Ladies, Let’s Just Ride!

To all the women who marched across the U.S. yesterday, I commend you and thank you!

I’m a woman on a motorcycle, and I’m no stranger to the fact that my comfort in doing so is a direct result of women who have marched or been activists in other ways for generations before me.

Two indisputable facts: 1) Motorcycles were on my mind long before I ever met Dusty Wessels and 2) I’m female. I would have been on a bike without him, but meeting him was definitely a catalyst. The only difference is, if it hadn’t been for Dusty’s influence, I’d probably have started on the Honda Shadow road bike I already had my eye on. Instead, Dusty jumped feet first into my life, and I jumped right on a KTM520 dirt bike. Some folks may be shaking their heads at one (or both) of those decisions. Either way, I’m a woman on a motorcycle.

Why aren’t more women in motorcycling? For me, I have to relate my answer to what I know best – nursing. As odd as the comparison may sound, the similarities in my examples are analogous, despite who dominates the industry.

My career in nursing has been built in a female-dominant industry, where one may be led to believe there can’t possibly be misogyny. I’ve worked alongside influential women, but females are still perceived differently than men. Anecdotally, when male nurses walk into patient rooms, they are automatically presumed to be the doctor. If two nurses (one male, one female) are in a patient’s room, patients will often ask the male nurse more questions because somehow they must be more knowledgeable. The same thing happens to me in motorcycle shops.

For those who require more concrete evidence, I recently had to update my CPR certification and in the required videos, the subtitles explained which characters were speaking. Characters included were: nurse, doctor, paramedic, patient, and … “man nurse.” The female nurse character apparently needed no clarification because, of course, viewers are likely to assume the female in the scene is a nurse. My eyes rolled as they witnessed the American Heart Association‘s need to demonstrate that a male was in the role of nurse, but they didn’t feel the need to clarify any male roles in the more presumed power positions of doctor and paramedic. Interesting. And in motorcycling, we often hear the term “female rider.” Why?

Worse yet, healthcare administrations forge ahead with identified inequitable pay practices. For the skeptics who are reading, here’s just one study published by the peer-reviewed Journal of the American Medical Association which found that “male RNs outearned female RNs across settings, specialties, and positions with no narrowing of the pay gap over time.” This was just published in 2015. Numerous other studies dating back over two decades show the same findings. Try to tell me that in a female-dominant industry that males are just naturally better at everything nursing-related.

You bet I’m fired up about this! And the great news is that I feel the paradigm shifting in nursing and in motorcycling.

Yet, I did not march yesterday. Not because I don’t believe in the cause, but because feminism comes in many forms. There is no right way to do it, and I am disheartened when I hear people make comments like one I saw on someone else’s Facebook page yesterday: “If you really cared about women, you would be out there marching.”

What does that even mean? That statement exudes ignorance. No one gets to tell me how to be a ‘good’ feminist, a ‘decent’ mother, or a ‘real’ ADV motorcyclist. No one gets to be on the outside of my life making determinations about how ‘right’ I am (or am not), especially if they have no idea what my true circumstances are and how I choose to support causes in my own personally empowering way. And I don’t get to make that judgment about them either.

What does any of this have to do with women on motorcycles?

Maybe I was being a ‘bad’ feminist because I skipped the march to hang out at BMW of Denver to support my husband while he gave a presentation to a fantastic group of motorcycle enthusiasts. This display of feminism through supporting my husband has nothing to do with submission or biblical precepts that sometimes get quoted when people hear I’m quitting my job to work with my husband. He would have supported me if I wanted to march instead of help represent West38Moto. I was there because I love my husband and I believe that, as a team, we can make more of an impact if we do things together. One of the impacts we seem to have consistent discourse on is women in motorcycling.

I may be a nurse by profession, but as I age, my priorities seem to be shifting from what I call ‘survival through shift work’ (making money to care for my kids, pay bills, and sacrificing self-care for care of others) to building human capital in whatever environment I may find myself in. Since Dusty has come into my life, my environment is, in part, motorcycles. One big group whose human capital needs built is women in the male-dominated motorcycle industry.

As a feminist who participates in activism in my own empowering ways, I’m proud to say that my husband has an appreciation for his role in this movement. He is seeking out ways to more actively support women in motorcycling. And I’m honored to have even my small part in it.

With the intent of supporting women riders, Dusty and I brainstormed about specific actions we can put in place. Dusty helped train Bettina Nedel for the 2018 International GS Trophy, which will be held in Mongolia this year. This competition is no joke – you should check out the midwest qualifier course! Bettina has been riding on the road for awhile, but she only started riding dirt in 2014. Obviously it’s awesome that she made the Women’s BMW GS Trophy team for 2018, but it’s phenomenal that she’s only been riding a GS since June 2017. She’s humble, so on her behalf, I’ll shout out that she’s a bad-ass! Bettina’s not the only bad-ass woman rider, by the way. Other women riders from around the world will be competing in Mongolia as well. These ladies have formed lasting relationships rather than rivalries. Whether they realize it or not, they are serving as leaders, and their example should serve for others in many industries.

As for me, I like to study and write about what I learn in meaningful ways. In the climate of feminist activism and in the context of women motorcyclists, I wrote an article for Women ADV Riders during their campaign for women’s empowerment in motorcycling. As opportunities arise, I will continue to plug away for women’s empowerment in my own little ways throughout the nursing and motorcycle industries.

As for business, study after study supports the proven benefits of diversity and inclusion in organizational output. Dusty and I talk at length about how best to support women in motorcycling. Offering women’s-only training has its proponents and opponents. While listening to the views of proponents and opponents, here’s how I choose to frame discussions and mitigate the opposing views while maintaining an always-present show of our support of women who ride:

Proponents respect and cheer for women’s-only training. For women, by women. This concept supports building confidence in females by fostering a learning environment where they can be comfortable, less intimidated, and find their power in shared vulnerability.

Opponents adamantly assail the idea of women’s-only training, citing equality and the need to treat everyone the same. After all, if women expect the same treatment as men, they should get no special treatment.

I sympathize with both sides. Not only do I want to learn in an environment where I can be vulnerable and learn from my mishaps without feeling intimidated, I also want to be treated equally to my male counterparts. Can’t we have our cake and eat it too? I say yes. Do we have to make this an ‘us versus them’ scenario? I say no, we absolutely do not.

Over the course of my nursing career, I have spent time observing human behaviors in the emergency setting, where there’s arguably no better picture into humanity. Building on those experiences, the deeper I dived into human behaviors and interactions in graduate school, the more I realized the importance of the Platinum Rule – not to be mistaken with the Golden Rule.

Golden Rule: Treat others as you would have them treat you. [Where this rule fails: Is it fair for me to assume that the way I prefer to be treated is exactly how someone else really wants to be treated? That assumption has potential to go terribly wrong. It is actually possible that another person may not want to be treated in the same way you would choose and unfortunately, I have seen this go wrong.]

Platinum Rule: Treat others as they would like to be treated. [Where this rule fails: Our human condition often prevents us from asking people how they would like to be treated or, worse, not listening to them when they try to tell us or show us. When we disregard how others want to be treated, we’re making a selfish decision to make our interactions more about our own expectations. When the Platinum Rule fails, we default to the Golden Rule and get caught in a vicious cycle.]

Over time, Dusty has received requests or suggestions from people about training and tours. Because of that input, trainings and tours have been tailored to how those folks openly communicated they want to be treated or what services they wanted. Had Dusty disregarded how those customers wanted to be treated and chose instead to run trainings and tours how he would personally want them, customers would not be calling him. He listens.

Personally, I tend to put a lot of theories in the perspective of parenting. If I treated my three very different kids in just one way – that is, exactly how I prefer to be treated – rather than considering how unique they each are, I believe my parenting would be more challenging because the product would be more negative conflict. If I’m not invested enough in my kids to appreciate and grow their individual strengths, I’m not being a very selfless leader. I believe this concept crosses over into all kind of interpersonal relationships, not just parent-child relationships. It’s even the case in business.

As I continue to examine the notion of encouraging more women to enter or advance in the male-dominated motorcycling industry, the Platinum Rule is where I place my focus. I’m not the decision maker for West38Moto, but I’m happy that women’s-only training will be available because customers (not “women”) have asked for it. This move is to treat those women who are more comfortable learning in that environment the way they want to be treated. For women who feel comfortable learning in a mixed group, West38Moto equally supports that notion too. Both conditions can exist. Men and women alike are always invited to attend any of West38Moto’s trainings or tours.

As Dusty always says, “We’re all just riders.” That’s been Dusty’s Rule, and I’ve never felt like an exception to that rule. Mostly because Dusty’s great at applying the Platinum Rule. Making generalizations or believing stereotypes about men or women is dangerous for the overall cause of equality. Once you generalize, inherently an exception must be inferred when that belief gets broken. …And then just one more exception. …Oh, and one more, but it doesn’t really happen that often. Then the numerous exceptions that keep building up exist only because a false generalization (belief) was made to begin with.

I say, let’s all just follow Dusty’s Rule – We’re All Just Riders. That doesn’t mean we can’t tailor needs to individual learning styles. Maybe that means women’s-only trainings, maybe it means completely supported tours for people who don’t camp, and maybe it means taking people under our wings instead of acting on generalizations and stereotypes. Let’s just support each other in the ways people ask for and build a solid community where no one feels like an exception.

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