The Handbag: a revelation of the daily life of women

Interview with Jean-Claude Kaufmann, sociologist

Daily partner, « self extension « , handbags assists women in their everyday lives. Both as a fashion accessory but also as a sentimental object, handbags carry many meanings. The evolution of the women status in society is reflected in their handbag. Through its content, it reveals the importance of family tasks still on the shoulders of women, but also the women’s desire to being « wonder women ».

You have developed extensive research on specific objects: laundry and handbags. To what extent did you choose those more than others?

We could say that all objects can have something to say. Sometimes they are embedded in the ordinary, the routine, almost invisible, and just suddenly, they have a shallow function you can highlight. Other times, it is difficult to understand. In particular, I tried to conduct a survey on the front door. For me, it was an object that symbolizes the crossing of the ground in all civilizations. However, I failed; this was because people did not want to talk about it. It is not that the subject had nothing to say, but it was hard to explain.


In contrast, the handbag is a very talkative object. Women have immediate reactions. Anything that involves the conscious is easier and allows people to express themselves. But that does not mean that other objects are not important.

For other inquiries, I chose some objects because they had a strategic role as the laundry in a couple. The laundry returns to ideas of cleanliness, tidiness, which are very specific to each person. So, where the formation of marital identity, it is interesting to see how it all combines. In addition, the sharing of tasks men – women can be seen via this object. I knew in advance that this object was positioned in a strategic location.

Let’s talk about the handbag more precisely, what was the value of this object?

I always have original ideas in my research and the handbag interested me because of the psychological relation constantly changing between women and their purses. On one hand, there is a very conscious view of women of their handbag as a fashion accessory, they dream of a new handbag, they try them, etc.. However, at certain times, women are no longer really paying attention to their bags. This object becomes a kind of unconscious extension of the self, with small familiar objects inside that help to live.

What interests me is the way objects are landmarks routines. They incorporate a personal memory that can develop automation. The handbag has this function at certain times, and at other moments, women will have an explicit value, very rational in this object. This is an extremely complex subject, present in a variety of dimensions: aesthetics as the bag is a fashion accessory, but also emotional, the bag is a safe mark.

In addition, as I said earlier, at the outset, the handbag was a talkative object. The survey was very easy on a subject like this.

Can you tell us more about the famous handbag women, what does it say about women?

The handbag’s content is very revealing. For a night out, women can wear a light wallet, but on average, we can see that the bags are bigger; their content becomes richer and heavier. This shows two things.

On the one hand, we become more complex individuals who need a whole entourage, electronics, medicine, cosmetic substances, book, etc… So that makes the bags heavy. Besides, the men entered the world of the bag.

But women’s bag is still heavier and generous. As they engage in family life or couple, they will have a range of additional objects related to family responsibilities, which remain so a majority on their shoulders. When the baby arrives, when the womb drops, the bag grows. The objects of the child taking up space and are vested in the mother. Opening the mother’s bag, you can tell the age of the child.

There are also many medicines, against headaches, anxiety and stress. All these are indicators of the place and role of women in today’s society, a little overactive, torn between work and family. All this can be read in the bag and the objects it contains.

Will men be wearing handbags one day, would it be full as that of women?

We can see that men are no longer self-sufficient with their pockets; they have small backpack, computer bags that they use as purse, or even shoulder bags. But if men’s bag is opened, the contents are still very different, there is not a whole series of very personal object as can be seen in women’s bag (soft toys, carriers souvenirs, etc..) that symbolize the commitment to bonding.

In men, one will find an electronic device, a magazine, a chain lock for the bike, and then it’s over.

An obvious example is that we found very rarely tissue in men purse, whereas it is the case in almost all women bags. Do men have less need of tissues? We do not know, what we understand is that if occasionally they need a tissue, they will turn to their wives, or to a woman who is going to be around. I spoke of the child objects at any time in the women’s hand bag, but women also remain « in service » and continue to regularly help men. And besides, men are aware of this …

Men becoming fathers will take the children to the park with the buggy and the child’s bag, but in their own bag, every day, you will not find any items related to the child. Looking in men’s bag, we see that we are still far from equal.

In women’s bag, there are bits and pieces related to the care of the appearance?

When women do the list, they categorize all their bits and pieces. There is the emotional category, very personal (family photos, etc.), the objects « to serve », there are objects « just in case », and then there is, what women call the « essential ». These are the keys, phone, money, but also the makeup. Except that most of the one and most of the other will not have anything comparable. For a woman, it will be a stick of lipstick, for another, it will be a real bag of cosmetics.

Again, we see in the bag, the importance of appearance for such or such a woman, with a high variability. Once again it says it in the bag. And often, they do not talk about it, because the key is obvious. However, this evidence is going to be extremely different from one woman to another.

Interviewed by  maillots foot

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