Dressing was not something Angeline Allen cared about, who caused a sensation in 1893, riding her bicycle in pants outside New York. “He wore pants,” read a headline in a popular men’s magazine, adding that Allen was young, pretty, and divorced.
The bicycle was liberating for women, since to ride them they had to ditch corsets and reinforced skirts and wear more comfortable clothes. It also meant moving around without a chaperone.
Conservative minds expressed their concern, fearing that the “immodest bicycle” would lead to masturbation and even prostitution of women. Because of these misgivings they were seen as ridiculous.
No one seemed concerned with what Allen was doing, but with what he wore when he did it, as historian Margaret Guroff explains. However, he maintains that “Even women in dresses could ride these bicycles.” A woman alone in public and on a bicycle should not cause any kind of scandal.
Three years later, Susan B. Anthony, a women’s rights activist for most of the 19th century, declared that the bicycle had done “more for the emancipation of women than anything else in the world.”
Today, the bicycle continues to empower women.
In 2006, the government of the state of Bihar in India began subsidizing the purchase of bicycles for adolescent girls starting secondary school, so that the girls could commute several kilometers on their way to class. This program appears to have been successful, exponentially increasing the chances that girls will not drop out of school.
Even in the US, the bicycle helps to expand horizons. Basketball superstar LeBron James founded a school in his hometown, Ohio, that gives every student a free bike.
James says that when he and his friends rode bikes they felt free. “We feel on top of the world.”
The bicycle has long been a liberating technology for people with limited economic resources. At first, it was much cheaper than a horse, and somehow defended the same freedom and services, favoring, on the other hand, the minimization of animal use.
Published by Emirates Herald, news and information agency.