We Are Prisoners of Our Purses
By Vanessa Green
Purses have been around for thousands of years- they were depicted on Egyptian hieroglyphs. Somewhere there's a picture of Queen Nefertiti rummaging through her cloth waist-bag searching for a scrap of papyrus to write a message to her Pharaoh that she'd be late from the company picnic at the pyramids.
It wasn't until the 1300s that purses were first mentioned in written literature. Maybe women kept the keys to their chastity belts in them (they had to put them somewhere). They probably carried nail files too. People in the Middle Ages only bathed once a year and were generally pretty dirty- especially their fingernails. I've seen Braveheart!
I recently saw a book on Amazon.com titled, The Purse-Driven Life. Although it has nothing to do with purses, the book's title is right on the mark in describing the relationship most women have with their handbags. We are captives of shoulder straps, hidden compartments and buttery soft leather.
Since I was a child playing dress-up with my mother's 1960s white mod shoulder bag or peering into Grandma's spearmint-scented black patent leather with the noisy clasp, I have been fascinated by the role that handbags play in women's lives.
We have to have precisely the right fancy clutch for our proms and evenings out. We look for a purse big enough to carry our everyday stuff without it looking like a suitcase. And then, there's the matching- purse to dress, purse to shoes, and sometimes, yes, purse to sunglasses!
We stand in front of the variety of purse inventory displayed in retail stores and ask the age-old question, "hand-held or shoulder strap?" Who hasn't seen the poor woman who's chosen the latter repetitively pushing her handbag strap from elbow to shoulder.
If we pick the wrong one, it's no problem. We just throw the new purse into the closet with the twenty other purses, pick out an old one that no one's seen in awhile and, of course, vow never to buy that style again.
Handbags carry items we women need. We like to have our grooming items handy- hairbrush, mascara, lipstick- but do we really need that movie stub for "Knocked Up"(last year's movie), the dusty almond that fell out of the bag, or the cash receipt for the Diet Coke we bought during lunch hour?
And do we absolutely have to have two pads of paper, twelve pens and a three inch address book at the ready? How often do we stop in the middle of the workday and write our mothers a letter?
I think purses are more than just a way for women to carry around must-have items. I think women are more attached to their possessions than men. It feels good to have the entire contents of the top of our dressers with us.I think, if we could, we'd hook up a trailer hitch to our waists and haul the whole house on our morning commute- on the off chance we need to show a friend a vacation photo or to prove that, yes, that book really is a first edition.
I'm vividly reminded when I clean out my purse how much unnecessary, disgusting junk collects in it. I've cringed at its contents more than once as I found the unhappy union of a half-melted M&M and a penny. Each and every time I purge my handbag I leave the bare essentials in it- keys, makeup, wallet and credit cards.
But when I dump the same purse out a month later on a newspaper on the dining room table, the mound of trash looks like the garbage barge that periodically leaves Manhattan.
Men, on the other hand, groom themselves in the morning, and except for their wallets, manage to leave their belongings at home. At the end of the day they bring more stuff home, but they don't need handbags-they have pockets!
Like some men whose wallets are thick with every business card they've every received, I cram flyers and brochures into my purse as if I will be needing their information immediately (in another month they'll be on that garbage barge to Manhattan too!)
Occasionally, you'll see men wearing those fanny pack creations (they're usually in the front so technically they're belly bags). Those guys turn out to be carrying stuff belonging to their wives and the five kids they have in tow. And you only see them at theme parks!
The size of the handbag doesn't matter. Like most women, I've often thought that if I had a smaller purse I would trap less unnecessary stuff. Wrong! I've purchased tote purses the size of small carry-ons and tiny ones that could pass for cigarette cases- the end result is that both are bulging with junk.
If we left in the morning with a steamer trunk in the back of our cars it would be filled to the brim at the end of the day.
Since leaving our purses in the back of the car would defeat the purpose of having their contents available whenever we want, we are faced with another challenge keeping up with them during all of our daily activities.
We worry about where to put them at school, the restaurant and the movie theater; later, we worry about having left them at school, the restaurant, and the movie theater.
Don't get me started on the zippered pockets and small compartments that routinely swallow purse contents. I ask myself a thousand times a year, "Are my car keys misplaced or merely lost in that personal black hole I call my purse?"
My purse has eight, count them, eight compartments. I forget that fact when I can't find my debit card. I panic after searching only five compartments-forgetting about the other three.
And why is it that my purse always falls to the floor in the front seat of the car while I'm driving? Why is it that when it does fall it is always open- the one time you forget to zip or snap or Velcro- and why does it always fall head first?!
Whether it's a high priced designer version like Prada or Valentino or their discount cousins from Wal-Mart or Target, whether we call them handbags or purses, we are prisoners of the vessels that haul around those items we insist are indispensable.
If anthropologists could study a purse before it spent thousands of years buried and decaying, they would wonder about the woman who owned it. They would have many questions for her- like why is the inside lining so ripped and frayed? The answer is simple. It's because of the constant clawing through empty medicine bottles, old receipts and our children's small toys to find our car keys.
About the Author:
After majoring in English literature at Lenoir Rhyne College in North Carolina, Vanessa Green moved to South Florida and raised three sons. She relocated to a small town near Atlanta, Ga. seventeen years ago. Now she is fulfilling her lifelong dream of being a writer. She has published an online article about depression glass on consignersoutlet.com, health and entertainment pieces on Associated Content and essays/blogs about politics and life on her own webpage. In addition to writing nonfiction, she is working on a collection of short stories and is trying her hand at poetry.