Women in Congress Use Purses, New York Times Thinks This is “News”

This Sunday The New York Times decided to take a break from covering the awesome work done by women in Congress to discuss something much more important: their purses. First it’s the Washington Post defining the White House Council’s by her shoes and now The New York Times wants to define women senators by their handbags.

That’s right, apparently the only thing more interesting than Senator Amy Klobuchar’s work on national security is the “contents of her black leather purse” (which just happened to include an earplug from a military helicopter). Ashley Parker’s article, “Purse Politics – Tote and Vote,” analyzes the complicated relationship between powerful women, fashion, and the human need to carry stuff around.

According to Parker, women in Congress use their bags to “add a splash of fun and fashion” to their dull routines, although many of the women mentioned specifically cite function over fashion. While it is not surprising that women – yes, even women in Congress – carry purses to store belongings and express personal style, what is surprising is the portrayal of the emasculated “purse boy” who is responsible for carrying things for his female boss.

As ThinkProgress points out, all politicians have aides who carry their things. However, the coverage of Reggie Love carrying President Obama’s belongings during the 2008 campaign is much more dignified than the depiction of the average “purse boy.” Love, described as a “body man,” is praised as being helpful and devoted, and not at all degraded by his position – in stark contrast to the demeaning portrayal of “purse boys.”

This begs the question: why is carrying a woman’s stuff different from carrying a man’s? Does the presence of a powerful woman automatically subjugate all the men around her? The power dynamic between politicians and their aides seems to be that a young man working for an older woman is degrading, but a young man working for an older man is not, and young women aren’t degraded by working for anyone (would we even be talking about this if they were “purse girls?”). The implication that a young man serving as a Congressional aide to female senator is somehow emasculating is insulting to both the male aides and their bosses. 


Published by Allison Adams on 06/03/2013

« Back to More Blog Posts