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The Things That The Polite Society Won’t Discuss About Metoo in the Moto Community

EGLE GERULAITYTE

My hair is peculiar. People are often interested in my hair because of its peculiarity. I don’t exactly applaud answers to inquiries like “How do you put your helmet on?” and “Your hair looks cool – how did you do it?” but I’m getting quite accustomed to them by now.

I smiled and agreed when an apparently kind older guy with snow-white hair, with whom I had been talking about adventures and motorcycles for the last 10 minutes, asked if he could take a picture with me. Yes, exactly.

This wasn’t just any random stranger, after all. I reasoned that because we were all from the same community and had the same ideals, there weren’t any foreigners present at the Overland Expo in Flagstaff, Arizona. This was friendly country, where all the people were fellow explorers, travelers, and overlanders. This was one large, happy family. I was undoubtedly welcomed here. Here, I was definitely safe. There was no reason not to say yes to this kind guy, who reminded me of a kind Father Christmas, and with whom I was just chatting about motorcycles and trips. He only wanted a picture with a bit oddball and fluffy, but equally welcomed and respected person, like myself.

Imagine, however, my surprise, dismay, and disappointment when, after his friend’s picture of us in the classic “fellow traveler’s” pose—his arm across my shoulder, both of us grinning, thumbs up—the guy remarked, winking and laughing, “hey, can I tell my wife we slept together, hehe?”

The way my face looked told him exactly how I felt about it, too, since as soon as he left with his friend, my sly grin rapidly transformed into a pouty, well, it was only a joke. For a time, I simply stood there, not knowing what to do. Yes, this was simply plain sleazy behavior and not at all what I would call sexual harassment. Why, therefore, did I feel so dirty, repulsed, uneasy, and exposed all at once?

I don’t wear heels, sexy makeup, cleavage-revealing outfits, pretty tiny skirts, or sultry hair since I learnt my lesson at a very early age. I’d characterize myself as eccentric, tomboyish, or “kinda funny,” but not shy, assertive, or even flirtatious; comedy, dorkiness, and intellectual knowledge are my weapons, not good looks.

Even so, I’m not immune to sleaze. Why? For the final time, it isn’t about the way women behave, dress, or appear. It doesn’t matter how much or how little we wear, how we wear it, how many chuckles or sidelong looks women make at men, our age, our opinions on makeup, how loud we laugh, how much wine we drink, or what kind of shoes we choose to wear.

It concerns the abusers. Furthermore, the message of #metoo, which has been sweeping the globe like a tidal wave as a result of women coming out and uniting to say that this is not OK and that we will not put up with it any longer, has to be heard in the motorcycling community as well.

Why? Since I had already lost count of the number of women and girls who had discreetly spoken about their own #metoo experiences at rideouts, motorcycle events, and online. Yes, let that sink in for a moment: not while traveling, not while camping in the backcountry of Patagonia by yourself, not while solo crossing the Congo, not while navigating traffic in New Delhi, and not in exotic and strange places where cultures are radically different and certain behaviors may be interpreted in different ways. No, here at home, at our motorbike gatherings and shows, at our races and rallies, and on our ride-outs and get-togethers.

At a motorcycle event when she was the only female rider among guys, I asked a dear friend of mine, “What kind of adventure are you after, hun?” Another woman in identical circumstances was asked, “You lookin’ to find a husband, eh?” as he hugged her a little too closely, right below her waist. Are you up for a ride? Another woman was heard saying, “In my tent, hehe,” as she pitched her tent at a motorcycle event. It’s not as uncommon as you might think to hear stories of men attempting to hug and squeeze women, break into their tents, grab their behinds (jokingly, of course), accidentally brush up against their breasts, and make degrading remarks. They’re so frequent, in fact, that they’ve become the standard that everyone knows about or speculates about but never discusses, much as with sexual harassment and abuse in all other sectors of work and play, all social strata, and all professional and recreational domains.

It was considered impolite to discuss it until recently, since we live in a courteous culture. We want to continue conversing for the foreseeable future now that we have started.

What then are your options? Participate in the discussion. Communicate honestly about it. Be truthful. If you saw something occurring and took no action, maybe you now have the resolve to speak out. You’re not a crazy little lady, you’re not lying, and you’re not too emotional if you’ve been the victim of it. You’re finally voicing a strong, loud “no” to harassment and abuse. If you were the one who committed the offense, maybe you can examine yourself and find the strength to accept responsibility, make amends, and move on.

Sexual assault and harassment are not the fault of lone sociopaths or psychiatric disorders. Our motorcycling community is a micro-mirror of the larger dysfunctional and ill society.

As women, we often assume the best in others. Indeed, we are that kind. I didn’t give it much attention when the elderly guy wanted to take a picture with me because of this. Because of this, I assumed that he was a kind, amiable fellow traveler and motorcycle rider rather than thinking, “Well, he might be a predator—I better stay away.” I thus believed that I was among friends, peers, and other attendees at Overland Expo, and that I would be secure, respected, and accepted.

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