Friday, January 14, 2005

On Being a Woman: What's Your Bag?

Real women carry purses.

I didn’t make that rule, I don’t particularly like that rule, but that’s just the way it goes. And not only that, but real women own seasonal purses. Purses that match their shoes. Going out purses. Stay at home purses. Bar purses. Work purses. Wedding purses. Funeral purses.

This isn’t a modern phenomenon – it has been true all throughout history. Even in caveman days, I am certain that Sheanderthals carried around mastodon bladder purses, although I can’t imagine what they put in them. But then again, what exactly do I put in my purse? I often wonder why we as women need enormous bags, yet men can just shove a wallet in their back pocket and seemingly have everything they could ever need. But then when I see my brother and his wife, the answer becomes clear:

“Hey, hon – do you have any Chapstick?”

“Can I borrow your pen?”

“Got any gum in that bag?”

“Can you stick these tickets in your purse?”

“Hey – did you bring that Snickers with you?”

So, instead of a purse, I really just need a wife.

Maybe part of my problem is that growing up, I just didn’t have the right role models. Aside from my mother, whose ethnic heritage is 50% gypsy, 50% 1940’s Hollywood starlet, I didn’t really have any ultra girly influences.

This problem was clearly illustrated by a recent visit from my old friend, Vivian. She stayed with me for a few days last year during the holidays before going to see her family. After lots of laughs and catching up, she started to pack up to head out to her parents’ house. What I witnessed next both shocked and appalled me:

“Vivian, what are you doing?”


“Did you just put your wallet and keys into that black knit cap?”

“It’s my hat purse.”

“No, it’s a hat that you stuck your wallet and keys into.”

“Right. A hat purse.”

“You can’t do that! You can’t just take a hat, put stuff in it, and call it a purse! People will think you’re crazy. You’ll look like you just robbed a bank!”

“Jenny, I do this all the time. I hate purses – you know that.”

“Look, Viv. I may not be a girly-girl, but I know a thing or two about parents and daughters. I know that every time I go home, my dad will ask me how my car’s been running. I know that no matter how old I get, my mom will tell me I don’t wear enough lipstick. And I know, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that if you walk into your parents’ house with that hat-purse-excuse-for-a-handbag, they will think that you live in a roach-infested flophouse behind some Chinese restaurant in Brooklyn.”

Since I refused to let Vivian visit her parents carrying the burglar purse, I told her I would lend her one of my purses. And thus began my brief journey into self-discovery where I learned that, sadly, I am not a real woman. I don’t own a purse. Not an official one, at least. While I don’t go so far as to use hats, I really only have mini backpacks or unisex messenger bags to transport all my belongings.

The one purse I did find was a spangly little sequined number from a wedding I went to several years ago. I offered it up to Vivian, but she declined, saying that she’d rather have her parents think she was a “dumpster-dwelling bank robber than be caught toting that prissy little Zsa-Zsa purse.”

“All right, well at least let me find you a hat that looks less like a ski mask.”

I dug around my closet until I found this hip, multi-colored Guatemalan knit hat that had two long tassels that wrapped under your chin. I turned it upside down, tied the tassels together, and voilà! A fetching patterned knit bag!

“Just tell your mom that they’re all the rage in New York this year.”

I just couldn’t let Viv set herself up like that. I mean, come on now – a hat purse? I may not be a real woman, but I am a real friend.