Wednesday, June 30, 2010

The purse: A gender roles enigma

This weekend I went shopping for a new bag, and found exactly what I wanted (an uncommon occurrence at the mall!). Not only that, but it was on sale (70% off)! I almost never shop for bags, and it struck me that I was engaging in one of those stereotypical feminine rituals, and that I had derived a lot of pleasure from it. Which led me to another thought: why don't men get to carry bags over their shoulders?!?

Common arguments for carrying a purse / bag:
  • It's useful - you can carry all your stuff with you without having to sit on it
  • It can be stylish
  • It can be a status symbol
Common arguments against carrying a purse / bag:
  • It's not manly. (See informative beer commercial below)

See! Beer is manly! Purses are not! Why, you ask? Because! Purses sometimes have fringes, or rhinestones, or are made of fancy faux leather - inherently feminine stuff! But wait...



Fancy leather!
Well, gee, those potentially troubling elements of the purse don't seem to pose problems in other contexts. It seems to me that there is nothing inherently gendered about carrying a bag over one shoulder. I have not been able to come up with a good evolution for this norm. Surely there is a history of men carrying bags over one shoulder? Soldiers? Travelling doctors? Shepherds? Of course, there are definitely women who also choose not to carry purses, for various reasons.

Contents of my purse: wallet, cell phone, car keys, apartment keys, gum, chapstick, nail clippers, current novel, teabag, hair tie and hair clip, ibuprofen, work key card, assorted receipts and old grocery lists. Useful stuff right?

Does anyone have any theories to how this happened? The internet is coming up short for me today :-/

Post script: Does the picture below change anything?


  1. I think there may be men who have purse envy, but I have pocket envy. Pockets on women's clothes are always either nonexistent, teeny, or shaped so that actually putting anything in them creates an exact outline of said object on your silhouette, e.g., cell phone butt. I like having a big bag sometimes, but other times when I want to leave the purse home, I have to give the BF my lip gloss and ID to put in his somehow functional pockets.

  2. I too would like men to start carrying purses - mostly so that when I travel with them I don't end up carrying all their crap. Pockets are great but they only get you so far with cameras, water bottles, guidebooks, etc.

  3. Finally, men are starting to appreciate purses... i just hope they wont spend money over a $3000 designer purse. :D

  4. My argument against carrying a purse: I have never left my pants behind when walking out of a room. I cannot say the same for hats, jackets, or umbrellas. I've even left a backpack behind, but I normally notice that pretty quickly. I just don't trust myself to carry a purse.

  5. It's definitely irritating in both directions---the purses-for-women, pockets-for-men dichotomy on the surface might claim "It's not sexist" status due to it inconveniencing both genders more or less equally, but it arbitrarily says "this for you over there, that for you over here," with no care for what the person in question might prefer, and thus falls into the same sexism that gender-segregated labor roles wallow in.

    I'm wearing a pair of men's pants right now, purchased for the general reason that the ones I wanted were only available in the men's section (well, that and, oddly enough, men's clothing fits my beanpole stature better than women's do, which are too short if they fit around the waist)---but I REVEL in the pockets.

  6. I dunno, I find purses, carried over one shoulder, impractical. Stuff carried like that tends to slip down. I'll rather keep my regular backpack. :P

    And I would never put my wallet and my keys into a purse (or a backpack, for that matter), far too easy to lose or get stolen like that. My sister actually got her wallet, in her backpack, stolen some years ago.
    I always keep my wallet and my keys in my pants pockets (the keys on a carabiner on my belt loop).

    For bigger things (laptop, roleplaying character sheets, books), I've got a backpack.


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