap positive, internal rewards that outweigh negative factors. Motorcyclists who display psychological resiliency tend to show equal resiliency in most areas of their life. This ability to juggle guilt and resiliency might be well imagined when remembering the Van Buren sisters who, in 1916, rode their motorcycles from New York to California. Along the way these brave siblings were arrested several times for wearing pants. The Van Buren gals were society ladies, well versed in social etiquette. Surely they struggled with guilt over their choice to ride. Clearly then, it was their resiliency that was just as important as their motorcycles were in helping them reach their destination.
Lisa's resiliency shows in other areas of her life as well. "You have to be resilient to teach high school kids. Teachers get bombarded with negativity from all sides, politically and socially. I've learned to stay focused and stick to my ideals. It's the same with riding motorcycles. I stay focused and I'm going to ride no matter what."
"I'm very independent!" Daria exclaimed. The one word my boyfriend uses to describe me is tenacious. I don't give up. I knew I could ride again.
The early twentieth century French writer Ana'is Nin said, "Guilt is the one burden human beings can't bear alone." Many female riders (guys too) have experienced guilt over their passion for motorcycles. If you are one of them, know that you are not alone. Allow your traits of resiliency to guide your actions. In the words of Amelia Earhart, "Courage is the price that life exacts for granting peace."