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Commentary: Women’s pockets and women’s rights

Jane Carlson
Tri States Public Radio
Commentator Pamela Marolla.

My daughter was trying on wedding gowns in the summer of 2021. After she tried a few that weren’t quite right, she came out of the dressing room with delight. “Mom, this one has pockets!” She is my girl.

During the beginning of the pandemic when we couldn’t use store dressing rooms, I ordered a pair of sweatpants online only to be dismayed by the fact that they came without pockets. I thought it was a given that sweatpants have pockets. I always check, when purchasing dress slacks for work, “Do they have pockets?” If I’m not working, I usually wear jeans or khakis, because they usually have pockets. But I have been deceived by both.

Why does this matter to me? For me, it’s partly because I have ADD. I have a life-long habit of setting things down and not remembering where I put them. I can’t trust myself with a purse. It’s too easy to leave behind somewhere and then have to waste time looking for it. I have tracker tags on everything. So, I am fine with a small wallet and keys in one pocket and cellphone in the other.

Other women have other reasons to want their pockets. Is there anything more susceptible to theft than a shoulder bag? Maybe some of them just want their hands free, you know, like the guys.

This is not just about my ADD. I write about pockets because it is specifically a women’s issue. Have any of my male presenting friends ever purchased a pair of pants only to be disappointed by the lack of pockets? I’m guessing not often. Many of their pants still have a pocket watch pocket!

Of course, I may be a minority in my purse aversion because the market for purses is a big deal. Women’s handbags were a 13 billion dollar industry in the US in 2021. Do they really like their bags that much? Or, are the folks making tiny to no pockets in our clothing driving our dollars over to the handbag industry?

Do you remember the old phrase, “I wonder who wears the pants in THAT family?” The question was about power, control, and decision making. The answer was, of course, the one who wears the pants in that family is the one whose pants have pockets. Men’s suits have more pockets than they can even use.

In the 1800s, British tailors designed a men’s suit that gave its 17 pockets. That is still apparently a standard design. I remember church ushers from my childhood, who, if they checked their suit pockets, could always come up with a lifesaver or a stick of gum. They could keep keys, money, checkbook, glasses, pens, notebooks, handkerchiefs, probably small auto parts, well, basically anything they wanted in their pockets – and if they were organized, they knew where each item was. Women seldom have this luxury. How many times has a woman asked her date to “put a few things in his pocket” at a formal affair.

Things aren’t much better in the informal world. According to researchers, in 2018, a group analyzed the pockets of 80 pairs of average jeans from the 20 most popular manufactures in the US. Their results: pockets in women’s jeans are 48% shorter and a slightly narrower than men’s pockets. They also found that less than half of women’s front pockets can fit a small wallet. I figured that out on my own when I had to ditch my iPhone 6 for something smaller.

This is an historic issue. It is an issue of gender. For many generations, women were not expected to carry anything of value. Presumably, that was the husband’s job.

It seems the best generation for women to have pockets in their garments was during WWII, while the men were off fighting the war. When the guys came back, women’s dresses became far more form fitting. Slacks didn’t really come back until the 1970’s. In that generation, women were getting more rights, like the rights to equal education, have their own bank account without a husband’s signature, have their own credit card. They began to have more bodily autonomy like the right to use birth control (married or unmarried), have an abortion (Roe v. Wade 1973).

The equal pay act came about in 1964, but apparently there are loopholes because the 2020 census shows that women are still paid less than men, generally 82% of what men earn, and the gap increases as we age. We still earn less than our male counterparts in virtually every occupation.

Ladies, keep an eye on your pockets. I suspect there may well be a direct correlation between the size of our pockets, and all our other rights.

Finally, a word to all my non-binary friends, or gender non-conforming friends. I know you are dealing with more complexities than I can begin to articulate here. Wouldn’t it be nice if pockets were simply a non-gender issue at all?

Rev. Dr. Pamela Marolla is pastor at Galesburg First Lutheran Church and Assistant to the Bishop for the Northern Illinois Synod, ELCA. Locally, she goes by Pastor Pam. In her spare time, she enjoys the challenge of playing French horn with the Knox Galesburg Symphony Orchestra.