July 31, 2010

Feminism and Cycling, the "Untrammeled Woman"


Cycling is inherently feminist.

Susan B Anthony, after whom the 19th Amendment is nicknamed, once said, “I think [the bicycle] has done more to emancipate women than anything else in the world. It gives a woman 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.”

In a time when women were prohibited from wearing pants, donning “bloomers” to straddle a bicycle saddle was seen as a bold statement of protest, liberation, and freedom. As the bicycle’s popularity soared in the 1890’s, it became a symbol of mobility, and as women began moving out of the cloistered domestic realm, the bicycle became not only a symbol but a tool of activism.

Today, especially in Los Angeles’ Car Kingdom, the bicycle is still a symbol and a tool of activism. It’s a bold statement against oil consumption, traffic, and pollution, and like all other forms of activism, it’s not easy. Cyclists are often denied their rights to the road by motorists and law enforcement. Riding a bicycle can be dangerous and discouraging. It’s not too unlike confronting men with their sexism, suffering the humiliation of gendered condescension, or constantly wondering if people are seeing you or your sex.