May 13, 2004

Carrying a purse: a feminist issue?

I found the article discussed in the previous post not because I was reading about the prison abuses, but because I was looking up the subject of feminism and carrying a purse, which I'd just had a conversation about. My cap and gown for tomorrow's graduation ceremony was delivered to me, along with the information that I could put it on after I arrive at the Monona Terrace in a little side room, where I could also leave my purse. No way I'm going to be separated from my purse, even if the room will have an attendant. I'll find some way to carry my things unobtrusively, somewhere within the robe. This led to a conversation about how both of us had for a long time refused to carry a purse and viewed it as a feminist issue. For years, I only bought clothes with pockets and made it a point to keep a thin wallet and only two keys. I used to view clothing manufacturers as anti-feminist because they gave men pockets but denied them to women. Even when they gave us pockets, they were often shallow and slanted-- designed for the elegant placement of a hand, perhaps. The clothing manufacturers were part of the elaborate system designed to oppress women. I'm still a little irked about it! But some time ago, I adopted the feminine practice of carrying a purse. (Note that it's so feminine that it used to be a common slur to say about a man, "He carries a purse.") Along with carrying a purse comes the elaborate mental training of keeping track of your purse. The discipline of purse carrying becomes so lodged in your brain that you have dreams about losing your purse. Women even look out for other women: "Where's your purse?" Of course, in my non-purse-carrying days, I had some scorn for the women who would bark "Where's your purse?" because I viewed them as enforcing the feminine norm, when in fact, they were probably just so used to making sure they didn't lose their purses that they had branched out to worrying about other people losing their purses. So do I still wish for adequate pockets in women's clothes so I could opt out of purse carrying? I don't know. I like to carry my digital camera around now. And now that there are cell phones, the pocket approach is just too bulky. You can't go around with all those things weighing down and bulging out your clothing. Can you?

UPDATE: A reader points to this discussion--quite recent, so, apparently a hot topic--from the other side: Capn Design wants to carry a purse into a place and is stopped by a discriminatory security guard:
When I asked a security guard why I couldn't bring my bag in, he explained that purses are allowed but bags are not. I told him my bag was a purse and he asked if I was a woman. "If being a woman means I can bring my bag in, then yes, I am a woman." That didn't work.


Anonymous said...

I'll be twenty next week, and I hope I'll never carry a purse (more out of pride than practicality). I get around the whole carrying-lots-of-stuff thing by having a backpack. Purses are impractical-- one-shoulder weight bearing? Not only are backpacks comfier, but I don't want to subscribe to what I call "purse-culture." The reason women carry purses is that they have to carry things that they can't fit in their pockets- tampons, makeup, pens, notebooks, etc. Purses are a burden because they symbolize that women must carry everything, even things they don't really need, with them. It's something that must be looked after, something that can be stolen, something that accompanies a woman around the room anywhere she goes. My schtick is that purses represent that women are more needy than men. Sometimes, purses are necessary-- but I will only wear one if I know that one of my male friends will be wearing one too. Otherwise, the purse is representative of the woman's role as the worried caretaker in society.

V. D. "Masato" said...

Hi there.
I completely agree with you how uncomfortable it is to carry a bag\purse or anything of that short (I am ok with those folders or how they are called anyway)

I personally do not see it from a feministic view. As a young woman I am not offended by that.
But I do see it from a capitalistic view.
By limiting pockets in women's clothes you can't help but actually NEED a bag. So.. more money for the fashion industry.

I hope you get what I mean. If our clothes had the necessary amount of reasonable-sized pockets more that half the female population wouldn't buy bags. And that wouldn't be good news for the fashion industry.

As for the mentality of women carrying even insanely unecessary things I think it's because of all those movies (as a moment from a mocie with JLo and McConaughey) or just that fashion has established purses as 'musts' so every woman will fill her purse so that it looks more attractive.

I am sure I am missing some... pieces of the puzzle but I think that this comment would help constructive discussion