I discovered this story from an episode of QI (series M, episode “Miscellany”).
As we’ve discussed on this blog before, there was a great deal of anxiety in the Victorian era (and every era in the history of the world, to be honest) over new technology. But this anxiety became especially acute when it intersected with issues of gender.
With the rise of the bicycle and, more significantly, women’s use of the bicycle (and the correlating practical clothing and general freedom that came with it), there was the fear that bicycles were somehow going to destroy womanhood forever.
“The symptoms of ‘bicycle face’, according to the Literary Digest of 1895, only occur in women. They wrote: ‘Over-exertion, the upright position on the wheel and the unconscious effort to maintain one’s balance produces a wearied and exhausted bicycle face. The main symptoms are a hard, clenched jaw and bulging eyes, as well as being flushed or pale, and wearing a haggard, anxious expression.’ Other doctors claimed that cycling would irritate the pelvic organs, ‘and stimulate women to disturbing lusts.’ One French expert said: ‘it would ruin the female organs of matrimonial necessity.'”
So the next time some new invention comes out and someone starts banging on about how it’s going to destroy this or destroy that, just remember that the bicycle was once considered a potential danger to the future of the human race, by creating women who were no longer capable of bearing children or women too ugly to engender the requisite lust in men.