Saturday, July 06, 2013

Burden of femininity

THE CLUTCH. After months of living in this city, I recognize the movement even before it is fully executed.

In crowds— lining up in the downpour for their turn to board, running for buses or jeepneys during rush hour, standing in an MRT train jammed with commuters—women carry their bags differently from men.

The crossbody bag and the knapsack are the preferred male accessories. These are strapped to their bodies, secured in front. Do men ever buy groceries on their way home? Perhaps they do. I just don’t see them with the multiple bags that weigh women down.

Even in Makati, where the trendy or imported is a sort of uniform among professionals, female commuters seem always to carry at least two bags.
How do thieves know which bag to slash for valuables? A classmate muttered his mystification after narrating how his sister got her bag slashed while inside the women’s compartment at the MRT.

My theory: women give themselves away when they do The Clutch. When a stranger moves closer to a woman, she invariably grips closer the bag that must contain money or gadgets. The rest of her burdens she allows to dangle. Yet, these loads tie her down, distract her.

When I’ve had to move closer to a man, I rarely see him react with The Clutch. Men give you The Eye, a quick assessment to dismiss or stare down the possible threat.

Are females conditioned to be defensive, not aggressive, when threatened?

In an online forum, a woman purchased a local bag because she was afraid her Louis Vuitton tote would get slashed in the MRT. A purse by this local manufacturer runs to thousands of pesos, compared to the tens of thousands of pesos that the foreign logo fetches. For this lady, the solution to bag slashing was a local, cheaper substitute. What instincts! To put a commodity before personal safety.

Why not leave the designer bags home if these are magnets for criminal elements? Or carry packages in newspapers or flour sacks? That would perhaps be possible only for men, who have a knack for never seeming to carry any package. To crisscross this city of sunny mornings and wet afternoons, people live in their bags.

There is a French attempt to solve this modern quandary. According to, Societe General, one of France’s biggest banks, offers a $250-insurance plan to female clients who lose their designer bags to snatchers.

This handbag insurance is called “Pour Elle,” which means “For her”. The services of locksmiths, electricians and other handymen can also be availed of by cardholders who want, according to the bank, to “adhere to their femininity”.

Societe General has been criticized for being sexist. Nonsense, retorted the bank. A small number of men are “Pour Elle” clients. It cannot be ascertained from the website if it is actually the men or their women (wives, lovers, mothers, sisters) who avail of the card services.

In a Third World setting, insuring a glorified sack is surreal. A card that will recompense one’s loss, even if in the realm of sinful excesses, does not even scratch the surface of the problem: why are women cast as perennial victims? Why do women see themselves as victims first?

( 09173226131)

* First published in Sun.Star Cebu’s July 7, 2013 issue of the editorial page column, “Matamata”

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