Friday, October 2, 2009

Bicycles,women and liberation

Bicycles, introduced in Europe around 1863, were the first democratic means of transportation. In practical terms, bicycles eliminated the reliance on the horse and buggy.

The “Golden Age” of bicycles came in the 1890s and they were particularly fashionable in cosmopolitan cities such as New York, London, and Paris. Men smoked fewer cigars, wore cheaper suits, and forwent hats and shaves, while men and women read less and stopped regularly observing the Sabbath–all as a result of the bicycle craze.
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During this Golden Age campaigns were waged to encourage women to ride and, as a result, the bicycle became both a symbol and a means of women’s liberation.

With the new transportation came a “rational dress” movement for women, who could not reasonably be expected to ride in full skirts, wearing the average of thirty-seven pounds of clothing that was common before the advent of the cycle. As a result of the cycling craze bloomers in the 1880s at last became a viable fashion option for women, although feminists had pushed for years for their acceptance.

Another direct result of cycling’s popularity was a rise in female athletes–cycle riding had proved that exercise was not detrimental to women as was commonly believed. However, women cyclists were criticized for abandoning their femininity and becoming “mannish” or “manly women.”