|dc.description.abstract||In the final decade of the nineteenth-century, when New Zealand women began riding the bicycle, they excited intense public debate about contemporary middle-class ideals of femininity. The research question posed is: "why did women's cycling provoke such a strong outcry?"
Three nineteenth-century cycling magazines, the New Zealand Wheelman, the New Zealand Cyclist, and the New Zealand Cyclists' Touring Club Gazette, were examined, along with numerous New Zealand and British contemporary sources on women's sport and recreation, etiquette, femininity, and gender roles.
The context of the late-nineteenth century signifies a high point in the modernisation of Western capitalist societies, which is characterised in part by significant and widespread change in the roles of middle-class women. The bicycle was a product of modern ideas, designs, and technology, and eventually came to symbolise freedom in diverse ways. The dual-purpose nature of the bicycle (i.e., as a mode of transport and as a recreational tool) enabled women to become more physically and geographically mobile, as well as to pursue new directions in leisure. It afforded, moreover, increasing opportunities to meet and socialise with a wider range of male acquaintances, free from the restrictions of etiquette and the requirements of chaperonage. As a symbol of the 'New Woman', the bicycle graphically represented a threat to the proprieties governing the behaviour and movements of respectable middle-class women in public.
The debates which arose in response to women's cycling focused on their conduct, their appearance, and the effects of cycling on their physical and moral well-being. Ultimately, these debates highlighted competing definitions of nineteenth-century middle-class femininity. Cycling presented two dilemmas for respectable women: how could they cycle and retain their respectability? and, should a respectable woman risk damaging herself, physically and morally, for such a capricious activity as cycling? Cyclists aspired to reconcile the ignominy of their conspicuousness on the bicycle with the social imperative to maintain an impression of middleclass respectability in public.
The conceptual framework of Erving Goffman's dramaturgical perspective is used to interpret the nature of heterosocial interactions between cyclists and their audiences. Nineteenth-century feminine propriety involved a set of performances, with both performers (cyclists) and audiences (onlookers) possessing shared understandings of how signals (impressions) ought to be given and received. Women on bicycles endeavoured to manage the impressions they gave off by carefully attending to their appearances and their behaviour, so that the audience would be persuaded to view them as respectable, despite the perception that riding a bicycle in public was risqué. In this way, women on bicycles attempted to redefine middle-class femininity.
Women on bicycles became a highly visible, everyday symbol of the realities of modem life that challenged traditional gender roles and nineteenth-century formality. Cycling for New Zealand women in the 1890s thus played a key part in the transformation of nineteenth-century gender roles.||en