Barbara Joans, Gender Revolution Crusader and Scholar of Harley Culture, Dies at 86

In the early 1970s, Barbara Joans, then a professor of anthropology at Merritt College in Oakland, California, bought her first motorcycle and unwittingly opened a new field of study for herself. She researched the Harley subculture on weekend rides with a San Francisco-based motorcycle club, the Fog Hogs, as well as in motorcycle shops, biker bars, and at Harley festivals.

She participated in a daylong occupation of The Ladies' Home Journal's editorial offices in New York to demand the opportunity to put out a "liberated" version of the magazine.

Ms. Joans was born on February 28, 1935, in Brooklyn, the only child of Rubin Levinsohn, who owned a clothing store in lower Manhattan, and Eleanor (Davidson) Levinsohn, a junior high school teacher. She graduated from Midwood High School in 1952 and enrolled in Brooklyn College, where she received a bachelor's degree in philosophy in 1956.

Ms. Joans was a feminist crusader, helping women arrange illegal abortions in the days before Roe v. Wade. She married her second husband, Kenneth Harmon, in 1975. He was a longtime motorcycle enthusiast who got her into riding with the Fog Hogs.

By the 1980s and '90s, Harley culture, long associated with roughnecks like the Hells Angels, was going mainstream as a new wave of middle-class professionals adopted chrome-encrusted "hogs" as a ticket to adventure.

Ms. Joans delineated the bands of both male and female bikers she encountered in her research.

Women had their own subcategories, including "the lady biker" and "the woman biker." The lady biker, Ms. Joans told CNN, "rides wonderfully, but she will not wrench."

The woman biker, she said, "is kind of her opposite."

Ms. Joans is survived by her son Howard and another son, David Schwartz, four grandchildren, and one great-grandson.

This article originally appeared in The New York Times.

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