I’ve been riding motorcycles for a fair amount of time, two decades to be precise. And in this 20 year long relationship with bikes I’ve met many women motorcyclists; some of them beginners, while some having logged thousands of miles on the saddle, not just in India but also abroad. When I started riding there were very few women around me who rode. The one’s who did were usually commuters who’d merely use motorcycles as a mode of transportation. I’d consider it a lucky day if I saw even one woman motorcyclist in Pune 10-15 years ago. It usually came as a surprise for most, although it does even now.
But things have changed gradually; more and more women are now riding motorcycles not just as a mere means of commuting, but out of passion. You don’t see women ride puny 100cc motorcycles handed down by the men of the family anymore. Women are now coming forward and owning machines. Quite a few I know own their own superbikes, and few are even passionate about having an enviable collection in their garage. I being one of them.
But as the number of women motorcyclists is increasing, it is getting increasingly difficult to differentiate the passionate lot from the pseudo ones. You’d probably think I’d compare them to commuters. No. You can make out a commuter lady biker in the crowd. She’ll be the one not bothered about how many horses are under her; she’ll be the one not concerned about a marquee or status. For her the machine is purely to transport her from point A to point B, that’s it. They’re the women with their handbag slinged across the handlebar, riding the bike in usually a salwar kameez; for them reaching the destination is the only thing that matters.
The passionate kind are a different story all together. They’re usually found in a mix – ones who go ride, have fun, enjoy themselves and don’t believe in depicting a larger than life picture of their rides, and moreover, ones who really don’t think it’s a big deal for a woman to ride a motorcycle. And then there is this other passionate kind who believes in showcasing and hyping even the blip of a throttle on social media (or any sort of media). They’re also the kinds who’ll let the entire world know when they fart, cough, get an itch, or even tip off the bike! For them these are events of magnanimous proportions that need to be shared with the world.
Since I’ve clearly distinguished the types of women motorcyclists and how they differ from one another, I’ll now move to a topic which a lot of them (usually the pseudo ones) hold close to their heart, and social media status’; and one which they use as a USP, or if I may say, as a sales pitch for garnering media attention, or any sort of attention available – WOMEN EMPOWERMENT.
In the last 3 years itself the number of rides conducted under the banner of ‘Women Empowerment’ has multiplied probably more than the population of India. There is a women empowerment ride in the unfortunate occurrence of a rape. A women empowerment ride in case of domestic violence, or eve teasing. Heck, there would have been an empowerment ride to even promote the #WomenEmpowerment! It looks like it’s just become fashionable to ride for #WomenEmpowerment, and to use the term liberally in order to be considered a serious woman biker.
A group of women who get sponsorships, get pictures clicked with some top bureaucrats, ride to foreign shores all in the name of women empowerment. What I fail to understand is that by riding to foreign shores, taking sponsorship money, getting a wee bit of media coverage, how are you empowering women? How is it that if you ride a motorcycle from point A to point B, on Indian soil or anywhere else, you will empower all of the so called suppressed or underprivileged women? If you do have connections and rub shoulders with top brass, and are that well networked to get them to fund your rides, then I’m sure you can use those capabilities to redirect fund for actual woman empowerment. Honestly, I’ve been trying to wrap my head around this ‘Saravajanik’ sales pitch for a while now, but I just can’t seem to get it; the answer still remains elusive to me.
Year after year, event after event, it’s not just the women, but also the conglomerate of brands big & small alike that conduct rides under this banner. How has it benefitted women? Have such rides been useful to any of the women for whom these rides are supposedly been conducted for? Besides creating a hype in the form of press releases, and some pictures being circulated on social media, have these brands actually achieved the deliverables they set, when they decided to associate with this cause? Think about it, and you’ll realize the answer is NO!
Maybe my definition of women empowerment is different from what all these women, brands and few many bikers think it to be. For me women empowerment means empowering the woman in reality, and not just virtually with hashtags, social media posts and news articles. For me it would actually mean taking the sponsors money and building a toilet for women in places where there is lack of sanitation facilities; even if it means it’s just one toilet in the entire village.
For me women empowerment means organizing a women’s health camp at super subsidized rates, or free of cost in the first place, which a lot of them don’t have access to. Maybe even build proper toilet blocks for women in the higher mountains, since we all love going to Ladakh, and also crib about the lack of potty avenues enroute to Leh. If you’re finding it so difficult let your crap loose in the midst of nature’s abode, have you ever wondered how difficult it would be for the people living there?
How about setting up skill camps for 2-3 days in rural areas, where women can learn a skill which will make them financially independent. A lot of women in the rural areas don’t have a medical insurance, maybe use the money and get them insured? And the idea should not be to engage in empowering women as a onetime claim-to-fame activity, rather it should be an ongoing process, followed year after year.
I sincerely believe that a lot of bullshit goes on under the pretext of ‘empowerment’. You’re riding for women empowerment to protest against rape. Are you helping rape victims in any way? Are you giving them any financial assistance which they need to fight their legal battles, or when they need to seek medical help? No. Are you giving pepper spray cans to women in high-rape case states so that maybe they can have a small scope to defend themselves with that can? No. Are you conducting street self defense classes for them, so that they may at least try to protect themselves, God forbid the heinous crime happens? NO.
If you aren’t actually helping them, then how can you claim that you are riding for empowerment? Does you undertaking that ride making even an ounce of a difference to them, or benefit them? In all probability the answer is no.
Being part of the auto industry for a decade in different roles ranging from marketing, PR, journalism and brand building, I’ve come across a few brands who want to promote themselves and their products by associating with women empowerment. You’d think that maybe in the backend their CSR wing must be doing something related to this cause, but in reality it’s mainly* bullshit, ideally done to grab eyeballs and because it looks good on the marketing plan.
There are tons of people out there who have created properties to siphon money into their pockets in the lieu of women empowerment. A lot of noted bikers get associated with them, as they’re presented as Chief Guests, or Guests of Honor, but beyond that, there is nothing much that happens.
There are motorcycling clubs, and individuals who are thriving on this entire concept of #WomenEmpowerment. You’re an X person, with a Ycc motorcycle; you’re in the elderly age bracket; you start a motorcycle club/ movement for women empowerment where all you talk about is yourself, your motorcycling experience, and you voluntarily tell media to approach you for the women empowerment cause. How? How are you helping the other women? A club that has a positioning statement which says ‘We empower women through motorcycling’ I again ask how? I’ve attended a few meets of such clubs, and my firsthand experience is that they’re a macho version of kitty parties. If kitty parties are to hoity toity women, such meets are for women on motorcycles. Women mainly discuss food, boyfriends, shopping, bitch a little, and in the middle of all this (which constitutes a huge percentage) there will be discussions on motorcycles, and trips to be undertaken, not forgetting to mention political power game and hierarchy establishment at play. Their whatsapp group discussions are at a different level of hilariousness altogether.
If you’ve noticed, it’s not just ‘women empowerment’ as a cause which is gaining popularity; causes like #SaveTheGirlChild are also a favourite among attention seekers. How many rides done for #SaveTheGirlChid have benefitted any of the girls it’s done for? Have they actually sponsored a girl child’s education? Or taken interest or done anything for the girl child’s hygiene facilities? Let alone rural areas, there’s so much help needed in the urban slum dwellings, are any of the ‘for the cause’ bikers and biking events doing anything about it?
Do any of the people participating in such rides have any clue to where the sponsorship money for such rides goes? No. I understand that a certain sum is needed to make an event successful; certain money is needed to ensure we get the right permissions and that people attending the ride are gratified in the form of refreshments. But let’s face it, for a huge bunch of the bikers/ bikeresses (no I’m not going to use the term Bikerni) these rides are just an excuse to catch up with a few people, with the main agenda revolving around free food and publicity. I’m not saying all rides/ charity rides conducted under these banners are fake, there are genuine ones as well, but they’re far and few between.
Food for thought – besides pictures being put up on social media, how often have you come across the substantial work these so called #WomenEmpowerment and #SaveTheGirlChild events have achieved? How often have you seen any result? Have you come across any testimonial of someone benefitting from these rides? Honestly, the past few years that I’ve been tracking such events, I haven’t come across a single person/woman/girl who must have directly benefitted from these acts.
Here’s the truth ladies – when you say you’re riding for women empowerment, you’re riding for yourself, you’re maybe empowering yourself, and your self-esteem. Just because you choose to ride a motorcycle instead of a scooter/scooty does not empower any woman around you; just because you’re going to traverse the length and breadth of the country – solo, or in a group, is not going to help any member of the woman kind, not in your city, and definitely not in the country. And hell, just because you rode a motorcycle to the highest motorable pass in the world, certainly doesn’t qualify as an act of empowering a woman. You may have inspired with your courage, and rebellion, but certainly NOT empowered.
CALL IT WOMEN EMPOWERMENT IF WOMEN ARE DIRECTLY OR INDIRECTLY BENEFITTING FROM YOUR ACTIONS FOR THEIR CAUSE.
So before you rant about ‘We are riding for women empowerment’ think if you’re actually making any difference. If you’re actions are benefitting women, or even a single woman or girl, no matter where she may be, or who she may be, then you’re empowering in the true sense. If you’ve achieved this, then you’re staying true to the essence of Women Empowerment.
PS: No matter how much the hype, the truly passionate kinds will usually stay away from the marketing gimmick called ‘Women Empowerment’.