Consider the purse, female treasure chest, fashion accessory, urban survival equipment. I carry a purse, grudgingly. This most non-sequitur of posts comes from a description in Stephen King’s Bag of Bones, where the male protagonist describes the contents of his recently deceased wife’s purse. The “litter of Kleenex and makeup and keys and half-finished rolls of Certs” transported me back in time; that was my mother’s purse he was describing!
My mother’s purse was a Hermoine Granger level of magic for young me. Not that I was allowed to rummage through it randomly, but every now and then Mom would tell me to fetch something from within the vault and what bliss! I remember, with absolute clarity, that there were twelve thousand and six separate compartments in my mother’s purse. Each compartment contained endless and ever-changing treasures and the sanctity of it–hey, there was actually print money stored in there–made my brief and infrequent explorations even more thrilling.
Looking for something in my mother’s purse was not a chore, it was archaeology! You could fill two solid hours on that adventure: Indiana Jones and the Purse of Mystery.
My first purse is memorable only because it was purchased in Tijuana, when I was six. It was made of thick, cheap brown leather and had “Tijuana” stamped on the front, and I adored it!I have two other memories of that single-day jaunt south of the border. The first is the tacos that I BEGGED my parents to buy me, which I cast aside after a single bite. Remember a) tacos were considered exotic cuisine for middle class suburb-dwellers in Canada in the 70’s and b) I was six. The second memory is of my mother desperately trying to find a washroom for me that was clean enough for her standards (I’m pretty sure she asked to use one at a bank, it was really clean), and then her furiously warning me in a hushed-yet-aggressive voice, “DON’T SIT ON THE SEAT!”
I’m pretty sure I sat on the seat.
My second purse (yes, I actually remember), was a big Hefty Bag of a thing purchased for my trip to Hawaii, where I traveled with my dance class in 1982, without the benefit of Mom’s purse to hold all my
super important treasures junk. The purse was also white, which I remember because my blue pen panicked at the change of pressure when the airplane ascended and squid-inked all over one side. I like to imagine that the moment it happened, wherever my mother was, she let out a sigh of despair. “Oh, Kris, can’t you keep anything clean?”
More purses followed until something strange began to happen. I looked around and noticed that men walked around unencumbered by purses. In fact, a man carrying purse on any day besides Halloween would likely face a storm of homophobic violence. Purses were for women, for girls.
How many times had I seen my dad ask my mom to carry something in her purse that he couldn’t be bothered to lug around? Not just my dad, either. Many men seemed to rely on the purses of their wives and girlfriends in order to maintain that streamlined “I’m so manly I need nothing but oxygen and clothes” look. Children also used the purse as their personal mobile storage locker. Everyone was happy to use a purse as long as the woman was the one carrying it.
Like Roddy Piper in They Live, it was as if I’d put on special glasses but it wasn’t aliens I saw through them, it was pack mules. Women, somehow, somewhere, had been tricked into becoming beasts of burden. We were carrying everyone else’s shit and expected to be excited by that fact.
But what about when you want to ride the rollercoaster, or dance at the club, or spontaneously perform cartwheels in the park? What do you do with your purse? The answer was usually that you find another woman to hold it or you simply don’t do the fun thing you want to do. Ever see women dance at a club, forming a circle around their purses on the ground, placed there like holy relics? Weird, right?
After that, I became anti-purse. I got myself a man-style wallet that would fit in my jacket or jeans pocket, and that was it. Sure, once a month I’d have to break down and carry something purse-y to accommodate Shark Week supplies, but I tried to carry a small backpack or something that was distinctly not a purse.
My plan worked well for a while. When I was young, when my responsibilities were fewer. But it became increasingly clear to me as I aged that there were real benefits to having something to carry one’s things, especially when one is nomadic. Thus began the current era, which I call: Find a purse that looks as little like a purse as possible. This is tougher than you think.
For the record, Prez wears a fanny pack. Go ahead, snicker, but the man always has dental floss and a Leatherman when he needs them, so there.
I hate fashion. I mean, yes, I like to look nice when I’m in places and doing things where looking nice is part of the deal, but I hate the constant change, the constant rules made up by people I don’t know and don’t care about. I don’t want a purse to be fashionable. I want a purse because it’s a practical item that benefits me. Heck, it benefits everyone but yay gender stereotyping!
I will now fetch my purse and tell you the exact contents of it so you may judge the practicality of it for yourself.
Be right back.
Here I am. Here are the items:
- Wallet (Still carrying the velcro surfer-style wallet I bought in Rarotonga in 2008. F U fashion!)
- Packets of stevia (No one ever has stevia at coffee shops or restaurants.)
- Key to Mom Nancy’s house. (Specially made for me, with kittens on it!)
- Cell phone
- Gum. (Must always have gum!)
- Mini medicine holder with emergency Synthroid pills, Advil, Benadryl, and Gravol
- Mini toothbrush and floss (Don’t neglect your oral hygiene!)
- Tampons (The very small OB brand)
- Lip balm
- Business card holder
- Lottery ticket (any day now!)
With the exception of the lottery ticket and the stevia, there are no items on that list I consider extraneous. Sure, I could store Mom’s house key somewhere else but that’s just begging for me to put it somewhere I will forget, as I have done with seldom used keys in the past. This collection of necessities makes my life run more smoothly and keeps me independent.
So what on earth is so gosh darned feminine about that? Men, help me out here. Are you telling me that when you are on the road and get a wicked headache you wouldn’t feel better knowing you’ve got some aspirin handy? Or Kleenex should your schnoz start leaking? or lip balm so that at the end of a wind and sun-baked day of sporty activities you don’t come home looking like Tom Hanks in Cast Away? How about a place for your multi-purpose tool? Is it completely nuts to think a small bag within which you could transport these items every day wouldn’t be a benefit?
I anticipate the jokes about the “murse”. Reach for the low hanging fruit if you must. But, gentlemen, don’t come crying to me when you need some dental floss to get that annoying popcorn out of your teeth. This is my Bag of Necessity. Go get your own.