Dreadlocks & Birkenstocks

I guess I’ve always been just a little left of conformity. I can appreciate the value of conforming to some social conventions for my own conscious advancement, but I also understand the significance of breaking some rules, like mixing red and pink in my outfits if I want to.

In my early grade school years, my cousins would babysit me over the summers. Being from a very small town in northwest Kansas, that was a pretty easy gig for them while my mom worked and my dad was on the road for his custom harvesting business. The lifestyle is certainly simple, but in their simplicity, small midwest towns are notorious for being slow on the uptake for new trends, fashions, and technologies. So I was left to my own druthers to express myself through fashion.

During some of the time I spent with my my one cousin (we’ll call her Adele), she advised me on my fashion sense, nourished me with fried bologna “sombreros,” and locked me in closets for the “torture game.” Now before anyone starts searching for sordid details, this was more like some rendition of hide-and-seek where I asked her to lock me in a closet to pretend “torture” me. So she, being the engaged cousin-babysitter she was, “hid” me in closets, always knew where I was, and left me there until either 1) she felt guilty enough to come let me out or 2) I asked to be let out.

Anyhow, Adele didn’t approve of my regular decision to mix red shorts with a pink shirt. She razzed me (lovingly); and I dressed that way anyway. In my innocence, I believed it was reasonable to mix those two colors; they seem to be from the same color family if you ask me. Plus, Kansas may fall behind on the fashion time spectrum, but for all I know, I could have been a visionary. Supermodels in France were likely mixing red and pink all the time. I know now that mixing red and pink is only acceptable on Valentine’s Day. Thank you for your sage advice, Adele.

Girls’ fashion presented challenges with my mom and me too. Good mother she was (well, still is), she offered to do things like french braid my hair and take me shopping. I did not want her to braid (or even touch) my hair, and I definitely did not want her to take me shopping. To this day, I haven’t identified any root cause for my contempt of these common mother-daughter bonding activities, other than the notion that I was probably discovering my left-of-conformity identity.

One day in particular exemplifies the challenges we had together. Being raised in a Lutheran family, I found myself in the unfortunate plight of shopping for an agreeable outfit to wear for church confirmation. As it always went, Mom suggested dresses (I mean, dresses – can you imagine?) and shoes that I found disagreeable. Repression has helped me cope with further painful details of shopping trauma, so alas, all I remember now is what picture albums prove – that neither of us won that confirmation contest. We settled on a baby blue knee-length skirt that appeared to be made from sweatsuit material, matching long-sleeved shirt, and brown penny loafers. Nothing about that outfit said “Lutheran confirmation.” Not that I had attended many confirmations, but I think other girls selected a much different style. Or at least didn’t fight their mothers for independence. At least the outfit got ONE hell of a good use!

Adolescence came barreling in, and I fell victim to the style which it forced upon me. While I did not want to wear dresses, it was often required on game days. What a sexist practice that was. If I was forced to wear a dress because of my gender, then I would exert my feminist views and make the outfit somehow my own. There were no rules about what shoes to wear with these mandated dresses, so my game-day apparel was often a baby doll dress with combat boots.

My dad would probably shake his head today if he were forced to remember the outfits I sometimes wore to local high school basketball games – long underwear layered with baggy patterned boxer shorts (you know, the real ones with the baggy asses), and a Mexican baja hoodie. Purposely trying to avoid clothing conversations with my dad after he so willingly opened his wallet for me, I would make my exit from the house casually fielding questions like, “Aren’t those shorts made for boys? Do you think you’ll be warm enough with just underwear on? Why don’t you change?” Pretending not to hear in my distracted rush out the door, I wriggled my way out, unscathed, to make my statement to the world.

My closet also hosted at one point a western duster coat, a beret, leather shorts, a silk shirt, and two pairs of the same shoes (but in different colors) so I could, of course, wear one of each color. And let’s not forget the “hippie” Teva sandals that I brought home from Fort Collins, Colorado when the year 1989 graced me with the struggles of sixth grade. Embarrassed by my burgeoning bosoms, my mother had to settle on buying me big baggy shirts that I believed concealed any evidence of adolescence. However, pictures have again proven that the designs on those baggy shirts actually amplified their existence, even placed targets right on them.

Boy, were those Tevas the talk of the town for awhile. Friends teased me about being a hippie, being different from everyone else, and wearing socks with my new footwear. I still get those comments, but now it’s because of Birkenstocks. Hippie or not, I believe Birkenstock has created the ultimate solution for casual/work/house footwear. (Confession: I also have a pair of old-school Tevas still hanging out in my closet, just in case.)

Just around the time my parents bought me Tevas when we stopped in Fort Collins on our way home from summer church camp, I remember thinking about dreadlocks. (It’s likely that I noticed them on someone in the Teva store, but I’m speculating.) Rural Kansas didn’t really have people who sported dreadlocks, though, so I soon forgot about them and moved on to more conventional time-lapsed styles like the four-inch high bangs purposely shaped to look like an ocean wave.

Later, adulthood again found me wondering what it would be like to have dreadlocks, but again, other things – like a profession which discouraged them and stereotypes – made me forget about them. Until Halloween of 2016.

Not dressing up for Halloween in the professional setting had been an easy decision for when I worked in the emergency setting. We didn’t often dress up because, in my own unfortunate personal experience, no one in the room appreciates a bug antenna headband falling off while doing chest compressions. But in the college health setting, a ton of people dressed up because, as you may have inferred, the chances of needing to perform CPR is exponentially less in that setting. On Halloween 2016, it was game on for the hippie theme in my department. While my co-workers all went shopping to find hippie attire, I discovered everything I needed was already in my closet! Except dreadlocks.

YouTube was at the ready to teach me how to create fake dreadlocks just for events like this. However, fake ones just weren’t satisfying the day after Halloween. The fire had been re-ignited; I wanted dreadlocks. (Yes, at the ripe age of 38. No better time if you ask me.) It wasn’t but two days later that I searched for information on how to make real dreadlocks. Fine-toothed lice comb, dreadlock wax, and a crochet hook in hand, I gathered up four separate swaths of hair at the base of my neck and started…well…making lots of knots. That’s really all a dreadlock is – one long stranded together ball of knots.

Anyone who’s familiar with dreadlocks knows that when they “lock,” they sort of get a mind of their own and draw up into themselves. In other words, I started with four really cool dreads the length of the rest of my fine, thin hair. Within months, they started to lock up and shorten. I mean, they were doing what they were supposed to do but eventually looked like amputated stumps or cow udders. That was unfavorable, to say the least. Anyone who didn’t know I had four dreadlocks beneath the rest of my golden locks probably thought I just decided not to comb my hair under there. For a year.

Hair extensions were the only answer to alleviate this problem. Well, there was the option to shave them off, but clearly that wasn’t a viable option given all the work I had put into them. Voodoo Hair Lounge in -no surprise here – Boulder, Colorado could put in dread extensions! Not many places or people provide this specialized service so I sported those cow udders for a couple months while I waited. While waiting for my appointment, I was also informed that I would have to order my own hair extensions. Extensive research on Etsy detailed how to purchase someone else’s donated hair dreadlocks from Lithuania. So now, I not only have dreadlocks, but half of them are someone else’s hair. What we won’t do to break out of boxes.

There are only four of them, which can really only been seen if I incorporate them in braids or something. Dreadlocks don’t cover my head, although I’m not opposed if they weren’t so dang much work in the beginning. I’m not ready for that commitment. By the way, red and pink made their way back into my attire – the full rainbow spectrum covered the roots of my hair above the dreadlocks to display a root rainbow. So there, Adele!

As for my husband, he says he likes them. There’s no lack of horror stories about dreadlocks so he’s no stranger to the potential bugs, yard waste, remote controls, or other random items that might get lost in them, according to the skeptics. At one point, I noticed him sniffing around my head. When I asked him what in the hell he was doing, he – as politely as he was able to muster – said he noticed a strange odor around me and wondered if it was the dreadlocks. After a thorough paranoid investigation, the evidence led to protein powder that I was consuming twice daily, but Dusty went straight to scapegoating the dreads. Also, they poke him in the face when he spoons me, but that was an unintentional consequence that I think is worth the struggle for the message I’m sending the world.

I frequently get asked why I put dreadlocks in my hair and wear Birkenstocks. I guess I’ve always been a little bit of a non-conformist hippie at heart but have spent way too much time worrying about what others think. I’ve always lived just a little to the left of conformity – doing some of the average, conventional mom stuff, work stuff, and wife stuff with my dirty little hippie secrets reminding me that I can still do what I want and I still make my own rules. Social conventions have some use, as long as we still express ourselves in our own unique red and pink ways.

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 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 mistake 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. Maybe it’s worth actually saying here…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 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.