Professor John Pucher has authored another installment of his bi-weekly chat with European Cyclists’ Foundation for his upcoming book, City Cycling. This week’s discussion focuses on women and cycling.
Why is that that some countries see more women cycling than men? How did the world view the first women that ‘dared’ cycle ? And did you know that early medical journals opposed women cycling on the grounds that it would harm their sexual health? Professor John Pucher, author of the upcoming book, “City Cycling”, explains why women are the key to more cycling.
“Even today, women tend to cycle a lot less than men in most countries. For example, women’s cycling levels are only about a third as high as for men in North America and Australia,” explains Professor John Pucher, whose new book dedicates a whole chapter to cycling and women.
“So it might come as a surprise that the bicycle was viewed as a symbol of women’s emancipation by the leaders of the feminist movement in the 19th and early 20th Centuries.”
Elizabeth Cady Stanton, a leading figure in the early women’s rights movement in the United States, saw the bicycle as a reason for dress reform, and argued that the bicycle would inspire courage, self-respect, and self-reliance in women. Prominent nineteenth-century American women’s rights advocate Susan B. Anthony was another proponent of women’s cycling, noting that bicycling had done more to emancipate women than anything else, giving women a feeling of freedom and self-reliance. By comparison, many men opposed women riding bikes. Did men fear that the bicycle would make women less dependent on them? Incredibly, several medical journals in the early 20th Century—all published by men—opposed women cycling on the absurd grounds that it would harm women’s sexual health, promote unnatural orgasms, and lessen wives’ commitment to their husbands.
“Of course, my upcoming “City Cycling” book takes a much different stance. It actually documents a wide range of health benefits for women who cycle, including improved overall physical fitness and reduced risk of obesity, coronary heart disease, and various kinds of cancer,” says Pucher.