Purse Turns Brave Men into Scaredy-Cats 

HandbagMen can act pretty courageous, but ask them to hold a purse and they become scaredy-cats.

A while back I tossed my handbag onto the back seat as I gave a couple of friends a ride. After parking I asked Mike to hand me my purse.

His hands sheepishly approached the worrisome object — and impulsively pulled away.

“How to grasp it?” he wondered. He considered the purse from different angles.

Exasperated, I shrieked,

Just hand me the purse!

Finally, he tossed it to me in a way that kept his hands on the repellent bag for mere nanoseconds.

Hmmm, I don’t have a problem holding a wallet. I actually keep one in my purse and sometimes take it out when I don’t feel like tugging around a handbag.

When I tell my class this story, male students explain that you must be careful in grabbing a purse so as to avoid looking unmanly.

manbagHandbag designers have tried in vain to sell purses to men. Even renaming them “manbags” wouldn’t work.

What’s up?

It’s all about “gender ranking,” something I’ve discussed before. We value men over women, so men feel demeaned by taking on anything feminine.

Meanwhile, Lisa Wade, over at Sociological Images points out the paradox (to paraphrase):

Gender rules insist that men must avoid association with the feminine at all costs because, if they do not, they are weak.  They are pussies, bitches, women, girls.

The reason he’s afraid of femininity is because it’s reviled.  It makes you a woman, which makes you worthless.  Which is fine for the ladies, but dudes are advised to avoid personal denigration if at all possible.

Femininity is weakness and yet, oddly, it has the power to strip men of their manliness.

Or put another way,

Masculinity is strength, power, and dominance… but femininity is terrifying.

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About BroadBlogs

I have a Ph.D. from UCLA in sociology (emphasis: gender, social psych). I currently teach sociology and women's studies at Foothill College in Los Altos Hills, CA. I have also lectured at San Jose State. And I have blogged for Feminispire, Ms. Magazine, The Good Men Project and Daily Kos. Also been picked up by The Alternet.

Posted on January 9, 2015, in feminism, gender, men, psychology, sexism and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 38 Comments.

  1. It’s actually a rule of mine – you sit shotgun you hold my purse. Well, you don’t have to HOLD hold it but you are responsible for placing in such a way that the contents won’t spill out everywhere. My husband must be a braver man than most because this doesn’t bother him. Doesn’t bother my brother, either.

  2. Often, especially when traveling on holiday, my wife gets tired of lugging her purse around and asks me to do it. I’ve proudly carried her purse through cities such as Paris, Milan, and Berlin and consider it a badge of honor…

  3. Nice bag up top. Looks like the LV Alma. I bought my ex wife 2 or 3 of them along with the Speedy 30. Wasted money in retrospect.

    Anyhow, I have no issue holding a woman’s bag. I have done this quite often while shopping or her going in to try on clothing.

    Any man who does must be insecure about his sexuality or manhood, or both. Just saying.

  4. Made me think of a discussion I read (by Tristan Bridges) of some research into wallets and purses by Christena Nippert-Eng. Thought you might find it interesting too: https://inequalitybyinteriordesign.wordpress.com/2013/04/02/doing-gender-with-wallets-and-purses/

    From article:
    “Interestingly, this class of “feminine” objects are also objects that play a critical role in social interactions. Indeed, many of us are able to travel without these objects because we can “count on” purse-carriers as having them. Things like packs of gum, tissues, breath mints and more might seem like inconsequential objects. But, they play a crucial role in social interactions, and many of us count on purse-carriers to provide us with these objects when we are “in need.” It’s an aspect of care work by which some (those carrying purses) care for others (those without purses). And if they’re any good at it, the caring goes virtually unacknowledged, though potentially highly acknowledged when these objects are absent in purses.”

  5. Never thought in this way. Now, I can remember one such incident. One of my friends, she told her husband to hold her handbag while she was taking her baby to the washroom. He looked exasperated and stood there as if he was holding a time-bomb!

  6. The power of the feminine is a force to be reckoned with in the best ways possible. 🙂 It is interesting how such a seemingly innocuous object could cause such a reaction… all these gender rules are truly destructive to both men and women. LOL… imagine if it had been a Hello Kitty bag ;0

  7. Men don’t like to be seen as feminine, because of the flack they would get from others. I would or could hold a purse for my gf or whatever if she needed me to hold it for a little bit But then again, I’d probably be carrying it in my hand and not have the straps around my shoulder lol. See, I found away to do both, carry the bag, but doing it my own way. Is it because feminity is seen less than masculinity or because the expectation is greater of men? Men being bigger, stronger, are seen as the protectors of the human species, women the nurturers. But I think it comes from the backbone to ancient times with biology but then carried over through the years socially. But men are deemed less to be feminine, because men are expected to be tougher and stronger than women. War times, etc, men have been demanded to take charge.

    So the question that maybe come is why are men expected to be “tougher” than women. I know women are tough and can be, but the expectation is for men to be stronger and tougher and carry themselves that way. But then again, can’t it be due to size and strength difference with men to women? Naturally society and people will look at the bigger gender to carry the burden of being tougher and stronger and being less vulnerable, as you want them to be, in case shit ever hits the fan and a call to arms. Though unfortunately the same sex that is expected to be protectors are the ones committing the most violence unfortunately, which I wish that wasn’t the case of course and men to not be more violent and this coming from some men.

    • Men do have more muscle mass on average. And then we exaggerate biological differences into big gender differences. But the thing is that we don’t tend to disparage male traits as much as female traits. So women can feel very comfortable doing masculine things and wearing masculine clothing because we are feeling like we are demeaning ourselves by appropriating masculine traits and accessories. I think we need to value traits that are considered feminine more.

  8. My husband and I were just talking about this the other day. He cringes inside any time I as him to hold my purse, although he never denies my request nor does he show how much it bothers him. He has no idea why it bothers him yet if I have a backpack, shopping bag, bucket, or box he volunteers to take it off my hands. On the other hand, my dad once told me that its not the purse itself that is the problem, its what may be inside that is the terrifying aspect to it. Its not like its called a hand bag because it cuts your hand off if you put it inside the bag. So I asked what he thinks could be in there. His answer… feminine hygiene products. 8~|

  9. Hehe I actually had a boyfriend that didn’t mind holding my handbag, mind you he wanted me to put his keys and more into it, so I guess it was helpful for both of us!! 🙂

  10. So i was reading across the blogs and this blog stood out the most to me, this is because not all men are scared to hold a purse for someone when there with friends or in a car. But what i would say men are scared of is when they are in a location with lots of people, men like to feel tough in front of a lot of people and for some people holding a bad just lowers their manhood, But for others they love to help the girl they are going out with so they carry their purses shopping bags and everything and it makes them feel stronger. so basically it depends on the guy and the situation they are in.

  11. I have seen my dad holding my mom’s bag when we went on to our periodic family-trips. This has rubbed off on me as well, I have often held the bag of my long-time girlfriend. This mentality has a lot to do with the upbringing. There are men who still think that cooking with the wife, holding her bag or looking after the kids is cowardly. I do not blame them, that’s the way they have been nurtured. I have known such people and I even tried to change their thinking, but that did not happen. Times are changing, such men would get eventually flushed out with the changing generations 🙂

  12. This doesn’t really surprise me because I have family and friends that don’t mind holding a purse and others who really do mind it. My grandfather will hold my purse on occasion he will take it from me so I do not have to carry it, do I see him as less of a man? No, I doesn’t even cross my mind. I have a younger cousin who occasionally minds holding my purse and he’s only 9, but he was also raised to think that boys play with cars and girls with dolls. I also have a friend who is 22 doesn’t care about holding a purse. But I guess it just has to do with how comfortable a man is with his sexuality and how he was raised.

  13. You would think that this would not be a problem at all for a crossdresser, but I confess I share this phobia. Perhaps it is because my peculiar habits are quite private, so I have a heightened sense of caution about revealing any traits that are less than society’s expectations of total manliness. In any case, I tend to either hold my wife’s purse like a football, or dangle it carelessly from my fist so it nearly drags on the ground. She is physically handicapped so I almost always have to carry it for her between house and car; even though we live out in the country with the nearest neighbors a quarter mile away, I’m self-conscious about the purse *even with nobody watching*. If I have to hold it for her in a public place, such as while she’s using the restroom, I’ll leave it on the ground and assume a stance of fierce guardianship.

    Now having said that, I finally gave in and started carrying a man-purse when I go out: wallet, keys, phone, shopping lists, sunglasses, pens, loose change are all too much go fit in my pockets. To solve the “carry a purse and still look like a man” problem, I went with a carryon bag from our last flight; it looks more like a laptop bag (and often serves as one) than a purse.

    • That’s a really interesting comment. I definitely would not have expected that a cross-dresser would have a problem holding a purse. The things you say really good at the symbolic nature of the world.

  14. I am guilty in that I have many bags and when going shopping I get the biggest one out. A perfect example that I can think of is when I’m out shopping with my family and I get tired of holding my bag or I need to try something on but I do not want to take my bag with I ask my dad to hold it for me. His response every time is “absolutely not” but he hold any way, but when I or my mom look back he has put our purses in my brothers stroller, all so that he doesn’t have to hold a bag and maybe look less of a man. I think that it is perfectly fine for a man to hold there significant others bag, to me it makes them look more of a man, a gentleman if your could say that.

  15. Sabrina Szpetkowski

    Ahhh, those pesky gender stereotypes strike again! The fact that even so much as touching something considered girly, such as a purse, is a terrifying event for men, shows how greatly femininity is looked down upon. I mean, come on! It’s just a bag! Touching or holding it is not going to magically cause you to to start pumping copious amounts of estrogen through your veins. Also, there is absolutely no reason that being seen as feminine should be so awful. women are stereotyped as weak. That is one of the most pathetic things I have ever heard. Women are extraordinarily strong and are standing up for themselves more and more which is amazing. If a man wants to carry a bag, he should be able to without being judged for it. Same goes for women. If a girl wants to play a lot of sports she should not be criticized for not acting like a “lady”. Girls doing things that in the past would have been considered masculine has become much more acceptable in our society, now we just have to work on making femininity acceptable for men. In my opinion it must be something taught from a very young age. Here’s a music video that I really like, that displays how children are taught what is acceptable for each gender and illustrates why it is so important that we break down gender barriers.

  16. In my opinion, some key factors in determining whether or not a purse will turn a man into a scaredy-cat are social context and group dynamics. People always act differently depending on their surroundings, the situation, and the type of people they are with. For example, if a couple is spending time with a group of the guy’s friends and there are no other females around, then it is very unlikely than the man will carry or hold onto his girlfriend’s purse. In this scenario the man would be feeling a lot of peer pressure to maintain his masculinity. However, when the couple is alone, the man doesn’t mind carrying his girlfriend’s purse at all. It really just depends on the situation.

    • Situations can certainly affect things. But some guys won’t touch a person regardless of the situation. And that’s because we rank males higher than females, So that a lot of men often feel like they are demeaning themselves by taking on anything feminine. As we gain more gender equality that should become less and less of a problem.

  17. For some men, the idea of having to hold a woman’s purse may be actually rooted in the idea that they don’t want to be seen as woman; men tend to give each other a hard time, saying that they’re whipped for holding their wife or girlfriend’s purse. While that may be a valid argument as to why men will do almost anything to avoid holding a woman’s purse, it probably isn’t the main reason, in my opinion. I’m not a straight man and I also don’t like holding woman’s purses. It’s not because I’m afraid of looking “too feminine” or being associated with revealing something that may be construed as weakness; whenever I held a girlfriend’s purse, it was uncomfortable to do so because it didn’t fit with who I am as a person, but I didn’t avoid it because it may make me seem more feminine or show some kind of weakness. Most of the time, I saw no good reason why she couldn’t hold her own purse except that she was being lazy or seeing just how much she could get me to do before I refused. Not everything is so deeply rooted in men trying to reject womanly aspects of society or reject any feminine side they may have. Maybe they just don’t want to hold the purse.

    • Well, a lot of straight guys say that they won’t hold a purse for the reason I discuss. Including the guy who I wrote about — who couldn’t figure out how to touch the purse, because doing so would pollute him. See some of the other comments from men on this post, too. And also the related blog post at the bottom: “Doing dumb stuff to prove manhood”

  18. I’ve noticed when guys need to hold a purse or hand it to someone, they usually grab the straps trying to make it look like its not their bag. Including myself if I ever need to hold my moms or sisters bag I hold it by the straps trying to show everyone around that its not mine. I only do so if I’m out in public, if I’m at home and they ask me to pass them their bag I can hold it whatever way. Another thing I’ve seen is that men from Europe don’t mind carrying man purses or bags around, its the men in America who think its girly.

  19. This is so true of men! Because men are supposed to be the strong ones, we see them as our knights in shining armors, our supermen, and super heroes. Men are logging workers, cement masons, heavy vehicle technicians and mechanics, crane and tower operators, oil drillers, lumberjacks, bladesmiths, etc. Such manly jobs! Since we see them as iron men, a slight feminine touch probably hurts their ego and their masculinity. They stay away from anything that hurts their reputation and they don’t want to be seen or even suspected not to be real men. What does it mean to be a man? What is the true measure of manhood? Real men should not act like scaredy-cats when holding a woman’s purse. They should be mature and be able to face the world without fear of being judged and being labeled as a weakling. This is not just a man’s world anymore.

  20. I found this post to be both insightful and a bit amusing. I have always wondered about this, but as I have become older and more knowledgeable, I figured it had something to do with femininity. Men typically do not like to feel “unmanly”, and a purse (which is usually something a woman carries around) makes a man feel effeminate. Once, I witnessed a situation where a girl handed her purse to her boyfriend to hold for her, and he quickly shoved it into the shopping bag, which had upset the girl. The boyfriend apparently did not want to be seen holding a purse, so he tried to put it out of sight as quickly as possible. On the other hand, I have never experienced a women feeling awkward or embarrassed about holding (and using) a man’s wallet, bag, or the like. I agree with what you mentioned about “gender ranking”; it always seems to be a problem for a men to display “feminine behaviours” because femininity is inferior to masculinity.

  21. Honestly it is just a purse! I can understand that men would find it annoying to hold their girlfriend/wife’s purse, but to actually feel like the purse is a tainted object is just immature. I would think that men would feel more confident or masculine holding the purse and not caring than making a big deal touching the purse. It kind of contradicts the action itself. Acting like a wimp by not touching the purse gives off the idea that you’re not very comfortable with your masculinity and probably very insecure. While on the other hand, holding the purse like it’s no big deal (because it’s really not) makes it seem like you have the most confidence in the world. If fearing “looking gay” is the problem, then maybe we should be focusing on why that would be a “problem” in the first place. I just think that no one should be offended by something that’s 1) untrue and 2) unoffending. Unfortunately men have a long way to go before that ends up happening.

  22. I think it really depends on the man. I have seen men afraid to even touch a purse because they are afraid of what other people might think of them if they are seen holding a purse. I have also seen men hold purses for their mother, girlfriend, or their wife. I think it has a lot to do with men’s insecurities and how they want to look manly. In my opinion the guy holding the purse for their mother, girlfriend, or their wife is the manliest. It shows he isn’t afraid of what others think and he is just doing a good gesture. It is like a new form of chivalry for some men. I think it’s cute and men deserve kudos for that 🙂

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