Barbara Joans, Anthropologist Who Studied Biker Culture, Dies at 89

Barbara Joans, an iconoclastic anthropologist and feminist who, in her early 60s, became something of a Margaret Mead in black leather, steering her Harley-Davidson deep into a biker culture and producing the 2001 book, “Bike Lust: Harleys, Women, and American Society,” died on March 6 in Santa Cruz, Calif. She was 89.

The cause of her death, in an assisted living facility, was cardiopulmonary failure, her son Howard Schwartz said.

Ms. Joans, Brooklyn-born, plucky and outspoken, began her career as an instructor at the New School for Social Research in Greenwich Village, with a focus on women’s issues, producing papers on topics like the anthropological aspects of menopause.

Starting in the 1960s, she was also a feminist crusader, helping women arrange illegal abortions in the days before Roe v. Wade. In 1970, 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.

“She was a bit of a wild woman, a genuine nonconformist,” Phyllis Chesler, author of “Women and Madness” (1972) and a longtime friend of Ms. Joans’s, said in a phone interview. “Yes, she was an academic and a nice Jewish girl from Brooklyn. But she was a little bit of a street hombre.”

Ms. Joans, born in Brooklyn, moved to Northern California in the 1970s after a divorce. Her motorcycle club, based in San Francisco, was called the Fog Hogs.Credit…Kenneth Harmon
Back to top button