Friday, January 14, 2011

Holding Her Purse

I'm married.  You probably picked that up in a previous post but I'll restate it for those of you who stepped out during the commercials.  She's wonderful.  I wouldn't trade a moment of our life together for anything.

Someone online once criticized me, saying I put the woman in my life on a pedestal.  Okay, I do that, I'll admit it.  But she drags me up alongside her, so it's cool.  "I can see my house from here!"  If supporting her is putting her on a pedestal, then call it that if you want.  But supporting any member of the family is a highly positive thing to do.  Case in point:

Today she got up from the table at Panera (every Friday morning, breakfast at Panera on the way to work), and left her purse behind.  I don't remember where she was headed, but she was stepping away from her purse - that was the important part.  Without thinking about it, I reached over and picked it up, hung it over my own shoulder.

I've had a little time to think about that.  Do I emasculate myself, making myself the bearer of my wife's things?  Is it a selfish thing I do, or a selfless thing?

You could easily say it's selfish.  Sweetie carries the big credit card, so it's  a matter of personal security to make sure that card is safe.  Hang it around my neck and I know where it is, so I'm keeping track of the family's funds, a lot of the IDs and just the nuts and bolts of daily modern life.  I lock my vehicles for the same reason: so the things I depend on don't wind up in someone else's hands.  I carry a card too, but it's a smaller amount of money available on it since I'm already aware that my impulse control isn't great.  Left alone with money, I'd clean out Sears of their latest and greatest socket wrenches.  Since I already have plenty of socket sets, me having the big card isn't in our best interest.  I carry the little card for gas and oil.

I refill the cars and change the oil.  It isn't something she can't do, but she's not keen on it.  She's especially not fond of the smell of gasoline, and it doesn't really bother me much.  So I fill the cars and she says they have magic fuel tanks that are always full when she needs them to be.

Selfless?  Maybe not.  The exchange is that I don't have to cook.  I don't mind cooking but it's not my favorite thing to do.  I'm not great at it, but I am decent at keeping her supplied with the next item that goes into the pan.  I do enjoy that part, the mise en place that makes cooking happen faster.  That means I get to eat sooner, and I have something to do that's interesting instead of just waiting around.  Plus we get to talk since we're in the same room, so that's all to the good.

What about the emasculating aspects of a guy holding his wife's purse?  It's not terribly macho, me in denim and boots holding a dainty little black leather bag with a spaghetti strap.  It doesn't match my shoes or my hat, and for some reason the beard clashes.

We have come to attach genders to actions: cooking is female, auto maintenance is male.  Mowing is male.  Shopping is female.  There aren't actual genders associated with these day-to-day activities but they have come to have the associations over time, assigned by society.  No announcements were made but it's become real.  Carrying a purse is female.  If you're a guy and you have a bunch of stuff you need to carry, whatever you put it into has to not look like a purse.

If you're a woman living alone, you will be responsible for your own auto maintenance and lawn mowing.  If you're a guy alone, you will cook and shop.  But to make it easier for you, there are TV dinners and Jiffy Lube so you don't have to step out of your assigned role.  There are backpacks and fanny packs you can put your extra stuff into.  No purse required.

I hold Sweetie's purse because that's my job.  I'm not carrying it all day, just for the moment.  She needs to step away and do something that requires both hands, but you wouldn't want the purse to go unattended.  A lot of my family's resources are in there, and I'm protecting those resources.  If Sweetie wasn't around, I'd be carrying the resources anyway.  I would do the grocery shopping (already do, I enjoy shopping)  and more cooking.  Scrambled eggs for dinner!  Fanny packs for accoutrements!

Sweetie knew the purse was safe, that her family's resources were safe.  She knew I would watch over it.  She has left children with me and money with me and snuggles up with me on the couch.  Defenses aren't necessary.  What she would defend from threats she doesn't protect from me.  And that's good, that's a healthy relationship.

If the man won't pick up the purse, what's the message there?  "My perceived masculinity in the eyes of other men is more important than your security."  Why would you give a rip about how masculine you appear to other men?  If you're a guy and you want to appear masculine to anyone, it's to women.  Refusing to pick up the purse speaks of a lack of confidence in yourself, your place in the family, and your place in your own culture.

No one's challenged my masculinity because I have a purse over my shoulder.  No one. I wouldn't care if anyone did, either - if you take exception to my holding Sweetie's purse, whose problem is that?  Definitely not mine.  I'm watching out for my family.  It's as masculine as standing over a fresh hunting kill with a bloody club while the rest of the family carves meat off with stone knives - and the message is the same: Mine.  Ours.  Don't try to take this.  I imagine that a man trained by modern culture sees another man holding a purse and thinks, henpecked.  I wonder if women see that same guy holding the purse and think, protector.

The men can't look past the purse and see the bloody club. 

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