Pockets are a Feminist Issue

All women know this pain.

Almost a century ago, Luisa Capetillo was arrested in Puerto Rico for wearing trousers in public. Her bravery made it possible for more women to adopt the trend, and soon, women wearing pants became acceptable in the mainstream. Little did Luisa know, one small issue would plague the female sartorialists who followed in her footsteps for years to come.

It’s pockets… or the lack thereof.

What we know as the universal pre-departure mantra of “keys, phone, wallet” has been but a pipedream for women. When our pockets consist of a one inch-deep crevice without any horizontal leeway (if we’re lucky), we can barely fit an ID card in there, let alone an entire wallet. Modern technology and growing screen sizes have brought this pocket-mania into the spotlight– the iPhone 6 being one good example.

What I like to call the “trompe l’oeil.”

The trend of false, inadequate or missing pockets may be one of the last vestiges of societal fashion norms targeting female mobility. Foot binding, high heels and corsets come to mind. And the handbag industry has obviously capitalized on the female need for places to stash things. But why go out of one’s way to deliberately design clothing that women can’t move around in, or travel in?

What all these trends have in common, however, is their association to the private sphere. The public realm, originally meant for man, is ideologically inhospitable to woman. So naturally, she must tote along all her personal effects to provide her comfort and security: pads/tampons, makeup, and even self-defense tools like pepper spray. Not only is the handbag for her use, it turns her into a packhorse for the family unit. No one can feel the public-private divide more intensely than a mom out on the town with her family, her oversized handbag a traveling safety deposit box for everyone’s items.

On the other side of the coin, the relationship between men and bags can be tied to a few archetypes. At best, men who appear to have the trappings of professionalism may get away with carrying laptop bags. But in almost all other cases, men with bags carry certain negative connotations– that of the “castrated male.” We’ve all seen TV commercials with a married duo out shopping– the domineering wife gets her “whipped” suburban husband to hold all the bags. Or take the Hangover movie franchise, where Zach Galifianakis’ character must label his purse a “satchel” so as to avoid effeminacy. Homeless people are even perceived in relation to their belongings– with no private sphere to return to, they must carry all their belongings with them. The bags are an obligation, a liability, a risk that men aren’t accustomed to taking.

Women have been increasingly showing dissatisfaction with the fashion status quo and their lack of pocket options. Some forego purses altogether: go to Frat Row on a Thirsty Thursday night, and you’ll spot purseless and pocketless girls who opt to tuck their USC ID cards in their bras instead. While this act of defiance isn’t inherently feminist or political in nature, it does show how women want to rid themselves of anchoring articles of clothing to participate in some equal-opportunity fun and loss of inhibition. Feminist writer Jessica Valenti said it best: we aren’t truly equal until women are as fearless about getting drunk in public as men are.

To me, the solution is obvious, and much easier than making things miniature for easy carrying: make deeper and more spacious pockets for women’s clothing. (Better yet, destroy all clothing binaries so we can all dress unisex… but I don’t think we’re quite there yet.) While the availability of public gender-specific amenities, like all-female train cars in Japan or nursing rooms with soothing music and bottle warmers in Westfield malls across America, is important and welcomed by feminists, perhaps we should also be looking at the comfort and aptitude of clothing items worn in the public sphere, especially when involving pockets.

Plus, where else are we going to put all the money we make once we achieve equal pay?