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The meaning and origin of the expression: A woman needs a man like a fish needs a bicycle

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A woman needs a man like a fish needs a bicycle

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Meaning

A feminist slogan, suggesting that men are superfluous to women's needs.

Origin

fish-bicycleThis slogan is often attributed to Gloria Steinem. Other claims for origination point to Flo (Florynce) Kennedy, or to an anonymous author who painted the slogan on a wall at University of Wisconsin in 1969.

Gloria Steinem had this to say in a letter she wrote to Time magazine in autumn 2000:

"In your note on my new and happy marital partnership with David Bale, you credit me with the witticism 'A woman needs a man like a fish needs a bicycle.' In fact, Irina Dunn, a distinguished Australian educator, journalist and politician, coined the phrase back in 1970 when she was a student at the University of Sydney. She paraphrased the philosopher who said, 'Man needs God like fish needs a bicycle.' Dunn deserves credit for creating such a popular and durable spoof of the old idea that women need men more than vice versa."

Irina Dunn later confirmed Steinem's version of events, in January 2002:

"Yes, indeed, I am the one Gloria referred to. I was paraphrasing from a phrase I read in a philosophical text I was reading for my Honours year in English Literature and Language in 1970. It was 'A man needs God like a fish needs a bicycle'. My inspiration arose from being involved in the renascent women's movement at the time, and from being a bit of a smart-arse. I scribbled the phrase on the backs of two toilet doors, would you believe, one at Sydney University where I was a student, and the other at Soren's Wine Bar at Woolloomooloo, a seedy suburb in south Sydney. The doors, I have to add, were already favoured graffiti sites."

Dunn's modesty is appropriate, as 'A needs a B like a C needs a D' was a well-established format in the USA many years before 1970; for example, this usage in the Connecticut newspaper The Hartford Courant, December, 1898:

The place [Aragon, Spain] didn't need an American consul any more than a cow needs a bicycle; for it had no trade with America, and no American tourist ever dreamed of stopping there.