A woman needs a man like a fish needs a bicycle.
- Irina Dunn
When I posted yesterday’s item about Margaret Thatcher, I did not realise that not only was that date – 8 March - International Women’s Day (IWD), it was also the 100th such day. IWD is a global day celebrating the economic, political and social achievements of women in the past, present and future. It is a day when women are recognised for their achievements, regardless of divisions, whether national, ethnic, linguistic, cultural, economic or political.
It was therefore appropriate to have a post featuring Margaret Thatcher, even if it was in ignorance of the importance of that day.
I received a suggestion that I should have included the famous story about Margaret Thatcher and the vegetables. That story holds that Mrs Thatcher, whilst Prime Minister, went to a restaurant for dinner one evening with some of her senior Cabinet Ministers following a late night session. The waiter asked Mrs Thatcher what she wanted to order and she replied that she wanted the beef, rare. The waiter asked “And the vegetables?”, to which she reportedly replied "They will have the beef as well.”
Although many sites and sources recount this as a true story, that is not the case. The story is actually a sketch from the UK satirical show Spitting Image (1984), in which the following exchange takes place:
Waitress: [Thatcher is dining out with her Cabinet] Would you like to order?Margaret Thatcher: Steak, please.Waitress: How would you like it?Margaret Thatcher: RawWaitress: And what about the vegetables?Margaret Thatcher: Oh? They'll have the same as me...
The quotation about fish and bicycles at the top of this post has been widely and authoritatively ascribed to Gloria Steinem, but the honour for it lies much closer to home.
In 2000 Gloria Steinem wrote to Australian Time magazine:
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.
Dunn is a writer, film maker and a political activist. She was also a Senator for NSW between 1988 and 1990.
According to Irina Dunn in 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.
The expression spread quickly and was adopted by the women’s movement, the wording being changed to “A woman without a man is like a fish without a bicycle”, being popularised by Gloria Steinem and U2 in their song "Tryin' To Throw Your Arms Around The World"