First I Look at the Purse

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Harvey D. Kart

For the past few weeks, I have been mentally wrestling with one of the great social issues or our time, namely, with all the other breakthroughs society has seen in the area of equality, why is it that a stigma is still associated with a man who carries a purse?

Jerry Seinfeld addressed the issue on one of his shows-and set the cause back decades by connecting the idea of American men carrying purses with European (read: effeminate) style. Currently, Miller Lite is running a series of commercials defining men who are less than real men and-you guessed it-one of the barometers is whether or not he carries a man bag.

We’ve seen much progress over the years on both sides of the gender aisle. Virginia Slims convinced women they should be proud to smoke (at least until we found out the habit was bad for everyone.) Expectant fathers were liberated from the waiting room and invited to experience the whole birth process (whether they want to or not.) Men had been told it is okay to cry, and women have been encouraged to kick through the glass ceiling. We’ve seen the advent of unisex dorms and bathrooms. More and more women sport tattoos and more and more men are wearing earrings. And even real men take an occasional bite of quiche.

But let a guy pick up anything remotely resembling a purse and he is stripped of his manhood by just about everyone he encounters. Simply put, John Wayne would have sooner attended a poetry reading than carry a purse and that should put an end to the notion, pilgrim.

But here’s the rub: from a practical standpoint, a purse makes so much more sense than the conventional wallet (a.k.a. billfold) we guys are forced to carry. It was bad enough that the dawn of credit cards jammed into our wallets caused our back pockets to bulge noticeably. Today, with the addition of those special “members only” cards for everything from coffee shops to book stores to grocery stores, most men look like they suffer from an abnormal growth on one side of their derriere.

Sure, attempts have been made to placate concerns over this obvious inequity. We’ve carried briefcases for years, but they are limited to the office, not a night out on the town. We’ve been told to carry backpacks or wear cargo pants. But the former, except when strapped on a high school or college kid, makes us look suspicious in this age of terrorism. The latter taxes our memory too much-did I put the keys in the left front zippered pocket or the rear buttoned compartment?-and makes too many of us look like Crocodile Hunter wannabees.

There is a reason purses have maintained their popularity with women for so many decades. As part of my research for this publisher’s note, I ask select women to share the contents of their purses with me. What I found was an eclectic mix of stuff-mints, flashlights, maps, tissues, can openers, eyeglasses, fingernail polish, Ibuprofen, kitchen sink-that would sustain a person for months if stranded on a deserted island.

This discovery has made me more than a little paranoid. What if the Battle of the Sexes isn’t really over and that we live under a sustained but shaky truce? If battle lines are ever drawn, they are carrying all the supplies. There’s not much we can do with a handful of plastic cards, some tattered coupons for free guitar lessons and maybe a couple of pictures of our kids. And while women may still physically be the weaker sex, one good wallop from most loaded down purses could drop an NFL linebacker in his tracks.

If it is a conspiracy, I have to admit it’s working. Despite my curiosity-okay, I’ll admit it, even my desire-to see what it would be like to carry a purse, I just can’t find the fortitude to turn into the Coach store at the mall and find a bag that’s right for me. I’ll just have to wait for someone braver than me, perhaps a modern day William Wallace to once again take up the cause of freedom. (After all, he already was comfortable in a kilt.)

Harvey D. Kart.