I’ve written before about the worry that bikes would corrupt women’s natural virtue. See Bicycles: Making Good Women Go Bad. There I write,
Most people writing about this era, when bicycles ruled the road, quote Susan B. Anthony: “I think [the bicycle] has done more to emancipate women than anything else in the world. a feeling of freedom and self-reliance. The moment she takes her seat she knows she can’t get into harm unless she gets off her bicycle, and away she goes, the picture of free, untrammeled womanhood.” Sounds harmless enough.
Who on earth could oppose “free, untrammeled womanhood”? Why was there such vehement opposition to women riding bikes?
Not as many people quote Sarah Bernhardt: “The bicycle is on the way to transforming our way of life more deeply than you might think. All these young women and girls who are devouring space are refusing domestic family life.”
Aha! This gives us a better sense of the roots of the anti-women-on-bikes backlash. Bikes posed a threat to women staying at home. With bicycles to ride, women had choices.
Women’s cycling was an activity opposed on many grounds. I’ll be writing another post on the medical issues that were thought to be connected to women riding bikes. (Short story: think sexual depravity, exhaustion, and infertility.) But along with doctors, clergy were another group that often spoke out, in print and in sermons, against women riding bikes.
Cycling was obviously unladylike (just look at the bloomers!) and there are many published speeches by clergy against the spectacle posed by women on bikes. Other clergy worried that access to transportation would make it easier for women to give into our baser natures and undertake morally loathsome activities, including prostitution and infidelity. I just love the idea that the only impediment to women’s wild sexual misbehavior is the lack of reliable independent transport.
Turns out, see quote above, that doctors worried too that bicycling would send women into the arms of other women, presumably other bicycle depraved women. Over excited by the motion of the bicycle seat, they’d have no choice but to turn to one another for sexual satisfaction.
The comment thread on our Facebook page when I shared the image above is one of the funniest ever. One woman wonders if she’s a bisexual because she only owns one bike but wonders if buying a second will tip her all the way along the Kinsey scale.
And it’s curious why being sexually insatiable is associated with sex with other women. Presumably a sexually insatiable woman could, if she were so inclined, find a multitude of men?
Nevermind. That’s expecting commonsense out of a view, at the base of which, is a fear of women’s sexuality.