The New Woman cyclist of the 1890s has become an important symbol of feminist liberation. At the turn of the 20th century, she emerged as a figure that resisted traditional gender expectations, and, when paired with the new technology of the bicycle, gained unprecedented mobility. Yet, this liberation narrative fails to account for the white New Woman cyclist’s participation in hegemonic forms of power and ignores the moments of resistance a queer and feminist reading of Other(ed) New Women cyclists makes visible. Building on feminist, critical race, and queer theories, my dissertation challenges the dominant story of feminist liberation by revealing how white women’s progress relies on and contributes to whitenormative narratives of mastery, conquest, and empire, while also making space for a more nuanced reading of the New Woman cyclist’s harms, pleasures, and resistance. To explore this topic, I examine diaries, cycling guides, travelogues, newspapers, and bicycle tourism fieldwork. In chapter one, I read the diary of a woman cyclist from Leeds, England written between 1893 - 1896 and the historical context surrounding it against the grain to reveal an identity for the diarist that contradicts heteropatriarchal romance narratives in the historical archive. I then visualize recent maps of my own cycle tours alongside newly constructed maps based on the records she kept in her diary to explore the intimate embodiment and non-linearity of bicycle tourism, pushing the limits of the “queer object.” In chapter two, I examine the relationship between the bicycle, 19th century white feminist reformers, and the tension between queer possibilities of socialist revolution and the protection of Anglo-Saxon empire. Focusing specifically on the language of conquest used in Frances Willard’s instructional cycling guide, A Wheel Within A Wheel: How I Learned to Ride the Bicycle (1895), I argue that Willard’s speech acts upon her audience; her words are live and directly impact the political landscape of the New Woman. Thus, Willard’s vision for a reformed civilization is one of celebratory conquest and confers serious harm upon those who are rejected from the moral modernity of the white New Woman cyclist. In chapter three, I offer a close reading of Elizabeth Robins Pennell’s To Gipsyland (1893) to investigate the potentiality of her attachment to the Romany people, language, and culture to offer queer forms of knowledge production. I argue that rather than operate as an agent of queer knowledge production, Pennell’s cycling adventure indulges in the violence of imperialist nostalgia to advance yet another narrative of modernity and empire. In chapter four, I consider the harmlessness of cycling’s pleasures, arguing that pleasure is essential in resisting oppressive structures. Drawing on the stories of cyclists Kittie Knox and Annie Kopchovsky I highlight how pleasure, performance, and spectacle serve to offer moments of resistance.
University of Minnesota Ph.D. dissertation.July 2020. Major: American Studies. Advisors: Kevin Murphy, Elliott Powell. 1 computer file (PDF); vi, 219 pages.
Harmless Pleasure: Feminist Liberation and Whitenormative Conquest for the New Woman Cyclist of the 1890s.
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