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)