Today we're pleased to welcome author Joanna Wylde to Heroes and Heartbreakers. Joanna's newest release, Reaper's Legacy, is about a woman whose only way to protect her young son is to live with an outlaw biker gang. Joanna is here today to discuss the true role of women in motorcycle clubs. Thanks, Joanna!
Is it real?
I think that’s the first thing that readers wonder when they pick up a motorcycle club (MC) romance, and it’s a good question. MC culture is fascinating, terrifying and utterly foreign to the average reader—and right now it seems to be everywhere we look.
The recent boom in MC romances was probably sparked by the success of Sons of Anarchy, a show that follows the exploits of a fictional club in California. I know that’s how my interest started.
The first time I watched the show, I thought it was ridiculous. Motorcycle clubs are gangs—why on earth would they have officers or vote? Seriously—an official gang secretary? That was counter to everything I believed about gangs, and as a former journalist, I just couldn’t let it go. I had to start researching.
What I learned stunned me. While the show is definitely fictional, it’s based on a massive, complex culture that tens of thousands of people have chosen to be part of around the world. In this culture there are two kinds of clubs: riding clubs, which are the most common, and outlaw clubs. These outlaw clubs are the only groups allowed to call themselves an MC, something that is known and respected throughout the biker community. They are in the minority (many call themselves one percenters, because ninety-nine percent of riders don’t qualify), and what they’ve created is a true foreign culture to the average citizen.
As a writer, this blew me away. I immediately saw story potential, but I decided that my books would be based on solid research. Why? Because one of the core values of MC culture is respect, and it’s not very respectful to write about real people’s lives unless you take some time to learn about them first. I read books, articles, blogs and police reports. But eventually, a true researcher can’t rely on secondary sources for information.
It was time to meet some bikers.
For my first book, Reaper’s Property, I spoke exclusively to men. Women living in MCs tend to be very protective of their men and their clubs, and I had no idea how to reach out to them. Men, however… Men are easy. My interviews started something like this:
“Hi, I write erotica. Can I ask you a few questions?”
Trust me. They were happy to talk.
But once my first book came out, more than a year ago, something amazing happened. Women in clubs started writing to me. They love the MC books, because it creates a romantic fantasy of the life they’ve chosen—often a difficult life. They also like it when authors do their research and portray their clubs in a way that’s realistic to them instead of relying on stereotypes.
Through these women, I’ve come to realize that what we think we “know” about women living in clubs is often based on out of date sources and generalizations that have come from the worst horror stories. These horror stories are true—but are they typical?
I believe, based on extensive research ranging from interviews to law enforcement sources to sociological studies, that MC culture is so diverse that judging any one club based on the actions of another is unfair. I’ve also realized that those of us who aren’t part of the culture often judge it harshly based on surface observations, without understanding what we’re observing means to those living the life.
One thing that bothers many readers when they start an MC romance are the terms used for women. In a club, women who are married or permanently attached to men are called “old ladies” or “property.” Some of them even wear vests that clearly say, “Property of (man’s name).” That’s appalling to the average modern woman, and I was horrified by it myself.
But the women I’ve talked to in clubs feel differently. What isn’t immediately clear to outsiders (“citizens”) is that when a woman puts on a property patch, her man is taking one hundred percent responsibility for her actions. That requires complete trust—and it isn’t given lightly. According to Kim Jones, an MC romance writer whose husband is an officer in a real MC:
“Old ladies have a lot of power—they know things, they hear things,” she said. “If he beats her, she can go get him locked up. Law enforcement would love nothing more than to get a couple old ladies on the stand to shut down clubs. That’s one reason I can’t see the club tolerating a brother who beats his wife – why would she protect him if he hurts her? And these are strong women. It’s not an easy life. There’s not a woman I’ve met in these clubs that would put up with this shit.”
Another issue that comes up is abuse of women, which some writers choose to portray in their books, and others don’t. To a certain extent, this makes sense because every club has a slightly different culture and what’s acceptable in one place isn’t in another. In reality, there’s no question that some women living in clubs suffer horrible abuse. It’s inexcusable. But the bulk of the women I’ve talked to—even those who write to me sharing their own stories of abuse, and I do hear from them—say it’s not typical.
According to Jones:
“I don’t think it happens as often as people think it does. I think a lot of people get the wrong impression— that every old lady is subject to beat downs and mistreatment. But that’s not true in any MC I’ve been around. There are some baddass one percenters out there, and I’ve met a lot of them. I don’t think they’d be capable of (beating down or raping a woman) or tolerating a brother who did that. My husband wears a patch that says, ‘I am my brother’s keeper,’ and nobody wants a brother like that.”
Jones thinks the extreme violence shown in some books goes too far.
“There are people who abuse their wives, and some who do drugs—of course those things happen,” she told me. “But I don’t think it happens any more in MCs than anywhere else. I just don’t see it. I think a business executive is just as capable of beating his wife as a brother in an MC. But there’s a difference—in an MC, people are going to know. At some point they’re going to say something. It’s one of those things that’s so bad that people want to read about it—we all want the woman (in a romance) to be the damsel in distress. The best way is to have a man attack her. They make good fictional stories. But when you see a group of bikers, you can’t look at them and say, ‘that one’s the rapist’.”
Motorcycle club culture is so complex and diverse that there’s no way to fully explore it in a short article—I haven’t even addressed what I’ve learned about criminal activity, portrayals in the media, children, etc. But to get back to the question I first started this article with, is it real?
Yes and no. MC romances are exaggerated romantic fantasies. But MC culture is real, and no two clubs are alike. While I shared quotes from Kim Jones for this article, what she said rings true among many of the women I’ve talked to—women who aren’t comfortable sharing their names publicly. They aren’t living in a fantasy world. Every single one acknowledges that bad things happen, sometimes horrible things. But ultimately, the majority seems to share Kim’s opinion.
When I asked her if she felt like a victim, she laughed.
Learn more or order a copy of Reaper's Legacy by Joanna Wylde, out now:
Joanna Wylde is a former journalist who is the author of Reaper’s Property and Reaper’s Legacy.