Wed
Jan 29 2014 4:00pm

Fact or Fiction: Women in Motorcycle Clubs

Reaper's Legacy by Joanna WyldeToday 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.

“Absolutely not.”

Learn more or order a copy of Reaper's Legacy by Joanna Wylde, out now:

Buy at AmazonBuy at Barnes & NobleBuy at Indiebound

 

 


Joanna Wylde is a former journalist who is the author of Reaper’s Property and Reaper’s Legacy.

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10 comments
Stephanie Sparks
1. Stephanie Sparks
Well, they would say that, wouldn't they?
Motorcycle Clubs were what Hell's Angels became after the Angels were illegalised and persecuted.
If one of the Hell's Angels from the local chapter took an interest in you, you learned to make yourself scarce, unless you wanted to become an "old lady." Which was basically rape followed by ownership. Part of the joining ritual. Sometimes it was rape in front of the chapter.
Certainly they were avoided. The only thing they cared about was their bikes and their brothers. Women were interchangable, and they did. Maybe things have changed. I hope so.
I just dodged them but when I worked in a women's refuge center a few years after my own wild years, we had a lot of ex old ladies. With scars and children. This vanilla coating by making them into romances bothers me. It feeds into a culture that is terribly wrong, especially for women.
Mary Lynne Nielsen
2. emmel
I don't know if Ms. Wylde will read these comments, but after reading this column, a request of mine would be that, if any of the resources she notes are public, link(s) to them on her website would be invaluable. I would be curious to learn more about the real culture, beyond what I read in the romanticized one.
Kareni
3. Kareni
Thank you for a thought provoking article, Ms. Wylde.
Stephanie Sparks
4. Margreet
First thing I'd like to point out is that we are still talking fiction here....for those who take everything they read too seriously.
Secondly, I'm not an expert on anything, I only have my own experience to rely on and as with any group, or club, or membership there is diversity and lots of it.... So to compare all MC's to the Hell's Angels is simply silly, as silly as it would be to say that all churches are the same regardless of denomination. I'm sure there are as many differentials within the individual cultures, codes and rules of each club as there are stars in the sky.
As a reviewer I am grateful for authors that do some research on a topic they choose to discuss in their books, but they certainly are not obliged to if they write fiction.... Just like we are not obliged to read anything we don't like. Personally, I love a good MC novel!! Bring it on!!
Nicole Leapheart
5. BoxyFrown
Thank you Joanna Wylde! I read Reaper's Property all day yesterday at my desk instead of working. (Shh, don't tell anyone!) I loved it, and having read a rew other MC books, I can definitely tell that you have done your research and due diligence. The characters are strong, the world building is rich, and of course in a book it makes sense to focus on the more outrageous aspects of any world to keep things exciting.
Stephanie Sparks
6. Torifl
I think, as a whole, violence permeates any organized group. I've dated bikers and frat boys. I've seen the good and bad in both. To paint both groups with a wide brush isn't fair. While there are MCs I def. would not go around, the ones I've interacted with weren't any better or worse then they had to be. My only qualm is the covers feature such sexy good looking men and in my travels, a good looking cut as all get out beautiful biker ala SOA is a rare, rare species. lol
Stephanie Sparks
7. Joann Wylde
Hey, this is Joanna, the author. I saw the comments and thought I would chime in. Of course an article this short can't begin to cover the complexities of a full culture like the MC world. As I said above, there's no question that abuse happens in some clubs. I guess what I was hoping to share is that I've met many women living in MCs and their experiences vary. There's no excuse for members of any given club abusing women. But it's also not fair to blame every club for the actions of one club, or to state that all women in MCs are unhappy or treated poorly.

Are women abused in some MCs? Yes. Are ALL women abused in every MC? No. Like any other group, each MC needs to be judged on their own actions. I have met many old ladies who are not abused, and they are angry at the implication that they are.

Ultimately MC books like mine are romantic fantasies and I think we're all aware of this fact. And the commenter who pointed out that in real life, bikers aren't hot like SOA is definitely on to something... They come in many shapes and sizes, some more pleasing than others ;) But like any group, bikers (even those in MCs) should be judged on their own actions, not the actions of those who look like them. There are hundreds of MCs. Each one is different. Some are evil. Many aren't.
Stephanie Sparks
8. Mo
I have to admit, Joanna's Reaper's Property was my first experience with MC culture. I almost never read the book, except this one review intrigued me just enough to try it. When I found out how much research was put into the book, it made me trust the story that much more. It's one of the reasons why, frankly, I really appreciate this series. I feel like not only am I getting a darn good story (and great characters) but I am also learning something new and interesting.
Jennifer Proffitt
9. JenniferProffitt
Joanna, I LOVED your book. I got it yesterday afternoon and finished it in one sitting! Such great writing, chemistry, and you can 100% tell the detail put into story of each biker--everyone from their names, to the way the speak and act. I love it! I will definitely be picking up more of your books, and reading that Biker Chicks book you mentioned in your Author's Note, as that's the one aspect of MC books that I am most fascinated by and yet can't wrap my head around. Thank you!
Stephanie Sparks
10. DarbyBriar
Joann, Do you have blog sites you can share that helped with your research. ~Darby
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