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Interview With Barbara Joans

Aired August 24, 2003 - 09:15   ET


HEIDI COLLINS, CNN ANCHOR: An icon of American highways and sometimes the bully of the blacktop is 100 years old. Happy birthday, Harley-Davidson.
If you weren't awake before, we hope you are now. The first one was powered by a three-horsepower engine, not exactly what today's easy rider would want when searching for an adventure.

We're going to talk about it a little bit this morning with Barbara Joans. She's an anthropologist and author of that book, "Bike Lust: Harleys, Women and American Society". Barbara joins us now from San Francisco this morning.

Hello to you, Barbara. Thanks for being here.

BARBARA JOANS, AUTHOR, "BIKE LUST": Well, hello. Hello to you and thank you for inviting me.

COLLINS: You are more than welcome. And happy birthday to this bike you love so much, Harley-Davidson. Hey, tell us about these three different types of women who ride Harley-Davidsons. You have it in your book.

JOANS: Yes. Yes, I do. There are many different kinds of women. I kind of categorize them because I'm an anthropologist. But at best, all I can give you are general types.

Women who ride are extraordinary. And we are all quite specific and quite different. Some women who ride -- the woman I called the "lady biker," she rides brilliantly, she rides wonderfully, but she will not wrench. She will carry a hair dryer and makeup and condoms in her saddlebag. But she will not go near a set of tools. And she's so extraordinary in both her writing, riding and abilities that any male within 20 miles will get up and help her when something goes wrong with a bike.

COLLINS: OK. What about the woman biker and the woman rider?

JOANS: Then there's the woman biker. The woman biker is kind of her opposite. She rides every bit as well. She rides wonderfully well.

But the woman biker will kind of disdain any male help and will say, "Hey, wait a minute. It's my bike. I can tear it down and build it up again."

COLLINS: That's what we like to hear. What about the woman rider?

JOANS: Yes. The woman rider is someone who can maybe do a little light wrenching, but doesn't really expect that the whole world is going to turn around and help her because she's a woman who rides a motorcycle. So it's kind of sometimes the newer rider, sometimes the less experienced rider.

COLLINS: Are Harleys for everybody, though? Are Harleys for everyone out there?

JOANS: No, everyone has to make their own specific choices. For all women it's an extraordinary choice. And while my book, "Bike Lust," emphasizes Harley culture in general, I do speak to women in particular because that's what's so amazing.

Women, while we've always ridden -- and you have to know this that the press -- you know, when women were in the '20s and '30s, 1920s, 1930s, 1940s women rode. During world wars, women rode Harleys, and they rode as messengers and they rode in all kinds of ways. But then in the '50s and '60s, it became very visibly and publicly a male domain.

And then in the '70s and '80s and '90s, it has again been something that women can do and do do. We're now about 10 to 12 percent of the population. That's not a big percentage, but when you consider how many bikes are out there, it's huge in terms of women.

And for every woman who rides, she's extraordinary because she has to go against female socialization. She has to go against everything she learned as a kid, which is girls do this and boys do that. And one of the things girls don't learn is you're going to ride a Harley whether you grow up.

COLLINS: Let's, in fact, Barbara, if we could real quickly, take a look at your first bike. Not a Harley, right?

JOANS: OK. Oh, not a Harley.

My first bike is a Rebel. And it was a Honda Rebel, and it was wonderful, and it was a 250 cc, just about what I could handle. And it's what I learned on.

I took the motorcycle training course, and it's what I learned on. And it's also what I passed my motorcycle test with.


JOANS: And I wanted to say, you know this culture is so important in so many ways. If I had to think of the four critical most impressive things in my life, I put them down as four things. The first one was, of course, marrying for love, which I find extraordinary; birthing two children, which I find extraordinary; getting my Ph.D. in anthropology, which was not an easy thing to do, especially since I had to raise my kids while I was...

COLLINS: And let me guess what the fourth one is. JOANS: Getting that motorcycle license, exactly.

COLLINS: All right. We just saw a picture briefly of that first bike of yours. We certainly appreciate your time this morning, Barbara Joans.

JOANS: Sure.

COLLINS: There it is again...

JOANS: Sure.

COLLINS: ... on the 100th anniversary of Harley-Davidson. Thanks again, Barbara. Have a great day.

JOANS: You too.


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