Juliet Dunlop: In a handbag? Yes, all women’s life is there
MALE readers may wish to look away now. You may find the following contains scenes of an overpriced, baffling and uncomfortable nature.
Should you choose to ignore this warning, you may glean some small insight into the mysterious female psyche: namely, our steadfast, dogged and not-quite-balanced pursuit of The Perfect Handbag. There, I’ve said it. “A handbag!” I hear you cry. Yes, Dame Edith, a handbag.
Allow me to explain. You see, a handbag is so much more than just a bag. It’s not just the creak and moan of expensive leather, the familiar heady scent when, like an old friend, it slips out of its dust bag, falling open to reveal old Tube tickets and receipts; small reminders of where you were and when. It’s not about the money either. It’s about construction, craftsmanship, colour. It’s a bit like choosing a car really, and some (cover your ears now) cost more than a family hatchback. It’s also what we carry our lives around in.
I know my increasingly heavy bag contains a varied and useful assortment of items. A recent check revealed a spent light bulb, a purse full of loyalty cards, two umbrellas, sunglasses, a jumble of cables and wires, pens, a security pass, more keys than a jailer, a phone, a dog-eared paperback, a newspaper and a half eaten waffle. Quite frankly, I’d be lost without it and most women feel the same.
A handbag contains life’s essentials and to be parted from it, either though loss or theft, is more than just an inconvenience. Any woman who has had her bag stolen will know the dreadful sense of panic followed by the clammy realisation that someone is rifling through your personal belongings; knowing that as they pick through the contents of your wallet, selecting credit cards and thumbing through your cash, the last thing on their mind is their victim.
Last week, a judge highlighted this very point. In fact, Zoë Smith brought Reading Crown Court to a standstill during a sentencing hearing when a bag-snatcher tried to trivialise his crime. Judge Smith told the courtroom that men simply didn’t understand the real impact of such a theft – that without her handbag, a woman is robbed of her security and ability to get home safely. “It’s not just inconvenience, it causes fear as well. Her phone is taken, her cards, her money to get a cab is taken, the keys to the door of her house. Then there’s the fear of anyone coming to break into her house. It’s a terrible thing to do.”
So, how did we reach this slavish state of staggering around with all our valuable, worldly goods on one permanently grooved shoulder, while men swan around unencumbered?
Fashion historians claim it’s all to do with pockets. Men’s clothing has always had them, while women’s clothing doesn’t necessarily. Another one of life’s great injustices. And historically, why would a woman need to carry personal items around, hidden from her husband, when she was his property anyway and didn’t technically own anything? For modern women, perhaps the perfect handbag really is the ultimate status symbol – the bigger and better the bag the more obvious the owner’s wealth and independence.
The contents matter of course, as we’ve already established, but sometimes it’s the bag that counts. Not only is it a beacon of style in a sombre-suited world, it is, more importantly, a sign of equality. So while fashion may change and the mobile phone continues to replace so many of the things we used to carry around, nothing, it seems, can match the desirability of the handbag.
Men who have flirted with the “man-bag” will understand its practicality, and let’s be honest, who wouldn’t prefer walking down the street with something strong and reliable on your arm when the alternative is something flimsy and gaudy you found in the local mini-mart? (The parallel with men is uncanny.)
So, next time you’re eyeing up some exquisite creation in butter-soft suede, take heart, that strange, magnetic pull is really all about settling old scores. In fact, I can’t think of a nicer way to address a 600- year-old power imbalance.
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Sunday 19 May 2013
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