i am a man and i carry, for all intents and purposes, a purse. of course i don’t call it that. i employ one of the many euphemisms invented by the fashion industry in order to make myself and my brethren feel less ‘european’. its a messenger bag, a carry-all, a satchel, or just simply ‘a bag’. people make fun of me but i still choose to carry it. when someone picks it up off a couch at a friendly get together and asks ‘whose purse is this?’, i confidently put down my soy based beverage and announce, ‘that sir is mine’, and bare my chest to the inevitable derision that is sure to follow. some sarcastic line of questioning concerning the location of my tampons or my preferred brand of mascara is a popular tactic. at the end of the day, despite the teasing, i am still glad i carry it. particularly because at the end of the day is when i’m the most peckish. am i expected to stuff those larabars into my pockets? that’s just disgusting. yet it does raise the question of what is it about carrying a bag that is so intrinsically emasculating.
perhaps the answer lies in the function of a bag itself. in the most simple of terms, a bag is used to carry things. consider your mind blown, bear with me. the more things you need to carry the bigger the bag, and of course if you don’t need to carry anything, no bag is required. now the idea of the purse is that it is a bag that you carry with you at most, if not all, times. it is more or less essential (at any point while reading this if you feel the urge to ask ‘am i right ladies?’, feel free to do so for yourself). therefore, if you carry a purse it means that you consider a bags worth of shit essential to your daily life. there is just something fundamentally unmanly about such a persistent dependency. men are supposed to be able to adapt and prevail in any situation using only our innate ingenuity. this reliance on ingenuity is ingrained in young boys through our most celebrated popular culture figures. in its most hyperbolic manifestation, we have macgyver. the character whose name is now synonymous with ingenuity. he was defined by his ability to get out of a jam by fashioning whatever was at hand into a tool that could foil the most complex and elaborate of traps he found himself in. on some primal level macgyver either tapped into or reinforced the essential male view of the world: a nefarious system of booby traps and pitfalls only to be avoided through shear cunning. and buddy, if you can’t make a bong out of an ice pick, a snorkel, and an avocado, you’re fucked. yet macgyver paradoxically carried a bag. as if to anticipate how this would be perceived he states in the pilot episode, ‘the bag’s not for what I take, colson – it’s for what i find along the way’. the other exception to the rule, is everyone’s favourite egyptologist, indiana jones. if ever there was a character identified by his accessories it was jones. his wide brim fedora, trusty whip, and leather satchel have become iconic. just don’t call it a purse. nobody ever doubted the virility of mister jones, shoulder bag or not. the difference was what the bag contained, which seems to be for the most part very little. the most famous scene that comes to mind is from ‘raiders’. when he replaces the golden relic with a carefully weighed bag of sand. he produces the sand from his satchel and puts the idol back into it before making his epic escape. for both these characters his bag is most useful when it is empty. jones could hardly have squeezed a chachapoyan artefact in there if it already had his day planner and few activias for the slow boat back. his satchel derives its utility as a conveyance, as opposed to a purse which could be defined best as an aggregate of its contents. think about that the next time your boyfriend pulls out his chapstick from his ‘messenger’ bag.
another feminising aspect is that purses are regarded as the essential accessory. a purse is an inextricable element of any complete outfit (no homo). if you concede the point, most often argued by androgynous germans with difficult haircuts, that every fashion choice is a statement, the decision of which particular bag to wear is one not to be taken lightly. for the modern lady, factors such as formality of the event, season, potential duration of dancing, if that bitch sandra will be there, all must by given due consideration. so if a man is seen with a tote in tow it is assumed that he too must share these concerns. yet here again is where men draw their semantic line in the sand. women ‘wear’ purses, men just ‘carry’ bags. the bag is not a statement, or god forbid, an extension of personality. men don’t express themselves through fashion, that’s just gay. we are the sex that long ago established that the tuxedo was classy, the neck tie means business, and if you really are desperate to say something make sure it fits across a t-shirt and preferably incorporates an arrow. our bags are just big pockets, we would keep them inside our pants if we could. (that last statement, on review is more freudian than intended (or is it?)).
maybe the real reason why we find the sight of a man wearing a bag in public so irksome does have some sort of socio-sexual origin. besides its obviously yonic nature, the purse can be seen as a concrete manifestation of the most private aspects of a woman’s life brought out into the public. it is at once exposed and guarded. most men have made the mistake of going through a woman’s purse in search for something as innocent as a lighter and have been met with the same level of suspicion as if you were caught rifling through her underwear drawer claiming you were looking for a sock. the interior of the purse is an inviolable domain. concealed within is the mysterious alchemy of tonics and balms employed to maintain the illusion of prelapsarian innocence. on a subconscious level most men believe the chief ingredients are some combination of fairy dust and vanilla. men don’t really want to know exactly how the whole illusion is maintained, and women don’t seem too keen on revealing it. for both parties the secrets concealed within the purse facilitate the romantic mystery that is so essential to a woman’s intrigue.
whereas the idea of a man carrying a sack of lotions and ointments is just plain creepy. a man just doesn’t have the same prerogative to privacy that a women does. any kind of clandestine behaviour is always met with a generally warranted suspicion. the assumption of most would be that you were carting around a supply of candies and toys for the purpose of luring. you might as well be walking around with a small windowless white van hanging off your shoulder. society dissuades men from carrying bags as a public safety precaution. if you can’t fit it in your pocket, you probably shouldn’t be bringing it on the bus.
bearing all this in mind, i will continue to take my bag on all means of public transport. i’ve reconciled myself with the fact that others will judge me, but the convenience is hard to forego. too many times i’ve woken up on various couches still wearing my contacts from the night before, desperate to brush my teeth properly, and without a book to read on the bus home. the solutions to all these problems are now neatly stowed in my satchel. just the one bag for me though, let’s not get ridiculous. i’ve chosen something with an arguably utilitarian look. one would not be surprised if i produced a map of the jungle interior or a small tupperware container of almonds. as for the looks of suspicion i encounter as mothers clutch their children close and remind them of the dangers of strangers, well the struggle continues. but i take solace in a little mantra i repeat quietly to myself, ‘what would indy do?’