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Ask Dr. Helen: Living Like One of the Guys

So I had an epiphany this week: I hate carrying a purse. I’m sick and tired of it. Why, you ask? Most women carry purses — heck, most women love purses, and spend much of their time in pursuit of the perfect handbag and matching wallet to compliment their wardrobe. I’ve tried going that route and it has left me feeling disgusted and frazzled.

I never realized how much I hated carrying a purse until this week when a service person ripped off some money out of my wallet — about 200 bucks. It sucked because it was my spending money for the week. Now it belonged to some thief who had free and easy access to my purse because I turned my back on it for a few minutes without thinking. If I had a wallet in my front pocket, that would have been a lot harder to pull off. I started to get mad about the stolen money and ruminate about why people ripped others off like that, which probably was fruitless — the truth is, people steal. The question was, what could I do to prevent it from happening again? The answer? Quit carrying a damn purse around, especially a Coach bag. It might as well have a big label attached to it: Take Me Now.

I started thinking about how many hours I have spent guarding that purse. Not only me, but a number of women are constantly clutching their bags to their sides. For example, blogger Rachel Lucas states:

I don’t know about you, but when I’m in an elevator with other people, I ALWAYS CLUTCH MY PURSE no matter what. Even if the only other occupant is a 5-year-old white kid or a 90-year-old blind Chinese woman. In fact, if I’m anywhere in public with a purse, I AM CLUTCHING IT.

What a waste of energy! Keeping up with a purse is actually exhausting. Blogger Ann Althouse wonders if purse-carrying is a feminist issue, leading her to ask why women’s clothes don’t have pockets — and determines that the reason is anti-feminism:

I used to view clothing manufacturers as anti-feminist because they gave men pockets but denied them to women. Even when they gave us pockets, they were often shallow and slanted — designed for the elegant placement of a hand, perhaps. The clothing manufacturers were part of the elaborate system designed to oppress women. I’m still a little irked about it!

Well, getting irked at the clothing manufacturers or even the “patriarchy” because there are few pockets in women’s pants is rather silly, though I understand the sentiment. But it is the women themselves who are slaves to fashion. Don’t believe me? Try going to the opening of a local Sephora (a make-up store, for those of you who aren’t “in the know”) and watch the parade of women swoon and swarm through the store as if they are on a drug-induced high. Then take a look at the puzzled faces of the men or boys they’ve dragged to the place while they watch the mysterious behavior of these women who are practically foaming at the mouth about make-up and tell me that this fashion — along with a lust for purses — is anything but the desire of the women themselves doing the longing. Many women don’t want pockets for the same reason that they wear make-up. They think it makes them look good and they want to impress — mainly — other women. But enough of this.

Back to my purse-carrying dilemma. I have always watched guys with envy for the way they have so little to carry around. “How do they do it?” I wondered.

I decided to try carrying just a wallet — a nondescript black one like this — and see if it was worth punting the purse for a freer lifestyle. I thought back to an interview my husband and I did with Norah Vincent, author of Self-Made Man: One Woman’s Year Disguised as a Man — and realized that while I could never pass for a guy or live as a guy (not that it’s easy, as Vincent found out: it’s tough being a guy), I could at least steal some guy traits that might make my life a bit simpler, and that included carrying a wallet. Men seem calmer than women, and maybe not having to keep up with a purse 24/7 is part of the reason.

How has it worked out? It’s hard! The first day I carried just a wallet, I kept looking for my purse and feeling that I had forgotten something. By the third day, I was over this but I didn’t have all of the things I needed such as various keys, my chapstick, stamps, my address book, my pepper spray, various food, gloves — and carrying spare change in my pocket drives me crazy. It jingles and falls out when you sit down. Is this normal? Are there some tricks of the trade that I do not understand here?

For those of you who carry just a wallet, how the heck do you do it? Where do you put extra things that you need? Do you carry a man-purse or a briefcase, which really is just a man’s version of a purse? I would really like to make this move to just carrying a wallet work — if there are some secrets to it, let me know. And are there any other man-traits that might make women’s lives easier? Help me out, guys!


If you have a question you would like answered, please leave it below or email me at [email protected]. Your questions may be edited for length and clarity. Please note that your first name only or no name at all will be used to identify your question — if you want me to use your name, tell me, otherwise you will be referred to by your first name or as “a reader,” etc. And of course, if any women have experience dealing with this type of money issue, please comment also.

Helen Smith is a psychologist specializing in forensic issues in Knoxville, Tennessee, and blogs at drhelen.blogspot.com. This advice column is for educational and entertainment purposes only and does not purport to replace therapy or psychological treatment.