I have a beef to pick with Western culture. I’m tired of carrying cargo in my pockets like Tom Sawyer in the 21st century. Rather than kite string, marbles, coins, and bits of trash, I have a money clip, business cards, credit cards, cash, cell phone, pen, pad, knife, keys, receipts and my to-do list housed in the leather Bosca 3″x5″ Note Minder that I’ve used since high school.
Yet, if I ascribe to certain social constructs of masculinity, I must endure keys sticking my leg and change jingling. When I sit down, I must either empty my pockets onto the table or resign myself to the discomfort of pants hiked up around my thighs and the constant inconvenience of that hem in the crotch. Storing this paraphernalia uses all the excess fabric in my pants, which is what made them comfortable in the first place. I might as well have worn a denim leotard.
These constructs of masculinity have no rhyme or reason. The gender-specific weight that we hang on specific colors or objects is arbitrary. Saying that the color pink is effeminate is like saying that chirping crickets are less masculine than roaring lions. If my friend Will delivered lumber, not cut flowers, would he be more of a man? How can the length of a man’s hair be intrinsically masculine or feminine? What about poor hygiene? Or caring for children, cooking, mowing the lawn, or building skyscrapers? Show me God’s file folder labeled, “For Men” and “For Women.” Arguments against the color pink and long hair lack logic and devolve into stereotypes, vague sentiment, and blind subservience to the status quo.
Even those people who believe that God created distinct genders to image unique aspects of His character fall prey to generalizations and gross oversimplification. David gained a reputation as an excellent musician and poet long before he slew Goliath. He later seduced a married woman and sent her husband, a long-time comrade in arms, to his death. In other words, David defied stereotypes. He brought beauty and lyre song into the world, and he betrayed his friends.
His Old Testament counterpart Jael gave Sisera a glass of milk to make him sleepy before she hammered a tent peg through his temple? She offers no picture of tenderness, nurture, and hospitality.
Jesus disrupts cultural stereotypes in a similar way. He shows kindness and preference to children. He speaks to outcasts and prostitutes. He shares meals with dishonest businessmen and rebukes the religious elite. Troublesome rebels and saints populate the Judeo-Christian scriptures. Constructs of masculinity and assumptions about propriety break against real men and women like waves against cliffs.
Armed with this realization, I plan to carry a purse.
I could, of course, call it by all sorts of names to appease the dullards hollering about toughness: messenger bag, and satchel, attaché; European carryall, man bag, and briefcase.
Wearing the strap diagonally across my chest or holding it by my side rather than on one shoulder changes nothing. Men dislike the idea of carrying a purse as though, by definition, a “purse” contains tampons and mascara; as though owning a “purse” obligates them to order a grilled chicken salad with raspberry vinaigrette and a Diet Coke at lunch. Whether my purse carries business cards, a Sigg 9mm, and a Leatherman multi-tool or fruit snacks, Midol, and strawberry-flavored Lip Smackers, it still serves the same basic function—holding and carrying my stuff.
Whether the material is leather, canvas, or ultra-lightweight plain weave nylon with aluminum components, men are secretly relieved to have somewhere else to carry the two inches of leather, plastic, and paper that masculinity requires us to keep in our back pockets.
I’d rather swagger with a purse now than have lower back problems in twenty years. I bought mine at a street market in Florence. The man and I haggled about prize—getting a good deal, 5 Masculinity Points—which we both enjoyed. I paid $75. It was probably the best purchase I made in eleven different countries. Both men and women compliment it all the time.
Eight years and two repairs later—repairing rather than replacing, 3 Masculinity Points—the satchel-purse is as good as new. It has two large compartments inside, both the perfect size for my Macbook—snobby electronics, 2 Masculinity Points. An assortment of books normally occupies the other pocket. For example, right now, I am carrying around the latest issue of Poets & Writers, the Bible, a notebook for business notes, my Postalco journal, which is my all-time favorite; Matt Donovan’s collection of poems entitled Vellum; The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald; and the most recent issue of Cave Wall, a literary journal. What carry in the satchel is directly related to how I make a living—having a job, 10 Masculinity Points—which is freelance marketing and copywriting jobs.
It also holds several pens and pencils, rewetting drops for when I wear my loathsome contacts, business cards, gum, ear plugs, and four empty .270 Winchester cartridges. Being prepared and knowing how to shoot a rifle represent another 75 Masculinity Points.
“Be prepared” is the motto of the Boy Scouts of America and signifies a major contradiction in constructs of masculinity in Western culture. Are we supposed to travel lightly and be “low maintenance” or to always be prepared? Male resourcefulness may necessitate killing food or cooking a nutritious meal for one’s children, and perhaps masculinity at its best means making the best decision for the most people in favorable and hostile environments. For me, that includes having a book to read while I wait in line.
I officially endorse men carrying purses. Men who disagree can schedule appointments with their orthopedic surgeons to discuss herniated discs, deformed spines, and painful surgeries. How manly!