The essay is divided in two main sections: the first concerning the long fight women engaged to use the bicycles in the last decades of the XIX century, a battle particularly directed against social stereotypes and cultural ideas about women’s roles. Women fought for the right to use bicycles, and to reform their dress. Pioneers such as Tessie Reynolds and Annie Londonderry gave important examples and testimonies. For most women the bicycle became a tool to gain more and more freedom, progressively going out of their private, domestic sphere. In the second part, is explained the change occurred from the last years of the XIXth century to 1920 in order to highlight the acceptance of the “New Woman”, related to medical manuals propaganding cyclism for eugenitic purposes; new images and models concerning women and bicycles in advertising. For women, the initial struggle in the XIXth century was aimed at the right to ride a bicycle at all. From the beginning, a significant part of society firmly believed that machinery and athletic activity should remain partake in men’s world and that women’s sphere should remain distinct and separate. The arguments against women riding bicycles can be summarized in the conservative position expressed by Sarah Bernhardt who, being questioned in 1896 about the impact of bicycles on French society, answered with a certain anxiety: “I think bicycle is going to transform our manners and behaviours far more than we can see now. All these young women and girls ... are loosing a relevant part of their spiritual and inner life, and their family life too. I think that this public life in open spaces, owing to the bicycle, may have very dangerous consequences on the whole society” . Questions surrounding the issue of women on bicycles arose, such as how women should ride, when they should ride, who they should ride with, what clothing they should ride in, and whether they should race. Many critics were convinced that bicycle riding threatened women’s physical and mental health; their hair, complexion, femininity, families, morals, and worst of all, their reputations were at stake. Cycling women were regarded with a pious horror by society, and by the public at large . It was openly said that a woman who mounted a bicycle hopelessly unsexed herself; she was stared at and remarked upon in towns. It was supposed that no woman would take so masculine an amusement unless she was fast, unwomanly, and desirous of making herself conspicuous, and accordingly all cycling women had to suffer from this supposition. As women learned to ride bicycles they not only gained physical mobility that broadened their horizons beyond the neighborhoods in which they lived, they discovered a new-found sense of freedom of movement, a freedom previously circumscribed by the cumbersome fashions typical of of the period. The restrictive clothing of the era - corsets, long, heavy, multi-layered skirts worn over petticoats or hoops, and long sleeved shirts with high collars - inhibited movement and seemed to symbolize the constricted lives women of the 1890s were expected to lead. Such clothing was inimical to even modest forms of exercise or exertion. Cycling required a more practical, rational form of dress, and large billowing skirts and corsets started to give way to bloomers - baggy trousers, (sometimes called a divided skirt), tightened at the knee. Although bloomers first appeared decades earlier, the cycling craze practically provoked deep changes in female attire for any woman who wanted to ride . The cultural movement to free the women’s bodies from traditional fashion found its main advocate in the Rational Dress Society, founded in London in 1881, that strongly supported bloomers. Its members felt that freeing women from their heavy, unwieldy costumes would make them more successful wives and mothers, as it would strengthen their health and allow them to accomplish household tasks more easily. Many feminists also saw the plain, loose clothing as less sexually provocative and more on a par with men's clothing, thus promoting moral and physical equality between the sexes.

Bicycles, Dresses and Women's Emancipation (1880-1920)

CAGNOLATI, ANTONELLA
2008

Abstract

The essay is divided in two main sections: the first concerning the long fight women engaged to use the bicycles in the last decades of the XIX century, a battle particularly directed against social stereotypes and cultural ideas about women’s roles. Women fought for the right to use bicycles, and to reform their dress. Pioneers such as Tessie Reynolds and Annie Londonderry gave important examples and testimonies. For most women the bicycle became a tool to gain more and more freedom, progressively going out of their private, domestic sphere. In the second part, is explained the change occurred from the last years of the XIXth century to 1920 in order to highlight the acceptance of the “New Woman”, related to medical manuals propaganding cyclism for eugenitic purposes; new images and models concerning women and bicycles in advertising. For women, the initial struggle in the XIXth century was aimed at the right to ride a bicycle at all. From the beginning, a significant part of society firmly believed that machinery and athletic activity should remain partake in men’s world and that women’s sphere should remain distinct and separate. The arguments against women riding bicycles can be summarized in the conservative position expressed by Sarah Bernhardt who, being questioned in 1896 about the impact of bicycles on French society, answered with a certain anxiety: “I think bicycle is going to transform our manners and behaviours far more than we can see now. All these young women and girls ... are loosing a relevant part of their spiritual and inner life, and their family life too. I think that this public life in open spaces, owing to the bicycle, may have very dangerous consequences on the whole society” . Questions surrounding the issue of women on bicycles arose, such as how women should ride, when they should ride, who they should ride with, what clothing they should ride in, and whether they should race. Many critics were convinced that bicycle riding threatened women’s physical and mental health; their hair, complexion, femininity, families, morals, and worst of all, their reputations were at stake. Cycling women were regarded with a pious horror by society, and by the public at large . It was openly said that a woman who mounted a bicycle hopelessly unsexed herself; she was stared at and remarked upon in towns. It was supposed that no woman would take so masculine an amusement unless she was fast, unwomanly, and desirous of making herself conspicuous, and accordingly all cycling women had to suffer from this supposition. As women learned to ride bicycles they not only gained physical mobility that broadened their horizons beyond the neighborhoods in which they lived, they discovered a new-found sense of freedom of movement, a freedom previously circumscribed by the cumbersome fashions typical of of the period. The restrictive clothing of the era - corsets, long, heavy, multi-layered skirts worn over petticoats or hoops, and long sleeved shirts with high collars - inhibited movement and seemed to symbolize the constricted lives women of the 1890s were expected to lead. Such clothing was inimical to even modest forms of exercise or exertion. Cycling required a more practical, rational form of dress, and large billowing skirts and corsets started to give way to bloomers - baggy trousers, (sometimes called a divided skirt), tightened at the knee. Although bloomers first appeared decades earlier, the cycling craze practically provoked deep changes in female attire for any woman who wanted to ride . The cultural movement to free the women’s bodies from traditional fashion found its main advocate in the Rational Dress Society, founded in London in 1881, that strongly supported bloomers. Its members felt that freeing women from their heavy, unwieldy costumes would make them more successful wives and mothers, as it would strengthen their health and allow them to accomplish household tasks more easily. Many feminists also saw the plain, loose clothing as less sexually provocative and more on a par with men's clothing, thus promoting moral and physical equality between the sexes.
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Utilizza questo identificativo per citare o creare un link a questo documento: https://hdl.handle.net/11369/10430
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