Some Thoughts on Pockets

On the surface, the issue of pockets may seem incredibly silly, perhaps a bit shallow, and for that I apologize.  Pockets seemingly do not deserve their own post, but they will get one anyway, because they point to a much bigger problem with fashion, an issue of form over function in women’s fashion that stems from a desire to create clothes that will hold up under the male gaze, even when they are impractical for the women wearing them.

Yes, I did get all of that from pockets.

Let me explain: if you wear women’s clothing regularly, you have no doubt noticed that your clothes often do not have pockets, or have pockets so shallow you can barely put anything in them.  This is even more true of professional clothes, which very rarely have real pockets, though they often have fake pockets to make it look like those pants might have storage space, when they do not.

I am not alone in my frustration, and others who have written on this have pointed out that even when our pants have pockets, they don’t actually fit all of the things needed for a night out: phone, keys, ID, possibly a compact.  Writing for Jezebel, Tracy Moore writes that it is sexist to assume all women will carry purses, and or that for all women at all times aesthetic trumps functionality.  At the Atlantic, in a piece entitled “The Gendered Politics of Pockets”, Tanya Basu points out that carrying a purse means that at all times, one has to carry this silent reminder that they are a woman, and different.  And Camilla Olson, creative director of an eponymous high tech fashion firm, points to inherent sexism within the industry: mid-range fashion is a male dominated business, driven by design and how fabric best drapes the body, meaning pockets often end up having no place in women’s clothing, at least by the standards used by the clothing’s creators.

To be clear, a purse may hold one’s belongings, but it is not a perfect substitute for actual pockets.  Olson also points out, when interviewed by Basu, that while a woman may put her possessions in a purse, she doesn’t then carry her bag around her office all day, meaning that every time she leaves her desk, she either needs to carry her phone in her hand-~-meaning that she can’t actually use her hands for anything else-~-or that she needs to simply leave any technology she might find handy behind.  Bags are also another item that needs to be kept track of every time one is out; so while a man has all those night-out essential easily on hand, women are left to carry a purse that can be easily misplaced or stolen.  As an added complaint, this expectation that women will carry purses is also an expectation that women will be willing to pay more for the ability to simply have their belongings on hand, which is frankly just silly.

Before someone starts sniping and pointing out that we have much bigger problems to address-~-I know.  If I had to choose between pockets and rape culture, I’d rather eliminate rape culture and just carry a purse forever.  If it were somehow a trade-off between ending honor killings and letting women have real pockets, the choice would be clear.  But we do not actually have to choose between those things, and it is a lot easier to let women have pockets than to fix major societal trends regarding gender-based violence.  And something as simple as letting women’s clothes have real pockets will allow women to be more comfortable carrying and thus engaging with modern technology, meaning women can stop being at a communications-based disadvantage simply because of their clothes.  Something as simple as letting women have real pockets means that they might be able to get to their phones faster in an emergency, which is undoubtedly a good thing.  Something as simple as letting women have real pockets might increase their efficiency at getting things done, because we can all stop wasting time packing our purses and digging through them every time we need something.  Those are small things that, practically speaking, might just make women’s lives a little easier, and for some reason, we can’t even have that.

I will also say this: a lack of real pockets may seem small, but each of these seemingly small things-~-not having enough space to sit on public transportation because of how men are taught to sit and to take up space, girls being more likely to be assigned chores in their homes growing up than their male siblings, memes that make fun of things that teenage girls like-~-are all part of a broader societal narrative that puts women down or makes it just a little harder than it honestly needs to be to live our daily lives.  These may be first world problems, and I would never say that these problems are “more important” than any other problems-~-they are not.  But oppression is not a competition, and when we cannot even achieve small goals like letting women have pockets, we acquiesce to the idea that women’s comfort and sense of security is, on any level, not an achievable goal.

So as silly as it seems to be complaining about pockets, let’s just take a moment and remember that it is at least as silly that, just because of my gender identity/expression, I have to literally carry a separate bag in order to have access to my phone.

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~ by Randi Saunders on January 21, 2015.

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