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August 3, 2014 | by  | in Conspiracy Corner Opinion |
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Conspiracy Corner – “Bicycle Face”

Writing anything on feminism these days is a bit like discussing the Israel–Palestine conflict. Every discussion on the issue is hazardous, any stance you take is going to make you an enemy, and at some point you’re going to get called a pig.

As your navigator to the clandestine workings of the world, I’m understandably at a loss. Feminism is becoming more mainstream because more people raise their voices and make these issues known. The patriarchy penetrates every institution on Earth, and we know this because feminism gave it a name. Representation and ending rape culture are important issues that can be much better discussed by someone who doesn’t wear a tinfoil hat. Instead, looking through my conspir-history books, I thought I’d expound on a classic instance of patriarchy bringing womenfolk down: the case of ‘bicycle face’.

The invention of the bicycle in the early 1800s was freeing for the women of the time. They used the newfangled form of transport to gain mobility and freedom, and made it a symbol of the suffragette movement. Shorter modes of dress were made to free up their legs for cycling, redefining women’s fashion choices and view of femininity. The bicycle “was a steed upon which they rode into a new world,” as one 1896 magazine described it.

Men became frightened by the prospect of seeing women with independence and naked ankles, so they did what the patriarchy does best: thinking they know what’s best about women’s health. Male doctors made up a condition that would discourage women from taking to the two-wheeled freedom train, called “bicycle face”. They warned that the wind, weariness and need for concentration created by riding a bicycle would leave a woman with protruding facial bones and irreversible alterations to her precious visage, naturally assuming that a woman was concerned only with her looks and nothing more. They also claimed ‘bicycle face’ could lead to tuberculosis and increased libido, which is basically the 1800s equivalent of saying: “You’ll get AIDS and die”.

Needless to say, no one was falling for it, and the fictitious disease was wiped from the public consciousness near the turn of the century. Bicycling then became popular with the upper classes and thus by that measure totally acceptable, if as gratuitous then as a Lamborghini is now.

If feminism teaches us anything, it’s that there is no quick road to equality. If I were to offer a solution, I would draw a parallel with the humble bicycle. The penny-farthing, with one wheel grossly bigger than the other, may have worked for quite some time, but eventually it was deemed impractical and silly. It was decided that, if we ever want to go swiftly in the right direction, the wheels need to be the same size.

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