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THAT KINDA GIRL

Is there still a stereotype when it comes to women who ride?

I'd like to think women have come a long way in the world since feminism first began to break the mould that kept girls at home in the kitchen. My own mother was one of those original stereotype-smashers of the 1960's. She raised me to grow up not just "believing" but truly knowing as fact that I could do anything that my two brothers could do. I played footy, owned an impressive Matchbox car collection, and I started riding quads around our backyard as a little kid in the 1980's. So I find it strange that nearly half a century after the feminist revolution, I am still met with shock and disbelief when I mention my favourite hobby. It has happened literally hundreds of times. Whether I am talking to a man or woman, it doesn't seem to matter. The conversation invariably goes something like this;

[new acquaintance] "So what do you get up to in your spare time?"

[me] "I ride quad bikes, and race motocross"

[new acquaintance] "WHAT?! I never would have guessed that just by looking at you!"

So then I am often left wondering...what does that kind of girl the type that rides and/or races look like???

After a bit of random polling on the subject, it became clear to me that the imagined standard of female motorcycle enthusiast is more masculine than feminine. A butch tomboy who wouldn't be caught dead in a skirt, and can belch the alphabet better than the average bloke. Or something along those lines. And then there are the likes of The Jim Beam MX Girls. That team of fashion models-slash-racers from a few years back was just a clever advertising tactic that rocketed the bourbon brand to the forefront of every Aussie blokes mind. It was a simple blending of 3 great things: booze, bikes, and busty babes. Brilliant! A pat on the back for the marketing genius who dreamt up that idea! But it also seemed to compound the idea that good looking sorts don't usually ride bikes and that those three girls were to be viewed as something unique in the sport. But were they really? I don't think so. In fact I'd go so far as to say that they are the overwhelming majority these days, the way I see it.

Take Teniel Morgan as a random example. This pretty young motocross-addict from Karratha WA, is a 3rd year electrical apprentice with a swag of ATV titles under her belt. "Most people are generally shocked when they find out I race. I'm often questioned by males about my bikes and race results and I feel as if it's a test to see if I'm telling the truth.Most people commend me on doing well in a male dominated sport, but honestly when we are on the track everyone's a 'fellow racer' gender is irrelevant." I asked Ms. Morgan about her experiences with the stereotype. "In my experience most girls do not fit the "butch" stereotype. It's outdated and I find people who still believe that stereotype also believe women shouldn't race motocross anyway. I'm a 20 year old female who wears dresses, high heels and make up. It doesn't mean I don't love the dirt, sweat and adrenaline rush."

So if women are being pigeonholed in this way, is that such a crime? What's the harm? Well for one thing, it can dissuade plenty of potential female riders from taking up the sport for fear that they are not physically capable of doing so. In Colac, on Victoria's Great Ocean Road, bubbly young hairdresser and quad rider, Ainsley Anderson shares her thoughts. "My clients at the salon were all really shocked when they found out what I got up to on the weekends" she laughs. Ainsley is also keen to point out that it was actually her that got her husband into the quad scene, and not the other way around. "It's great that [my husband] and I have a hobby we can enjoy together." Mrs. Anderson took part in a demonstration race at a monster truck show in Geelong back in 2008 and remembers fondly how the women and young girls in the audience responded to her. "I was walking off to get changed after the show and I was just blown away by the amount of girls that approached me saying you know like, there's a normal girl like me and she rides, you know I could do it too. That's a real buzz!"

Donna Newman is yet another very accomplished lady, whose past achievements include 1st place in the Womens Open class of the grueling Thumb Pump 300 Enduro in 2009. This lovely lass is well-known in the Quad Riders SA club for her racing ambitions and her dedication to the sport. "The stereotype is quite interesting and [my husband] and I joke about it a bit in relation to myself. It's interesting that to do well must somehow be related to being more 'manly'. The majority of the women I currently ride with are quite feminine. Some of the guys do the whole 'crap, beaten by a girl' thing but I think a lot of the women in the sport have worked really hard to achieve and hence have gained great respect along the way."

Donna is proud to declare that while she is very aware of the stereotype in motorsport, she believes it doesn't hold much weight in her club. "I don't know about the 2 wheelers but I feel we are very fortunate in the quad community most people are your friends and I believe this helps to reduce the prejudicial attitude. The one thing I have found by not fitting into the stereotype is that other women actually consider the sport. There was one other female in SA when I started Jodie Wood; and she inspired me to give it a go. Since I have been racing at least 8 other women in SA have given it a go without feeling intimidated and they credit me for realising it is possible."

So if the old stereotypical tomboy is no longer the norm, why is this standard still lingering around? And where did it come from in the first place? To gain some retrospective view on the issue I spoke to Chrissie Matthews, a club-level veteran in dirtbikes. Ms Matthews started riding local dirt track events around Victoria's Mornington Peninsula back in the late 1970's and into the early 80's. She competed at club level for 6 years before making the permanent switch to roadbikes. Chrissie tells me she'd prefer I not publish her actual age, but suffice to say she is a full member of The Ulysses Club, which only accepts riders over the age of 50. "It was really hard for us back then. You girls today have it so easy. It's not equal ground yet, but motorcycles aren't just a men's domain anymore. But back then, I was bullied and ridiculed for wanting to ride a motorbike. The chaps at [the club] called me a lesbian and all sorts of other things I won't repeat. And they ran me off the track so many times I couldn't tell you." Chrissie's usually sunny demeanor turns matronly and scolding as she dictates to me her recollections. And she makes no apologies for it. "The way I coped and the way I know the very few other girls I knew that rode coped, was by totally rejecting our femininity. If we wanted to ride with the men, we had to act like the men. It was as simple as that."

And the moral of this story? Just ride. If you want to ride, then ride. And be yourself while doing that! Women no longer have to pretend to be one of the boys. There are many talented young girls and women out there on the tracks and the trails, doing what they love riding quads. And they are every bit as diverse as the rest of the population. The mould is broken.

Photograph used under permission by Katie Groves of Groveton Photography, www.groveton.com.au

Social Media and the Racer

These days there is a lot more you can offer your potential sponsors than just sticker real estate on your bike.

The GFC. I'm getting pretty tired of hearing that evil little acronym. And just in case you require further clarification, no I'm not referring to the Geelong Football Club, I'm talking about the Global Financial Crisis. Why is this on my mind? Well because it seems to be everyone's magic answer for every finance-related question of late. Why are club memberships so low this year? Because of the GFC. Bike shops aren't doing so well right now? Yeah, 'cause of the GFC. Are you racing next weekend? Nah. Why? GFC. Why can't I get sponsored? GFC!!!

Yes the world economy has taken a beating, and Australia has been "pinched" but overall we were very lucky here and the GFC has become a very convenient covers everything excuse. It is a lot harder for new racers to obtain sponsors than it was just a couple of years ago, as many shop owners have had their confidence shaken by the gloomy world news. They are less inclined to part with their cash to unknown and/or unproven riders.

Will dropping off your glossy 10 page Race Resume change their minds? Unlikely. Truth be told, those printed resumes often end up in the bin, unread, many months after being shoved in the "To Do" pile of the store managers desk. Professional Proposals do still have their place of course, but for the average racer chasing support from their local shops, printed reports have well and truly had their day. Besides, what does the store get out of the deal? A few stickers slapped on your bike and a mumbled thank you in your trophy acceptance speech? The world today demands something much more dynamic. And the answer is right under your nose. Social media sites are easy to use and deliver a unique kind of exposure one where the audience can interact with the subject immediately, giving real-time results and feedback. You probably already have a Facebook or Twitter account anyway. Now it is just a matter of switching on to the potential it holds.

Even in the absence of sponsors, you can begin promoting yourself and building your profile to gain a strong following one that store owners will want to get their slice of. For obvious reasons, it makes sense to stick to the most popular sites. More site traffic equals more potential viewers. Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn can all be employed to great effect for even the least tech-savvy among us. If you're confident of your video editing skills, a YouTube channel could be the ultimate self-broadcasting tool. Use these accounts to update your followers of racing results, riding pics, plans, and other race-related updates. Mentioning your sponsors services or products in this way, offers them a more attentive audience than the standard old stickers and thanks. One that is much more likely to convert into referred sales for the sponsor.

But just remember social media is a double-edged sword! Sponsors will be happy to be associated with you and your marketing efforts as long as it is in keeping with the company's delicate corporate image. They will probably cut your support short if they are mixed into your posts along with the rather unsavoury pics of your wild weekend out, or the expletive-rich comments left by your mates. Your best option is to set up a separate account specifically for managing your race image. Set up a separate email account just for that purpose, and link this to your racing profiles.

And the best part of all is that it costs you nothing but a bit of set up time to accomplish all this. In fact, once it is all set up, you could delegate your media releases to a trusted member of your crew such as a parent or a partner, giving you more time on the bike and less behind a keyboard. Another advantage there is that many people are uncomfortable promoting themselves. But a parent or partner will trumpet your successes with pride.

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