How did the bike contribute to the emancipation of women?
Before the bike came along the most common transport vehicle was the horse. However, access to horses was sparse for most women. Furthermore, conventional medical wisdom had it that riding damages female genitals. Women had to ride in a sidesaddle, both legs to one side, in a very uncomfortable position. It prevented them from riding all too long feeding into the prominent image of the fragile woman that should not engage in physical activity.
A bike is much easier to mount and control than a horse and thus allowed women to cover greater distances from their homes, giving them newfound freedom – if it wouldn’t have been for the attire.
Back in the day, female clothing was very inconvenient for its wearers: long skirts, tight corsets – nothing practical for physical activity. To participate in the mobility revolution of the 1880s they needed a new way of dressing including shorter dresses or pants underneath dresses (so-called bloomers).
However, such dresses were perceived as being unladylike and produced a huge public outcry. Female cyclists were often attacked and it was assumed biking corrupted women morally and could harm them physically. Even posing a serious threat to their lives.
What the bike actually did was liberate women, giving them a new sense of freedom. As well as a way to gain self-sufficiency and physical strength. Everything combined helped to the emancipation of women.
The importance of the bike today remains. It still gives women in many parts of the world freedom of movement they might otherwise not have. Thus, the bike is still a symbol of liberation in diverse ways and means while its first struggle is often forgotten.
“I think [the bicycle] has done more to emancipate women than any one thing in the world.”
-Susan B. Anthony, 1896
Authored by Larissa Janzen