So I linked the other day to Kate Beaton’s awesome comic about the obstreperous velocipedrix (inspired by the cartoon I used to illustrate this post). But since then I’ve had bicycle-riding-ladies on the brain and I thought it was worth another post. Besides, it gives me an excuse to use the cartoon above, which Beaton linked to in her Hark, A Vagrant post.
The notion that bicycle- (or velocipede-) riding women are inherently hilarious (or inherently evil) may seem a tad quaint now, but back in the late 19thcentury, when bicycling really took off, these cartoons were every-fucking-where.
And what was so unsettling – even scary – about the specter of women on bicycles? As historian Clare S. Simpson explains:
The independent mobility of cyclists raised genuine alarm for their physical, if not moral, safety; simply put, the bicycle could easily take women to unsavoury places where they might be endangered physically (for example, by being attacked), or morally (for example, by being seduced into imprudent conduct with intemperate company). . . . Drawing on previous knowledge of the kinds of women who deliberately made themselves conspicuous in public, that is, prostitutes, there would be a strong tendency to conclude that cycling women were far from respectable: not exactly prostitutes, perhaps, but possibly women of loose morals or with an undeveloped sense of propriety.
Now why does this sound oh-so-familiar? Because it is so scarily similar to many of the arguments I run across amongst Men’s Rightsers and Manospherians today. Change a few words here and there, and we could be talking about the Slutwalks, and the ludicrously overblown “criticism” of them we’ve seen from MRAs and misogynists generally, who insist again and again that women must be “held responsible” for their actions.
What actions? Going outside dressed in something more revealing than a nun’s habit. Going outside at night. Not reacting with gratitude when dudes patronizingly lecture them on the perils of being a woman in public. It’s the same old shit: the “independent mobility” of women is pissing off a lot of men even today.
That’s why so many MRAs got so angry about the case of Lara Logan, the CBS news correspondent who was sexually assaulted while covering the protests in Egypt last year — many in the MRA camp weren’t so much angry at those who assaulted Logan as they were at Logan herself, for daring to cover political unrest in another country … while being a woman.
That’s why it always strikes me as a little odd that MRAs routinely describe their movement, such as it is, as a new one. It’s not. Theirs is a reactive movement, and a reactionary one – and not just because some of them literally think women should be denied the right to vote. It’s because so much of what they obsess about is the same old shit that pops up whenever women have stepped up and challenged their traditional roles.
Of course, these guys aren’t simply angry at women doing traditionally masculine things – from going where they like, on bikes or foot, to covering world politics. They’re worried that newly “masculinized” women will turn men into a bunch of emasculated pussies.
While poking around to find more cartoons to illustrate this post with, I happened across several that show just how persistent this worry is. Take a look. The first couple are from the turn-of-the-twentieth century; the third is from the 1970s. Notice a theme here?
This same old theme is handled a bit more subtly today, as this bit of clip art shows. Note the pink apron, in case you didn’t get the point: a man washing dishes is an emasculated wussy.
Of course, in the Manosphere, things are not quite so subtle. It’s telling that amongst MRAs and other modern misogynists the insult of choice for feminist men is “mangina.”
Here’s how one little manifesto defines the term. (I’ve edited out a lot; it’s pretty fucking repetitive, though students of misogynist psychology may wish to read the whole thing here.)
Manginas are pseudo-men who fixate their lives on getting a sniff of the female genitalia (figure of speech) at the expensive of others and by betraying real men.
Manginas see women as an ultimate being, places them on a huge pedestal, mind focuses only on sex or the satisfaction of women all the while not giving two bits a damn about his fellow man. …
A mangina is not a man, and we wouldn’t dare honor them by gracing them with the title. …
A Mangina seeks continuous approval from females thereby becoming their servant.
Manginas support women’s issues which are against his fellow men. Someone who espouses feminism but is really being suckered into a form of chivalry in which women’s interests take precedence over men’s. Unaware that they are merely “useful idiots”, doing what women want in the vain/hope of getting laid. When his usefulness is over she tosses him out with the rest of the rubbish. …
A Mangina is a self-depreciating man who subconsciously hates himself and blindly believes women are superior to him. He has been raised to think masculinity is inherently wrong – perhaps even a genetic/evolutionary/social flaw – and must be corrected by embracing his “feminine side” to the point of losing the very qualities that make him male.
Women acting like men; men acting like women. These were the bugbears of the velocipedrix-hating, women’s-suffrage-opposing assholes of the late nineteenth and early twentieth century; they were the bugbears of the protoypical woman’s-lib-hating chauvinist pigs of the seventies; and they remain the bugbears of an astonishingly large number of those in the Men’s Rights movement today.
And that’s why it, too, will end as a joke, remembered as a quaint holdover from earlier times rather than the progressive civil rights movement it sometimes pretends to be.
In the meantime: Kate Beaton, fucking hilarious, right?
NOTE: I found a whole bunch of awesomely retrograde cartoons from bygone days while looking for the illustrations for this post. I’ll be posting some of my favorites soon.