Why is (A Purse) A “Girl Thing”?

I’ve decided that this blog needs a new series addressing the bizarre way society has of delegating certain things to certain genders. Makeup is feminine, neckties are masculine; cheerleading is feminine, football is masculine; salads are feminine, nachos are masculine. I began to wonder: do any of these gender divisions have biological reasons? Could I reach back across cultures and generations for an explanation? Or are they arbitrary societal constructs formulated by lunatics? Well, turns out, there might be a little of both.

On today’s episode: purses.


I carry one. In fact, I carry a gigantic one. I call it my “bag of doom.” It contains everything I consider indispensable for a day outside my home, including but by no means limited to: hand lotion, headache medicine, sunglasses, water bottle, birth control, gum, chapstick, wallet, and cell phone.

My boyfriend does not carry a purse. I have often wondered why not, since when we are out for the day, I frequently end up holding things for him. I don’t resent him for this. I don’t mind carrying his glasses case, water, and any other accoutrements he may acquire during the day. There is no way in hell he would ever leave the house carrying a purse, so he really doesn’t have a choice. I understand.

For some reason, it is acceptable for a woman to carry a purse, but not for a guy to do it. It’s a “girl thing.” It doesn’t really make sense, does it? Guys get headaches. Guys wear glasses. Guys get dry skin every now and then. Why am I allowed to lug all my possessions around in one convenient carrying case, when a man would be publicly ridiculed for such behavior?

After all, Indiana Jones wears one.

After all, Indiana Jones wears one.

Hundreds of years ago, men were carrying purses with the best of us. These bags could range from anything as small as a coin purse to something as large as a backpack. After all, the Medieval-age man had a lot of things to carry about! For one thing, he probably carried all his tools to and from work with him. Heavy axes, blacksmithing tools, or leatherworking equipment were much easier to carry if they could all go into one place. In Scotland, they went so far as to develop the sporran, which was not only functional but also extremely fashionable.


Think of it as a much sexier precursor to the fanny pack.

So why did we move away from this murse-allowing way of life?

It all began with the advent of large trouser pockets. When men and women both began wearing pants in the early 20th century, the fit of men’s pants developed much differently than the fit of women’s pants. Because women in general have a more curvaceous hip shape and a rounder badonkadonk, our pants were tailored to both flatter and accommodate our shapely figures. Men, with straighter hips and, let’s face it, less to show off, favored a baggier fit through the hips and waist. This looseness in the hip area allowed for bigger, roomier pockets – all the better to store one’s wallet in! Whereas women’s jeans, I am fairly convinced, are designed for the sole purpose of squeezing your cell phone out of them whenever you sit down.

Plus, once the bulk of first world nation employment moved away from manual labor, men had less to carry – or were supposed to. No more wrenches, awls, whetstones or daggers to carry to work? No purse. A “real man,” I think we must have speculated, would be able to survive a plane crash in the wilderness armed only with a book of matches and his Axe bodyspray, so clearly only a tenderfoot would require the use of an entire bag full of supplies. On the other hand, the type of work that was considered “women’s work” by many until at least the 80’s (and by some still today) required the carrying of many things – baby bottles, dust rags, etc. Even today, when a huge percentage of women work outside the home and being a “stay-at-home Mom” is no longer our clandestined doom, we are thought of as being needier in terms of possessions. Half the women I know won’t leave the house without a full makeup bag – not because they have ever needed to reapply makeup at work, but because they feel as though they should have it. The Purse Gods That Be seem to assume that because we have faces and vaginas, we are going to need to constantly maintenance both areas with numerous products that all must be kept in separate pockets.

"Um... why do you have that duct tape and those little white pills?"

“Um… why do you have that duct tape and those little white pills?”

So there you have it. Women carry purses, and men are prohibited from such behavior. Just one way in which gender division has thrown us a small bone. But if you see a bro carrying a man-purse, don’t judge the dude. Think of how bereft you’d feel without your bathroom reading and your Mio flavor packets, and have pity on him.


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