The bicycle, besides being one of the most environmentally friendly and healthy forms of personal transport, may also lay claim to having done much for the civil rights of women. In the late 1800s, when cycling became fashionable for middle-class European women of the period, it caused an outrage.
Even when women were able to wear a pair of trousers they were dubbed “a cycling dress consisting of a jacket and trousers, the latter being covered with a skirt for the sake of modesty, and to protect the wearer from verbal (and sometimes physical) attacks.” In 1860 a Mrs Linton feared that cycling for ladies would “lead to immorality as girls roamed the countryside in search of adventures.” It was not only women such as Mrs Linton that these adventurous women needed to fear; the establishment was also heartily against the idea of trousers being worn by ladies, as even the medical journal The Lancet declared: “[we] consider this article of dress unnecessary, and in many ways detrimental to health and morals.”
And “that monstrosity of fashion, the divided skirt, is an outrage not to be countenanced.” It might be entertaining to consider what these people would have made of the WNBR. One can only imagine apoplectic fits with bulging eyes, red cheeks and much gesticulation. “It was thought that the combination of straddling the saddle with the pedaling motion would lead to arousal in the female, leading to the habit of masturbation.” Some authorities suggested the logical conclusion would be to render men irrelevant; a grave matter indeed. Although perhaps this was merely a portent of a strange mixture of ideas combining militant feminism and short-sighted genetic experimental ideas in the 21st century.
A hundred years ago Alice Hawkins, a suffragette, cycled around Leicester, in the UK, promoting the womens rights movement, causing outrage by being one of the first ladies to wear pantaloons in the city. It’s worth considering, for a moment, the kind of response an event like the WNBR might have received at that time.
Extract from the World Naked Bike Ride book.