I’m a man with a penis and everything, but it’s come to
my attention that I own a handbag. It looks like a backpack - but don't be
fooled, it is most definitely a handbag. It has a main compartment which holds
a jumper in case I get cold (you can always take layers off), as well as an
easy-access side pocket where I can keep a bottle of water so I don't run the
risk of becoming dehydrated (and as Cosmo points out, to ward off
cellulite). What’s more, there’s a small zip-up pouch in which I
keep painkillers, deodorant, hair product, cologne, and a pack of tissues, as
well as a cream for relieving what my girlfriend has so eloquently labelled as
my 'fanny rash'; a soothing ointment for an occasional
itch that my GP informs me is caused by the same fungi responsible for vaginal
thrush. Hence ‘fanny rash’.
So there it is. I carry around a bag with painkillers (not tonight darling, I
have a headache) and medicine for my vaginal maladies. If that doesn't make my
backpack a handbag, then I don't know what does. Of course, you won’t find
lipstick or eye-liner in my bag, but that’s also true of many women. What’s
more, I’m sure there are many women who don’t carry a handbag at all, let
alone have the permanent access to Caneston Duo afforded to me by my backpack.
And yet, there’s an idea that men are versatile hunter-gatherers who rely
solely on their leathered skin (protection from spears) and wiry pubic hair
(fashion a rope) when out and about, while women carry a bag of potions,
lotions and frocks in case they break down and start leaking, or else, meet Prince Charming and need to quickly doll up in order to secure a marriage
The truth is, both men and women wear bags, but for some reason these
are categorised as two distinct kinds of behaviour, when in actual fact they’re
exactly the same. We all need to carry stuff about with us sometimes. End of.
It’s absurd, but we've gendered something as trivial and universal as
carrying shit around. There are manbags and there are handbags – and never
shall the two meet. But I call bullshit. I know a handbag when I use
one, and I use one every day.
The thing is: bags are only the tip of the iceberg.
There’s no end to the things that society,
the media, and advertising divvy up into female and male versions. Take
shaving. Gillette's Mach and Venus razors are essentially the same in terms of
the equipment that they employ (three blades and a lubricant strip), but their
names tell a very different story: Mach was a physicist who lent his surname to
a metric used to measure the speeds of air craft, while Venus was the Roman
deity of love, sex and beauty. Accordingly, the adverts for Mach razors take
place in laboratories where technicians spend their time creating ‘technology’
to help men overcome the scientific mystery of shaving, and the Venus
commercials happen at sunny poolsides, and implore women to ‘release their
inner goddess’ to that familiar sex-object mantra (I’m your Venus/ I’m your
fire/ Your desire).
So despite the fact that we're all using the same little
pieces of metal to remove some hair, Gillette insists on marketing one razor to
man-robots and another to sex-goddesses. And the list goes on: women lose
weight by drinking Diet Coke, men by drinking Coke Zero. Girls play with pink
toys, boys play with blue ones (and, y'know, guns.) Birthday cards for her, birthday cards for him. I mean, come
on – gendered birthday cards? Everyone has birthdays. Why separate that into
man-births and woman-births? We've cut the metaphorical birthday cake
in two and designated one half to men and the other half to women – but it's
the same bloody cake with the same fucking buttercream filling!
Obviously, there are differences between men and women (I can’t push people out
of my genitalia, for example), but it is extremely damaging to relentlessly and
surreptitiously invoke these differences into every aspect of our daily lives,
especially when these differences are completely irrelevant (which overwhelmingly,
they are). If we constantly bombard people with the message that women and men
performing identical activities (removing hair, drinking carbonated drinks to
shed weight, being born etc, etc) are doing so in intrinsically and fundamentally
different ways, then this lays the foundations for the world
view that the differences between men and women matter more than the
similarities. And it makes these differences seem large
where they are small, significant where they are inconsequential, and
ultimately leads to a divided society. Diet Coke and pink wrapping paper might
not be solely responsible for the pay gap, but they certainly help to provide
the conditions that make it a possibility.
I don’t know about you, but I don’t want to be a part of a
world that systemically separates men and women into distinct domains, most
often to the detriment of the latter. So why not cause some gender trouble? Ladies,
wear a three piece suit. Gents: shave with a Venus razor. Fuck the system!
Personally, I’m going to hold my backpack proudly in the air and yell, ‘This is
my handbag. There are many others like it, but this one is mine!’
And I’ll do
so until I’m red in the face with fanny rash.