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Marathons, trousers, and credit cards were taboo for women; Read on…

The reversal of Roe v Wade on June 24, 2022 indicates that women’s rights in the United States have regressed. Eliminating the freedom of choice that women have had over the past five decades represents a low point in women’s history. On this day in 2018, Saudi King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud ended a decades-long ban on women driving. For many, the idea of women not being allowed to drive may seem archaic, but in the not-too-distant past, even more, bizarre forms of female oppression existed, such as being denied the use of a credit card. Here are five things that women have been banned to do at some time in their lives.

Wearing trousers
The humble trouser dates back to 10th century BC China, where it was worn for function, rather than fashion. In France, the law was modified in 1892 and 1909, when exceptions were made that allowed trouser-wearing for women riding horses and then bicycles. It was only as recently as 2013 that women in France were legally allowed to wear trousers at all. The notion of women wearing fabric between their legs has long been considered scandalous, with many activists attempting to make a stand.

In the mid-1800s, Amelia Bloomer advocated women be allowed to wear Turkish-style pantaloons (aka bloomers), but she was subjected to ridicule in the press and harassment on the street. In 1919, Luisa Capetillo became the first woman in Puerto Rico to be jailed for wearing a pair of trousers in public. Vogue featured its first spread of women wearing trousers in 1939. In 1966, Yves Saint Laurent showcased the famous Le Smoking suit in his debut couture collection. It wasn’t until the 1970s that socialites started to adopt the look on a regular basis. Bianca Jagger famously wore a white pantsuit for her wedding to Mick Jagger.

Owning a credit card
In the 1970s, wives in the US and UK could only get access to a credit card if it were co-signed by their husband. Single or divorced women still needed a man to co-sign their applications. In 1974, the Equal Credit Opportunity Act made it unlawful for any creditor to discriminate against an applicant based on race, colour, religion, national origin, marital status or gender. A year later, in the UK, the Sex Discrimination Act 1975 outlawed discrimination against women seeking to obtain goods, facilities or services, including loans or credit.

Running a marathon
The Amateur Athletic Union banned women from competing in marathons after incorrectly claiming that long-distance running could cause infertility. In 1966, after having her race entry denied with a note claiming women were not physically capable of running a marathon, Roberta Gibb ran the Boston Marathon as an unregistered runner.

In 1967, Kathrine Switzer was denied entry to the Boston Marathon after registering as KV Switzer. She managed to finish the race, and went on to run again in 1968 and 1969. It wasn’t until 1972 that women were officially allowed to participate in the race. By the mid-1970s, running began to be recognised as a popular sport among women. But it was still not enough to convince the Olympics to hold a women’s marathon competition. Enter Switzer again – she is considered instrumental in getting it recognised at the 1984 Olympics.

Watching the Olympics
In ancient Greece, married women could be killed for watching the Olympics as they were banned from attending. In 1930, British army officials banned women from attending boxing matches in Canada. Fortunately, the ban was not repeated until 2012 when women’s boxing was added to the Games. The 2012 Games in London became the first in which women competed in all the sports categories.

Driving a car
Bertha Benz travelled 106 kilometres from Mannheim to Pforzheim in her husband’s vehicle in 1888. Carl Benz was her spouse, and the Patent Motor Car he created was the world’s first. While most countries had no prejudice against women who wanted to drive, this was not the case in Saudi Arabia, where a prohibition had been in force since 1957. This was finally lifted on June 24, 2018, as part of the government’s larger Vision 2030 objectives, which aimed to strengthen the economy, enhance society, and establish a more sustainable future.


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