“Are accessories – more specifically, handbags – accentuating gender stereotypes or hiding them?”
Fashion, for concerned and cultured individuals, shouldn’t be underestimated by the power of accessories. The right piece can add to the way the wearer feels and also how others perceive them. This is has been proven in Social Psychology with the rise of the Red Lipstick, the High Heel and of course, the Status Bags. These options are available for both sexes as self esteem in the Fashion industry comes in many shapes and sizes, with one agenda – to accentuate the positive and eliminate the negative. This means that Fashion aims, at its most practical and holistic level, to provide expression and functionality through aesthetically pleasing embellishments.
The term Manbag has been associated with the negative side of the Fashion industry since its conception. Its acceptance has relied heavily upon ambassadors in the male hegemony who are deeply rooted in industries that praise aesthetics as well as masculine endeavours such as acting, modelling, competitive sports, outdoor activities and the like. Does having a ‘Manbag’ mean you’re man-less? Let’s investigate.
According to TheSack.org, the handbag has been referred to in writings for centuries but it was not til the 1500’s that modern day artefacts were found that showed the utilitarian and decorative aspects of bags. We use bags to hold possessions we consider valuable; to add to our “look”, to give the illusion of protection because it allows for collective curation and, of course, to stand apart from our fellow counter-paths. Women, since their liberation in the 70s have taken it upon themselves to transform Fashion into their armour and identification badge because of its obvious links to social and cultural progression that allowed freedom of expression.
An article by Sonja Kudei via The Atlantic entitled: The Problem with ‘Man-Bag’ and Other ‘Man’ Words. What’s really going on when we use “male” versions of terms for typically feminine things? states that; “The addition of “man” to the above fashion-oriented words implies that the original words are somehow inherently feminine and it takes the prefix “man” to linguistically neutralize them and, in a way, redeem them. […] The “women=superficial consumers” stereotype gets entrenched in our minds. The presence of glaring stereotypes about women in the unconscious does leave a mark on our environment through the aesthetic standards, social norms, and expectations we create.” So, who is really at fault?
Real men and real needs
Real men have real needs. A fashionable (or should I say stylish – those are not the same thing) man has a few more needs. These include (but are not limited to): Finding a (relatable) icon and emulating them. Finding a culture you identify. Finding a place in that pact and, of course, finding a women who can hold you down while you hold her up (these are just a few suggestions).
Kyle Chayka, a Guardian journalist stated in his article: “Why every real man carries a tote bag: Ditch the briefcase. Don’t call it a ‘murse’. And don’t you dare call it ‘gay’. Totes are the bags we have been waiting for”: “I am a young, urban-dwelling male, and a canvas bag with straps on it is essential to my daily existence. […] The tote communicates my attitude toward the day as much as it helps me carry things […] they are a chance to say something about yourself. Like: I enjoy intellectual literature – or want to appear as if I do!”
In another article via TheDailyTelegraphUK written by Claire Carter states that; “more than half of men now carry a ‘man bag’. Handbags are no longer seen as a female-only accessory after a survey found men are choosing to carry around a “man bag”, often containing contents worth £900.” Carter’s point is reinforced by Anita Naik’s, consumer editor of Vouchercodes.co.uk, survey that concluded that;
“The research shows men are starting to embrace the manbag and recognise the practical benefits of carrying everything in one place, especially with expensive tech to carry around every day […] One in nine (11 per cent) said having a bag is more of a fashion statement, while one in 14 (seven per cent) started carrying a bag because their partner complained about being asked to carry extra items in their already over-laden handbags. The survey of 2,000 men revealed one in ten per cent pack spare underwear in their bags.”
A bag for all reasons
Whether for men or women, bags are a statement of choice and personal dialogue in our society. It would be beneficial to society allow this sort of semiotics to be played out without the instinctual fear of social and cultural codes that have been programmed in our psyche to deny unconventional avenues. Unfortunately there will always be questions and theories that are unavoidable and deeply rooted into our cognition when sectors of the market like Manbags come into play.
Are Manbags a Freudian symbol of repressed envy for female genitalia or perhaps of the archetypal Mother figure? Does size really matter? Are the signals of personal language, style, convictions and habits of the wearer translated and understood when an ‘average’ man in the 21st century decides to buy a $2,000+ CHANEL tote to hold his designer sunglasses, designer laptop, designer perfume, designer notebook, designer wallet and, let’s not forget, the epitome of masculinity in Fashion – his Calvin Klein briefs? You know, just in case he runs into a Victoria Secret’s model that happens to speak his language.
Anything can happen in a society that has just begun to identify with the multiple social facets of its liberated society.