Women’s Tour de France. Why such a long wait? « The bicycle crystallizes fears »


Since its big start on the Champs Élysées in Paris on Sunday July 24, 2022, the women’s Tour de France has been described as « historic ». Why did it take so long to open competitive cycling to women? “Why is it so loud? », reformulates Anaïs Bohuon, socio-historian, university professor at the Faculty of Sports Sciences of the University of Paris-Saclay and author of a thesis defended in 2008 entitled « medical discourse and women’s access to physical and sports activities (1880-1922)”.

« Bicycling with football, culturally, are the two most important sports in France, and therefore bastions, symbols, of virility and masculinity », expands this researcher, specialist in sports and gender issues. Here she sheds some historical light on the practice of high-level cycling by women. Exciting.

Since Sunday, we have heard that the Tour de France women is a “historic” event, does it seem surprising to qualify a race for women cyclists in 2022 in this way?

Why is it making so much noise? You must have seen Marc Madiot’s video archive? (on a TV set in 1987, the former cyclist turned sports director – as well as Laurent Fignon – told cyclist Jeannie Longo that a woman on a bike, « it’s ugly ». A statement he rejects today.) As a historian, it is important to note that these remarks are part of a very strong context which is not specific to the world of cycling, but to the very long and complex access of women to so-called sports of male tradition. Cycling, with the Tour de France which has become a real tradition, going beyond the sporting challenge, with football, are the two major sports in France, symbols of virility and masculinity.

Since when do women cycle in France?

Late 19th, early 20th century. At the end of the 19th century, French women, first of all the wealthy classes, adopted this new mode of transport. The bicycle will then bring together all the concerns, not only medical but also moral of the time, raised by female emancipation.

That’s to say ?

Already, it is a very strong symbol of emancipation. Because beyond the competition, the effort, the performance and the records, it is a utilitarian practice, and with the authorization to pedal, they gain the right to mobility, and the possibility of moving is freedom, autonomy and emancipation on a daily basis.

You were talking about medical and moral fears, which ones?

The medical and moral fears of the time crystallized around the “Woman” who had to be a wife, a mother: able to give birth. Women’s bodies represented a vector of “race regeneration” (birth rate) which obsessed the time and which doctors worked to ensure by monitoring women’s health.

Why ?

The fear is explicit: it then becomes possible that women while riding pass men for their sexual relations and, by pushing the analysis, move away from childbirth. In the eyes of doctors, all the danger of masturbation in women, (with the friction of the saddle etc.), is that they release their desire. I found these speeches in many archives of medical theses – we tend to think that it’s anecdotal but not – some doctors will then assimilate the bicycle to a kind of new sexual partner.

But beyond that, the bicycle crystallizes the fear of setting women’s bodies in motion, a movement that the medical power of the time regulated: they had the right to have healthy bodies in order to transmit « healthy » physical characteristics to future generations. but doctors are afraid that they will endanger their reproductive organs and become virilized.

You say in one of your articles that this contradiction will lead to doctors ending up recommending cycling to women…

Absolutely. The medical history of female physical practice reveals contradictory prescriptions: become strong and resistant to best fulfill your maternal functions but above all do not transform yourself into a woman with a masculine appearance. Conversely, men’s bodies are set in motion…


Laisser un commentaire