A Woman Without a Man Is Like a Fish Without a Bicycle

Gloria Steinem? Irina Dunn? Erica Jong? Florynce Kennedy? Charles S. Harris? Anonymous?

Dear Quote Investigator: A famous feminist slogan asserts that a woman is capable of living a complete and independent life without a man. Here are two versions:

  • A woman without a man is like a fish without a bicycle.
  • A woman needs a man like a fish needs a bicycle.

Would you please explore the origin of this saying?

Quote Investigator: The earliest published instance known to QI appeared in “The Sydney Morning Herald” of Sydney, Australia in January 1975. The expression occurred as an unattributed graffito. Emphasis added to excerpts by QI: 1

We found this anonymous contribution to International Women’s Year on a wall at Forest Lodge: “A woman without a man is like a fish without a bicycle.”

Thanks to Fred R. Shapiro, editor of “The Yale Book of Quotations”, who located this citation and shared it with fellow researchers. Prominent feminist Gloria Steinem often receives credit for this saying, but she has ascribed the words to the Australian social activist Irina Dunn who claimed that she created the adage and wrote it on a bathroom wall in 1970. More details about these assertions are presented further below.

QI believes that the saying evolved from a family of related expressions. Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading A Woman Without a Man Is Like a Fish Without a Bicycle

Notes:

  1. 1975 January 25, The Sydney Morning Herald, Article Title: “Column 8”, Quote Page 1, Column 8, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia. (Newspapers_com)

If Men Could Get Pregnant, Abortion Would Be a Sacrament

Florynce Kennedy? Gloria Steinem? Elderly Irish Taxicab Driver? Germaine Greer? Anonymous?

Dear Quote Investigator: An incendiary quotation on the topic of abortion has an uncertain authorship. The following words have been attributed to both Florynce Kennedy and Gloria Steinem:

If men could get pregnant, abortion would be a sacrament.

Could you determine who said it first?

Quote Investigator: The earliest published evidence located by QI appeared in an issue of the periodical “Off Our Backs” dated June 24, 1971 in which a speech given by the prominent activist Florynce Kennedy at a rally held on May 15, 1971 in Washington D.C. was described: 1

Florynce Kennedy, author of Abortion Rap defined the situation with her usual clarity: “If men could get pregnant, abortion would be a sacrament.” She also read parts of the Metropolitan Abortion Alliance’s statement on the media and urged a national boycott of the media sponsors.

The leading feminist Gloria Steinem also used the expression in speeches delivered in 1971, but intriguingly Steinem pointed to another person as creator of this saying. In her 1983 memoir “Outrageous Acts and Everyday Rebellions” Steinem indicated that the statement was spoken to her and Florynce Kennedy by the “elderly Irish woman driver” of a taxi in Boston. Details are given further below.

So, the quotation was popularized by Kennedy and Steinem, but the origin can be traced back to an anonymous taxicab driver. Top researcher Ralph Keyes noted this fact in his important reference “The Quote Verifier”. 2

Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading If Men Could Get Pregnant, Abortion Would Be a Sacrament

Notes:

  1. 1971 June 24, Off Our Backs: A Women’s News Journal, Volume 1, Number 23, “bringing it home: if men could get pregnant, abortion would be a sacrament” by Chris Hobbs, Quote Page 20, Column 1, Published by Off Our Backs, Inc. (JSTOR) link link
  2. 2006, The Quote Verifier by Ralph Keyes, Quote Page 62, St Martin’s Griffin, New York. (Verified on paper)