Your grandma's bike club
I posted yesterday about our local lady bikers who just brought out a gorgeous PinUp Calender for 2009. It got me thinking about the role of biking throughout the his- or her-story of the Feminist Movement. This was particularly true in Australia of the 1890s. Denied the vote and the right to property, the ladies hopped on bikes as another way to prove their equality with men. Conservative gentlemen, not surprisingly, were aghast. With the help of the medical profession they claimed biking was injurious to the fragile female form. Undeterred, lady bikers responded with letters such as they written to The Champion.
To the Editor of The Champion,
Permit me to thank you for your criticism of Dr. Torrance's remarks on women cyclists. As one of them, I have had more abuse lavished on me in the last few months than during the whole previous course of my life, and the worthy clergymen's strictures are merely a few more straws to a weight which we wheelwomen are quite used. One can ignore the vulgar comments of street larrikins and larrikinesses, well dressed and otherwise, but the press and the pulpit are of sufficient importance to be noticed. But even pulpit and press often make absurd mistakes and criticise many things in the blindest ignorance. Cycling is one of them. Many writers (on the Argus especially) do not even know the terms of the sport, and all others, clergymen included, who denounce it are invariably non cyclists.
I abandoned a skirt and adopted rational dress for greater safety (twice being nearly killed by my skirt catching in the pedals), and not, as the enemies of cycling say of all women who wear rational dress, because of vanity. No woman is expected to ride horseback in a street dress, to play tennis in a tightly fitting visiting costume, or to walk miles in a tea gown. Why cycling should be the only pastime for which women would dress in a thoroughly unsuitable manner (as in skirts) is a mystery. Imagine men playing football in tweed suits and tight shoes, cricket in mackintoshes or rowing a race in evening dress. Men dress suitably for every sport, why not women?
The hope of the Argus, "that those persons (ie-lady cyclists) may find themselves frowned off the road" like many a Cassandra-like prophecy of that well established journal, is doomed to disappointment. Cycling for women is coming to stay. Lady Brassey rides in skirts, but that will not cause the rational dress party, nor any woman with regard to her safety and comfort, to follow her example. Melbourne is singularly behind the times in this matter and it is odd that those persons (principally Australians) who venerate anything and everything British, from boots to the latest handshake, have not yet learnt that the majority of English women cycle (as they do in America) in rational dress.
"A lie has no legs" saith an ancient saw. Perhaps the anti-cycling public thought so of women and are shocked to discover their mistake,