News

Jessica rides through gender stereotypes

By Cheryl Clock, The Standard

She was a day old when her grandpa bought her a dirt bike. A red-and-white Yamaha PW50 mini-bike, the back fender engraved with her name: Jessica Lee.

She figures her grandfather had an ulterior motive with having the bike personalized. Even if her mother wanted to have it returned to Clare's Cycle in Fenwick, she couldn't.

Jessica Kline, 31, was five years old the first time she rode it in the backyard of her parent's Ridgeway home. The memory, captured on VHS tape. Jessica has watched it a few times, laughing at her father jogging beside the bike, and her younger self buzzing with unsteady enthusiasm around their property.

Each time she's watched it, Jessica has fought the urge to yell at her five-year-old self, "Give the engine more gas."

Ever since that day, her enthusiasm for bikes has grown.

She rides a white 2008 Suzuki SV650, a V-twin engine bike that's both quick and easy to handle. She bought it off a woman from Ottawa, who had advertised it for sale. She'd had a baby and the bike had sat idle in her garage for a couple years.

Jessica likes riding it on winding roads.

"It's freedom," she says. "You take on this confidence whenever you ride.

"It allows you to express yourself."

She will be one of the women speakers at the third annual Niagara Leadership Summit for Women, Saturday, Oct. 22 at Brock University.

Hosted by the YWCA Niagara Region, the summit is a full-day conference to inspire, build community connections and recognize women's leadership in Niagara.

There will be a variety of workshops, discussions and guest speakers on topics that include: leadership, compassion fatigue, financial independence, and Jessica's discussion on breaking gender stereotypes and women in motorsports.

Riding motorbikes has given her confidence. She feels more connected to the road than in a vehicle with four wheels. It commands her attention, and releases stress. "You're alone in your helmet," she says. "It gives you time to think, or not to think."

Riding bikes is a powerful experience, as if she's wearing a superwoman cape. "Now I can conquer the world," she says.

"It's very liberating."

She has earned two university degrees – psychology from the University of Guelph and social work from the University of Waterloo – and works part-time as a social worker. She has also developed a motorsport, automotive and outdoor staffing company, called Backwoods Promotions, that provides staff to promote adventures and products based on lived experience. It takes her to shows and events in Toronto and across North America.

She's also works to promote and mentor girls racing snowmobiles, and an all-girls endurocross motorcycle racing team. She has been a Big Sister for six years.

Madi Fuller, a 20-year-old political science student at Brock University will be another speaker. As advocacy co-ordinator for the university's student union, she deals with on-campus issues from transit to mental health.

She will be speaking about the need to educate men about healthy masculinity, in order to promote a strong culture of consent on campus.

Consenting to sexual activity is simple. Or, at least, it should be, she says. A voluntary, enthusiastic, mutual, ongoing and explicit consent is required. Every time. Not a consent that's implied on the basis of silence or previous sexual history.

Simply put, no really does mean no.

"When a girl says no, she really means no," says Madi. "And guys, when a girl says no, don't make her feel uncomfortable about it."

No does not mean try again later. Or she really means yes. Or she was drinking with me therefore she wants to sleep with me. Or any other twisted, self-serving definition.

It's about respecting choice, and consent does not have to be awkward. Try, "Are you OK with this?" she says.

Guys need to speak up and intervene when they see a bad situation developing with a guy friend. It's OK to break the so-called "bro-code", a set of unwritten rules among guys that includes the understanding that anything he does in drunken state is justified, including taking home a girl who is obviously not in a state to give consent. "Don't be a bystander," she says. Use the words: "Are you sure this is a good idea?

"That's not cool."

Contrary to consent, is a "hookup" culture on campuses, that make casual sexual encounters without long-term or emotional commitment an accepted norm.

And dating apps like Tinder only perpetuate the culture. Tinder is an app where you submit a short bio and photos of yourself, then are presented with photos of other potential matches based on your preferences. If you're not interested, you swipe left. If you are, swipe right. If that person has also swiped right on you, you're declared a match and encouraged to start a conversation.

Understand that a text conversation is not unlike a verbal conversation.

"People can be made to feel uncomfortable over texts," she says.

Many guys think that if a girl has signed up for the app, that consent is implied. Not the case, says Madi.

She hopes to foster a healthy masculinity on campus, making it a place where guys don't equate sleeping with a girl as "winning" and upping their "alpha status" among friends, she says.

Cclock@postmedia.com

What: Niagara Leadership Summit for Women. Hosted by the YWCA Niagara Region, the summit is a full day conference designed to inspire, build community connections and recognize women's leadership in Niagara.

When: Saturday, Oct. 22.

Where: Brock University.

Cost: $15.

Details: Registration and information at www.niagaralsw.ca