Bicycles and Equality

I got to reading a few web articles related to women and bicycles. In part because of the drastic decline in women commuters I observed on the road as the daylight hours get shorter. It was bizarre. One day there were maybe 30% women sharing the bikeways, the next day, maybe 5%. Later this fall that number is 1%, at least in my observation.

I found a really interesting article about what the bicycle meant for women’s equality in the late 19th century. A particularly interesting quote from Susan B. Anthony

the bicycle has done more to emancipate women than anything else in the world. I stand and rejoice every time I see a woman on a wheel. It gives a woman a feeling of freedom and self-reliance

Naturally, the male dominated world did not universally see female self-reliance as a good thing. The ‘establishment’ had some other ideas about women riding bicycles.

Woman with Bicycle 1890s

This from an unnamed medical journal:

The moment speed is desired…the body is thrown forward, causing the clothing to press against the clitoris, thereby eliciting and arousing feelings hitherto unknown and unrealized by the young maiden.

Which, if true, would have been seen as a bad thing. Remember, it was 1890. I can only speculate as to the demographics of bicycle commuting should such a theory been proven correct.

The exception to the ‘establishment’ negativity was the bicycle industry. They could double their sales if they could convince women to ride a bicycle. Promptly advertisements appeared promoting women cycling, fashion, independence even.

In the end the bike industry proved more mighty. At least, according to Susan B. Anthony. What an interesting case study in social change. But given my observations from the first paragraph, was there a later regression? Where are all the women riding bikes today?

OneĀ possible explanation is that women take the dangers to their personal safety associated with cycling more seriously than men. Real or perceived, dangers may be important to women than men. Maybe this is why there are fewer women commuting by bicycle as the days get shorter.

Another is that athleticism is not as favoured an attribute in females as in males. Women generally see themselves as less physically capable than men, and also consider this a desirable feminine quality. Likely this is in response to decades of popular imagery showing very slight females.

Any other reasons why women bike commuters disappear in September/October?

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One Response to Bicycles and Equality

  1. Jean says:

    I don’t know all the reasons why there are less women on bikes during fall. But it is noticeable in Calgary also. Here’s my theory:

    Maybe it’s just sweating up and that sweat stays in clothing /one overheats in between weather. A hassle if one has a long work commute (not I. But in the past I’ve had it.).

    Also cycling with confidence in the dark when starting off on an early morning work cycle commute to work.

    I think a lot of women cyclists in Canada are more fair weather cyclists than they care to admit.

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