How the Bicycle Accelerated the Women’s Rights Movement (Circa 1890)

The early history of the bicycle did not promise great things—or anything, really—for women at the dawn of the 19th century. A two-wheeled bicycle-like invention, for example, built in 1820, “was more like an agricultural implement in construction than a bicycle,” one bicycle history notes. Made of wood, the “hobby horses” and velocipedes of cycling’s first decades rolled on iron wheels. Their near-total lack of suspension led to the epithet “boneshaker.” Some had steering mechanisms, some did not. Braking was generally accomplished with the feet, or a crowd of pedestrians, a tree, or horse-drawn cart.

Laddish clubs formed and raced around London, Paris, and New York. No girls allowed. The earliest bicycles for women were ridden side-saddle…. But despite all this, it is entirely fair to say that few technologies in history, ancient or modern, have done more to free women from domestic toilage and bring them careening into the public square, to the dismay of the Victorian establishment.

Bicycles “gave women a new level of transportation independence that perplexed newspaper columnists” and the general public, writes Adrienne LaFrance at The Atlantic, quoting a San Francisco journalist in 1895:

It really doesn’t matter much where this one individual young lady is going on her wheel. It may be that she’s going to the park on pleasure bent, or to the store for a dozen hairpins, or to call on a sick friend at the other side of town, or to get a doily pattern of somebody, or a recipe for removing tan and freckles. Let that be as it may. What the interested public wishes to know is, Where are all the women on wheels going? Is there a grand rendezvous somewhere toward which they are all headed and where they will some time hold a meet that will cause this wobbly old world to wake up and readjust itself?

Women cyclists were seen as the advanced guard of a coming war. “Squarely in the center of this battle was one tool,” notes the Vox video above, “that completely changed the game.” Both Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton are credited with declaring that ‘woman is riding to suffrage on the bicycle,’ a line that was printed and reprinted in newspapers at the turn of the century,” LaFrance writes. By the 1890s, everyone rode bicycles, the first Tour de France was only a few years away, and cycling technology had come so far that it would help create both the car—with its innovative pneumatic tires and spoked wheels—and the airplane, through the experiments of Ohio bicycle-makers the Wright Brothers.

The new bikes, originally called “safety bikes” to contrast them with giant-wheeled penny-farthings that were briefly the norm, may not have developed gearing systems yet, but they were far lighter, cheaper, and easier to ride (comparatively) than the bicycles that had come before, which began as playthings for wealthy young men-about-town. The National Women’s History Museum describes the scene:

At the turn of the century, trains, automobiles, and streetcars were growing in use in urban areas, but people still largely depended on horses for transportation. Horses, and especially carriages, were expensive and women often had to depend on men to hitch up the horses for travel…. Surrounded by inefficient and expensive forms of travel, bicycles arrived in cities with the promise of practicality and affordability. Bicycles were relatively inexpensive and provided men and women with individual transportation for business, sports, or recreation.

Not only did bicycles give women equal access to personal rapid transit, but they did so for women of many different social classes. The leveling effects were significant, as were the changes to women’s fashion. Exposed calves (though still encased in various cycling boots) prepared the way for trousers. Traditionalists were outraged, ceaselessly mocked women on bikes, as they mocked the suffragists, and pushed for restrictions on full freedom of movement. “Whilst the 1890s saw discourses of middle-class femininity become reconciled with the notion of women on bicycles,” The Victorian Cyclist points out, “learning to ride a bicycle required middle-class women to carefully navigate their way through a set of highly conservative and rigid gender norms.”

Despite media efforts to tamp down or tame the revolutionary potential of the bicycle for women, the market that made the machines saw no problem with increasing sales. Bicycle poster art and advertising from the turn of the 20th century is dominated by women cyclists, who are portrayed as ordinary ramblers about town, hip adventurers, ultra-modern “New Women,” and, perhaps less progressively, nude goddesses. Whether we call it Gilded Age, Belle Epoque, or Fin de siècle, the end of the 19th century produced a transportation revolution that was also, through no particularly conscious design of the makers of the bicycle, a revolution in women’s rights and thus human freedom writ large.

Related Content: 

The Library of Congress Digitizes Over 16,000 Pages of Letters & Speeches from the Women’s Suffrage Movement, and You Can Help Transcribe Them

Odd Vintage Postcards Document the Propaganda Against Women’s Rights 100 Years Ago

How Bicycles Can Revolutionize Our Lives: Case Studies from the United States, Netherlands, China & Britain

The First 100 Years of the Bicycle: A 1915 Documentary Shows How the Bike Went from Its Clunky Birth in 1818, to Its Enduring Design in 1890

Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

 

Should You Race Back to Theaters When It’s Safe? Pretty Much Pop: Culture Podcast (#77) on the Big Screen Experience

The pandemic has kept us out of the movie theaters, forcing new streaming practices so that films can be released at all, but as these restrictions end in 2021, do we want things to go back just to the way they were?

Your hosts Mark Linsenmayer, Erica Spyres, and Brian Hirt reviewed many articles where filmmakers fretted about the future of cinema. Even before the pandemic, concerns about falling movie house attendance and the increased use of streaming have had the industry worried about films being viewed in the manner their creators intended, or even made at all.

For at least the first half our of this discussion, we largely ignored all that in favor of musing on our own past theater-going habits and experiences. What has worked and hasn’t in the shift toward more spectacle and amenities? What do we like and loathe about being in an audience with others? Is the theater experience essential just for big special effects films, or does it make any film more effective? How would we improve moviegoing and home viewing? We consider the list of films that were supposed to come out this year and were either delayed or moved to streaming, like Tenet, Soul, In the Heights, etc.

Here are those articles, in case you’re curious:

Hear more of this podcast at prettymuchpop.com. This episode includes bonus discussion you can access by supporting the podcast at patreon.com/prettymuchpop. This podcast is part of the Partially Examined Life podcast network.

Pretty Much Pop: A Culture Podcast is the first podcast curated by Open Culture. Browse all Pretty Much Pop posts.

How to Talk with a Conspiracy Theorist: What the Experts Recommend

Why do people pledge allegiance to views that seem fundamentally hostile to reality? Maybe believers in shadowy, evil forces and secret cabals fall prey to motivated reasoning. Truth for them is what they need to believe in order to get what they want. Their certainty in the justness of a cause can feel as comforting as a warm blanket on a winter’s night. But conspiracy theories go farther than private delusions of grandeur. They have spilled into the streets, into the halls of the U.S. Capitol building and various statehouses. Conspiracy theories about a “stolen” 2020 election are out for blood.

As distressing as such recent public spectacles seem at present, they hardly come near the harm accomplished by propaganda like Plandemic—a short film that claims the COVID-19 crisis is a sinister plot—part of a wave of disinformation that has sent infection and death rates soaring into the hundreds of thousands.

We may never know the numbers of people who have infected others by refusing to take precautions for themselves, but we do know that the number of people in the U.S. who believe conspiracy theories is alarmingly high.

A Pew Research survey of adults in the U.S. “found that 36% thought that these conspiracy theories” about the election and the pandemic “were probably or definitely true,” Tanya Basu writes at the MIT Technology Review. “Perhaps some of these people are your family, your friends, your neighbors.” Maybe you are conspiracy theorist yourself. After all, “it’s very human and normal to believe in conspiracy theories…. No one is above [them]—not even you.” We all resist facts, as Cass Sunstein (author of Conspiracy Theories and Other Dangerous Ideas) says in the Vox video above, that contradict cherished beliefs and the communities of people who hold them.

So how do we distinguish between reality-based views and conspiracy theories if we’re all so prone to the latter? Standards of logical reasoning and evidence still help separate truth from falsehood in laboratories. When it comes to the human mind, emotions are just as important as data. “Conspiracy theories make people feel as though they have some sort of control over the world,” says Daniel Romer, a psychologist and research director at the University of Pennsylvania’s Annenberg Public Policy Center. They’re airtight, as Wired shows below, and it can be useless to argue.

Basu spoke with experts like Romer and the moderators of Reddit’s r/ChangeMyView community to find out how to approach others who hold beliefs that cause harm and have no basis in fact. The consensus recommends proceeding with kindness, finding some common ground, and applying a degree of restraint, which includes dropping or pausing the conversation if things get heated. We need to recognize competing motivations: “some people don’t want to change, no matter the facts.”

Unregulated emotions can and do undermine our ability to reason all the time. We cannot ignore or dismiss them; they can be clear indications something has gone wrong with our thinking and perhaps with our mental and physical health. We are all subjected, though not equally, to incredible amounts of heightened stress under our current conditions, which allows bad actors like the still-current U.S. President to more easily exploit universal human vulnerabilities and “weaponize motivated reasoning,” as University of California, Irvine social psychologist Peter Ditto observes.

To help counter these tendencies in some small way, we present the resources above. In Bill Nye’s Big Think answer to a video question from a viewer named Daniel, the longtime science communicator talks about the discomfort of cognitive dissonance. “The way to overcome that,” he says, is with the attitude, “we’re all in this together. Let’s learn about this together.”

We can perhaps best approach those who embrace harmful conspiracy theories by not immediately telling them that we know more than they do. It’s a conversation that requires some intellectual humility and acknowledgement that change is hard and it feels really scary not to know what’s going on. Below, see an abridged version of MIT Technology Review’s ten tips for reasoning with a conspiracy theorist, and read Basu’s full article here.

  1. Always, always speak respectfully: “Without respect, compassion, and empathy, no one will open their mind or heart to you. No one will listen.”
  2. Go private: Using direct messages when online “prevents discussion from getting embarrassing for the poster, and it implies a genuine compassion and interest in conversation rather than a desire for public shaming.”
  3. Test the waters first: “You can ask what it would take to change their mind, and if they say they will never change their mind, then you should take them at their word and not bother engaging.”
  4. Agree: “Conspiracy theories often feature elements that everyone can agree on.”
  5. Try the “truth sandwich”: “Use the fact-fallacy-fact approach, a method first proposed by linguist George Lakoff.”
  6. Or use the Socratic method: This “challenges people to come up with sources and defend their position themselves.”
  7. Be very careful with loved ones: “Biting your tongue and picking your battles can help your mental health.”
  8. Realize that some people don’t want to change, no matter the facts.
  9. If it gets bad, stop: “One r/ChangeMyView moderator suggested ‘IRL calming down’: shutting off your phone or computer and going for a walk.”
  10. Every little bit helps. “One conversation will probably not change a person’s mind, and that’s okay.”

Related Content: 

Constantly Wrong: Filmmaker Kirby Ferguson Makes the Case Against Conspiracy Theories

Neil Armstrong Sets Straight an Internet Truther Who Accused Him of Faking the Moon Landing (2000)

Michio Kaku & Noam Chomsky School Moon Landing and 9/11 Conspiracy Theorists

Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

A 16th-Century Astronomy Book Featured “Analog Computers” to Calculate the Shape of the Moon, the Position of the Sun, and More

If you want to learn how the planets move, you’ll almost certainly go to one place first: Youtube. Yes, there have been plenty of worthwhile books written on the subject, and reading them will prove essential to further deepening your understanding. But videos have the capacity of motion, an undeniable benefit when motion itself is the concept under discussion. Less than twenty years into the Youtube age, we’ve already seen a good deal of innovation in the art of audiovisual explanation. But we’re also well over half a millennium into the age of the book as we know it, a time that even in its early phases saw impressive attempts to go beyond text on a page.

Take, for example, Peter Apian‘s Cosmographia, first published in 1524. A 16th-century German polymath, Apian (also known as Petrus Apianus, and born Peter Bienewitz) had a professional interest in mathematics, astronomy and cartography. At their intersection stood the subject of “cosmography” from which this impressive book takes its name, and its project of mapping the then-known universe.

“The treatise provided instruction in astronomy, geography, cartography, navigation, and instrument-making,” writes Frank Swetz at the Mathematical Association of America. “It was one of the first European books to depict and discuss North America and included movable volvelles allowing the readers to interact with and use some of the charts and instrument layouts presented.”

Pop-up book enthusiasts like Ellen Rubin will know what volvelles are; you and I may not, but if you’ve ever moved a paper wheel or slider on a page, you’ve used one. The volvelle first emerged in the medieval era, not as an amusement to liven up children’s books but as a kind of “analog computer” embedded in serious scientific works. “The volvelles make the practical nature of cosmography clear,” writes Katie Taylor at Cambridge’s Whipple Library, which holds a copy of Cosmographia. “Readers could manipulate these devices to solve problems: finding the time at different places and or one’s latitude, given the height of the Sun above the horizon.”

Apian originally included three such volvelles in Cosmographia. Later, his disciple Gemma Frisius, a Dutch physician, instrument maker and mathematician, produced expanded editions that included another. “In all its forms,” writes Swetz, “the book was extremely popular in the 16th century, going through 30 printings in 14 languages.” Despite the book’s success, it’s not so easy to come by a copy in good (indeed working) condition nearly 500 years later. If these descriptions of its pages and their volvelles have piqued your curiosity, you can see these ingenious paper devices in action in these videos tweeted out by Atlas Obscura. As with planets themselves, you can’t fully appreciate them until you see them move for yourself.

Related Content:

The Atlas of Space: Behold Brilliant Maps of Constellations, Asteroids, Planets & “Everything in the Solar System Bigger Than 10km”

An Illustrated Map of Every Known Object in Space: Asteroids, Dwarf Planets, Black Holes & Much More

When Astronomer Johannes Kepler Wrote the First Work of Science Fiction, The Dream (1609)

Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities, language, and culture. His projects include the Substack newsletter Books on Cities, the book The Stateless City: a Walk through 21st-Century Los Angeles and the video series The City in Cinema. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall, on Facebook, or on Instagram.

Social Psychologist Erich Fromm Diagnoses Why People Wear a Mask of Happiness in Modern Society (1977)

Modern man still is anxious and tempted to surrender his freedom to dictators of all kinds, or to lose it by transforming himself into a small cog in the machine. —Erich Fromm

There are more think pieces published every day than any one person can read about our current moment of social disintegration. But we seem to have lost touch with the insights of social psychology, a field that dominated popular intellectual discourse in the post-war 20th century, largely due to the influential work of German exiles like Erich Fromm. The humanist philosopher and psychologist’s “prescient 1941 treasure Escape from Freedom,writes Maria Popova, serves as what he called “‘a diagnosis rather than a prognosis,’ written during humanity’s grimmest descent into madness in WWII, laying out the foundational ideas on which Fromm would later draw in considering the basis of a sane society,” the title of his 1955 study of alienation, conformity, and authoritarianism.

Fromm “is an unjustly neglected figure,” Kieran Durkin argues at Jacobin, “certainly when compared with his erstwhile Frankfurt School colleagues, such as Max Horkheimer and Theodor Adorno.” But he has much to offer as a “grounded alternative” to their critical theory, and his work “reveals a distinctly more optimistic and hopeful engagement with the question of radical social change.” Nonetheless, Fromm well understood that social diseases must be identified before they can be treated, and he did not sugarcoat his diagnoses. Had society become more “sane” thirty-plus years after the war? Fromm didn’t think so.

In the 1977 interview clip above, Fromm defends his claim that “We live in a society of notoriously unhappy people,” which the interviewer calls an “incredible statement.” Fromm replies:

For me it isn’t incredible at all, but if you just open your eyes, you see it. That is, most people pretend that they are happy, even to themselves, because if you are unhappy, you are considered a failure, so you must wear the mask of being satisfied, of happy.

Contrast this observation with Albert Camus’ 1959 statement, “Today happiness is like a crimenever admit it. Don’t say ‘I’m happy’ otherwise you will hear condemnation all around.” Were Fromm and Camus observing vastly different cultural worlds? Or is it possible that in the intervening years, forced happinessakin to the socially coerced emotions Camus depicted in The Strangerhad become normalized, a screen of denial stretched over existential dread, economic exploitation, and social decay?

Fromm’s diagnosis of forced happiness resonates strongly with The Stranger (and Billie Holiday), and with the image-obsessed society in which we live most of our lives now, presenting various curated personae on social media and videoconferencing apps. Unhappiness may be a byproduct of depression, violence, poverty, physical illness, social alienation… but its manifestations produce even more of the same: “Them that’s got shall get / Them that’s not shall lose.” If you’re unhappy, says Fromm, “you lose credit on the market, you’re no longer a normal person or a capable person. But you just have to look at people. You only have to see how behind the mask there is unrest.”

Have we learned how to look at people behind the mask? Is it possible to do so when we mostly interact with them from behind a screen? These are the kinds of questions Fromm’s work can help us grapple with, if we’re willing to accept his diagnosis and truly reckon with our unhappiness.

Related Content: 

Albert Camus Explains Why Happiness Is Like Committing a Crime—”You Should Never Admit to it” (1959)

How Much Money Do You Need to Be Happy? A New Study Gives Us Some Exact Figures

The UN’s World Happiness Report Ranks “Socialist Friendly” Countries like Finland, Norway, Denmark, Iceland & Sweden as Among the Happiest in the World

Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

Peanuts Plays Yes’ “Roundabout”

Digital filmmaker Garren Lazar gives us a creative parody video and a badly-needed mental health break. Enjoy.

To watch previous Peanuts parodies of songs by Queen, Lynyrd Skynyrd, Journey & more, click here.

Would you like to support the mission of Open Culture? Please consider making a donation to our site. It’s hard to rely 100% on ads, and your contributions will help us continue providing the best free cultural and educational materials to learners everywhere.

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via LaughingSquid

Related Content

Umberto Eco Explains the Poetic Power of Charles Schulz’s Peanuts

The Velvet Underground as Peanuts Characters: Snoopy Morphs Into Lou Reed, Charlie Brown Into Andy Warhol

How Franklin Became Peanuts‘ First Black Character, Thanks to a Caring Schoolteacher (1968)

 





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