The 19th century was a time of rigidly defined gender roles and emphasized separation between the public spaces of activity for men and women in the city. In this century women were finally making headway into creating their own spaces in a male dominated and patriarchal public sphere. The bicycle was a new experience that characterized the city in this period.
“The emergence of a new stable and easy to ride ‘safety bicycle’ (see Figure.4) provided women with a chance for mobility, increased independence and freedom from the confine of her home”(Jones, 2012). The bicycle allowed for movement into new public spaces. The bicycle had a profound impact on the public sphere, by causing a change in the female fashion at the time (which challenged the traditional gender norms) and providing a new found freedom and liberation for women. The men of this period did not accept this change in the public sphere easily, and began to delineate themselves in terms of physical prowess, and trying to include cycling as a male dominated form of activity. Even so, the bicycle remained a symbol of freedom and self control. “The women of the 19th century who had been given little opportunity to cultivate or express her autonomy now had a vessel with which one could not only develop autonomous power, but do so while leaving behind the old reliance upon men for travel” (Hendrick, 2009).
With the arrival of the bicycle in the public sphere came with it the term ‘the New Woman’ which was used to describe “the modern woman who broke with convention by working outside the home, or eschewed the traditional role of wife and mother”(Zheutlin, 2006). Bicycle manufacturers empowered this term by aligning their bicycles with images of feminine and graceful ladies in their new cycling fashion which ceased any arguments of sexual impropriety.The bicycle was a tool of women’s personal and political power, and stated by Frances Willard (1991) “the bicycle had done more to emancipate women than anything else in the world”.
- Hendrick, D. (2009). The Possibility of Mobility: Women. University of Virginia. Available at: http://xroads.virginia.edu/~ug02/hendrick/women.html (Accessed 29/10/15)
- Jones, C. (2012). Women and the Bicycle. HerStoria. Available at: http://herstoria.com/?p=315 (Accessed 29/10/15)
- Willard, F. (1991). How I Learned to Ride The Bicycle. Sunnyvale. Fair Oaks Publishing.
- Zheutlin, P. (2006). Women on Wheels: The Bicycle and the Women’s Movement of the 1890s. Annie Londonderry. Available at: http://www.annielondonderry.com/womenWheels.html (Accessed 29/10/15)