The liberators of American women have arrived, and they are not Third Wave feminists, but commissioners of the National Football League.
In banning handbags from stadiums, the NFL ventured boldly where even the surliest airport security screener dared not tread. Until now, the union of a woman and her handbag was sacrosanct: What Louis Vuitton hath joined together, let no Transportation Security Agency tear apart.
But in banning purses (along with backpacks and binocular cases) from stadiums, the NFL has become a champion of women, giving us the opportunity to experience, if only fleetingly, the freedoms afforded when not functioning as dutiful pack mules strapped with panniers. It is freedom from aching shoulders, freedom from purse snatchers, freedom not to be the go-to supplier when anyone around you needs a pen, tissue, aspirin, comb, or Band-Aid.
When handbags first appeared in Egyptian hieroglyphics, they were unisex, as likely to show up on men as women, and this continued for thousands of years. Sensibly, back then they were used largely for money (although for a while, aristocrats carried “sweet bagges,” pouches with herbs to cover up unpleasant body odors). From the start, they were symbols of status, since only the privileged had enough money to bag. But centuries ago, at least they made sense.
They stopped making sense in the 1960s, when women started wearing trousers with pockets — pockets that, for decades, had ably met the carrying needs of men. Purses should have fallen into disuse then, but alas, the emergence of women’s pockets occurred around the same time as the demise of common sense. So purses evolved from something useful to something silly. They became jewelry that had to be carried.
Today, handbags are important not for carrying wealth, but for displaying it. They are identifiers of people with more money than sense. Was not Oprah’s star diminished just a little when her fans, most of whom cannot afford a $38,000 car, saw her even briefly contemplate a $38,000 purse?
The existence of a $38,000 purse confirms that purses have morphed into a cultural vanity that could be amusing but for the insecurities it creates to the struggling classes. No middle-class woman would plot to own the world’s priciest purse, the red Hermès Birkin made of crocodile skin auctioned for $203,150 two years ago. But many carry thousand-dollar Mulberrys and Pradas that contain only pennies, thinking that they’ve made an investment.
When an “investment” can be replicated in the back alleys of New York, when it takes an ABC investigation to teach people how to distinguish real bags from knock-offs, it’s not an investment we see but a fool and her money. Meanwhile, we the taxpayers are paying the salaries of people who investigate handbag fraud.
The ABC report, aired earlier this month, introduced a Homeland Security agent, Gary Woolf, who said Homeland Security — which I always thought were the guys keeping us safe from Al Qaeda — are “seizing knock-offs from storefronts around the country” and “monitoring websites for online transactions.”
“That person you’re selling to could be an undercover police officer, undercover federal agent. You never know,” Woolf told ABC.
We do know that, in a decade, we’ve moved from an economy of checkbooks and wallets to one in which a tank of gas can be purchased with a swipe of a tiny Speedpass. Handbags are not only unnecessary, but they’re an invitation for crime. They’re a distraction for women, who must keep up with the things, like small leather children. Now, they’re also a distraction for Homeland Security, which is having to monitor websites for fraudulent handbags that we’re no longer allowed to carry into stadiums for fear that terrorists may strike.
If women stop carrying handbags, we solve a world of problems and save ourselves bags of money. Then we can spend that money on Patriots’ tickets and saunter unencumbered into Gillette Stadium, arms free to cheer. If it turns out that weeping, not applause, is required there, you guys can bring your own tissues.
Jennifer Graham is a writer in Hopkinton whose column appears regularly in the Globe. Follow her on Twitter @mypetdemocrats.