clothing · cycling

Will bike riding in Saudi Arabia change the way women dress?

I’m curious.

After all, it was the bicycle that fueled the “rational dress movement” associated with early North American feminism.

Women said goodbye to restrictive skirts, corsets and crinolines and hello to bloomers.

Here’s Elizabeth Cady Stanton on women’s clothing and bicycling:

“Men found that flying coat tails were ungainly and that baggy trousers were in the way [when cycling] so they changed their dress to suit themselves and we didn’t interfere,” Stanton told a reporter in 1895. “They have taken in every reef and sail and appear in skin tight garments. We did not bother our heads about their cycling clothes, and why should they meddle with what we want to wear? We ask nothing more of them than did the devils in Scripture – ‘Let us alone.’”


The comic above is from Punch magazine. It’s titled “The Supremacy of the Skirt.”

Will the same thing happen in Saudi Arabi now that women are allowed to ride bikes?

See Women and the Wheel.

“The first feature-length film directed and shot by a female in Saudi Arabia is making its rounds on the festival circuit. Wadjda, a 2012 movie by Haifaa al-Mansour, follows a young girl living in the capital city of Riyadh who dreams of owning a green bicycle she sees everyday in a shop window. Bike riding by females is outlawed in Saudi Arabia (or was at the time the film was shot), so the girl’s mother refuses to buy her the bike, prompting her to hatch a plan of her own to purchase it.

But in April of this year, around the time Wadjda was being screened at the Gulf Film Festival in Dubai (Saudi Arabia has no movie theaters), Arabic newspaper al-Yaum announced that the religious police of Saudi Arabia had lifted the ban prohibiting women from riding bicycles and motorbikes in public. The country’s interpretation of Islam still prevents females from driving cars, but they’re now allowed to cycle in designated areas, such as parks — not as a mode of transportation or in a competitive capacity — and only if they’re accompanied by a male and dressed in their full-body abaya.”

Image description: A woman biking wearing a burqa.

See Saudi Arabian Religious Police ‘Lift Bicycle Ban For Women’ – As Long As They Wear A Veil & Are With A Male Relative

6 thoughts on “Will bike riding in Saudi Arabia change the way women dress?

  1. We have to be honest and above all, supportive enough as women cyclists to simply support every positive step for them to even bike around is great.

    The focus needs to be a Saudi woman’s need for real transportation independence and her health to support her cycling regularily. What she wears is not as critical right now and not for a long time. After all, they need to cycle independently with anyone or solo.

    1. Well put, Jean. I especially agree with your point that focusing on what Saudi women are wearing right now or what they may wear in the near future is missing the point. It’s not about clothing. We Westerners tend to see clothing as a powerful symbol, especially of “desirable” versions of femininity, but we need to remind ourselves that this is part of our own culture’s extraordinary emphasis on how women dress and appear. What this is really about, if I can chance an attempt to say so, is women’s material need for increased physical independence. This means in my book less restrictive on the micro and macro levels.

      Micro = e.g. can a woman run for a bus or her life or will her high heels stop her? Can a woman lift her arms or bend down or will a trend for crop tops stop or mini skirts stop her? Can a woman swim or bicycle or dance or will a burkha stop her?

      Macro = e.g. can she transport herself from place to place without needing anyone else (to drive or as a chaperone) or their approval (a husband/male relative in charge).

Comments are closed.