Annals of sexist oppression

III. Garments …

C. Modern era…

4. Pockets (denial of)

In the middle of a long thread on a writers’ list-serv, provoked by my post on fashion models, it occurred to me that one of the unrecognized ways women are kept dependent and threatened is simply denying them pockets. This is more important than one might think, right up there with hobbling them with high heels and way more effective than an upper-body-strength advantage.

Consider that a man has at least five pockets in a jacket, four more in his pants, and probably one in his shirt. Coat/parka? two to four more. Even in shorts and a tee, he has four, and a belt strong enough to hang stuff on. Why does this matter? Well, think what autonomous adults do, almost tautologically: they admit themselves to secure locations with keys, show identification, write on paper, start a car, read (think glasses), spend money with cash and credit cards, check mail and talk on their cellphones.

I can do any of those grownup things instantly, almost all with one hand, while walking, and neither miss a step nor look away from my surroundings for a second. With the jacket, I have pockets to spare for an iPod, papers, a candy bar, and even a book. A woman, however, dressed for business in slacks or a skirt and a jacket, or even wearing loose-fitting casual clothes, will have no usable pockets and has to carry a handbag. It takes both her hands and several therbligs to accomplish any adult task, never mind looking and groping inside the bag for the appropriate tool.

The handbag itself is disempowering; it’s prey to a thief just walking on the street unless clutched (there’s one hand occupied), and for sure hanging on a chair in a cafe, while a man only has to worry about a skilled pickpocket or a strongarm mugger. I never have to think to pick up my pockets and bring them with me after doing business at a counter or sitting at my desk.

Furthermore, that handbag has keys and identification together, so the thief (or finder) gets the address the keys go with, and maybe even the car license plate number. Losing a wallet is a nuisance; losing a handbag is a catastrophe and scary. At a formal event, you can’t carry a large enough one to hold anything, so you’re absolutely dependent on an escort just to get home. Care to dance? your clutch is on the table out of sight, but my stuff is safe in my pockets. No pockets is a perfect storm of dependency, insecurity, and risk.

If women ever demand grownup clothes, meaning clothes with pockets, we’re done for, guys. I don’t know how they put up with it, but heaven help us when they catch on.

UPDATE: Obviously these insights are not original with me. A reader points to a page apparently more than a decade old, where the pocket issue is classified as a joke. This reminds me of another oppressive tool, which is to diss reports of injustice with ridicule and condescension (though satire and humor are not out of place in serious political discourse). I don’t think this stuff is a joke.

Author: Michael O'Hare

Professor of Public Policy at the Goldman School of Public Policy, University of California, Berkeley, Michael O'Hare was raised in New York City and trained at Harvard as an architect and structural engineer. Diverted from an honest career designing buildings by the offer of a job in which he could think about anything he wanted to and spend his time with very smart and curious young people, he fell among economists and such like, and continues to benefit from their generosity with on-the-job social science training. He has followed the process and principles of design into "nonphysical environments" such as production processes in organizations, regulation, and information management and published a variety of research in environmental policy, government policy towards the arts, and management, with special interests in energy, facility siting, information and perceptions in public choice and work environments, and policy design. His current research is focused on transportation biofuels and their effects on global land use, food security, and international trade; regulatory policy in the face of scientific uncertainty; and, after a three-decade hiatus, on NIMBY conflicts afflicting high speed rail right-of-way and nuclear waste disposal sites. He is also a regular writer on pedagogy, especially teaching in professional education, and co-edited the "Curriculum and Case Notes" section of the Journal of Policy Analysis and Management. Between faculty appointments at the MIT Department of Urban Studies and Planning and the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard, he was director of policy analysis at the Massachusetts Executive Office of Environmental Affairs. He has had visiting appointments at Università Bocconi in Milan and the National University of Singapore and teaches regularly in the Goldman School's executive (mid-career) programs. At GSPP, O'Hare has taught a studio course in Program and Policy Design, Arts and Cultural Policy, Public Management, the pedagogy course for graduate student instructors, Quantitative Methods, Environmental Policy, and the introduction to public policy for its undergraduate minor, which he supervises. Generally, he considers himself the school's resident expert in any subject in which there is no such thing as real expertise (a recent project concerned the governance and design of California county fairs), but is secure in the distinction of being the only faculty member with a metal lathe in his basement and a 4×5 Ebony view camera. At the moment, he would rather be making something with his hands than writing this blurb.