There’s one topic in the foreign blogosphere in China and Asia that I just don’t understand. Why do people make such a big deal about Asian men carrying certain bags?
For those of you who missed the hoopla, the complaints fall into two different camps:
#1. Why do Asian men carry their girlfriends’ or wives’ purses? It makes them look effeminate, unmanly and/or “whipped”.
#2. Why do Asian men carry “manbags” or “man-purses”? It makes them look effeminate, unmanly and/or “whipped”.
Note that while the two complaints are slightly different, the conclusion is essentially the same. In other words, if a guy does one or the other (or, god forbid, both!), he is forever exiled out of the kingdom of masculinity.
I’ve lived a total of almost six years in China and have seen my share of Chinese men carrying their girlfriends’ or wives’ purses — or sporting what some might label as a “manbag” of their own. But I’ve also experienced them on a personal level through my marriage to a Chinese man.
Whenever my husband and I go out shopping, he always offers to carry my shopping bags…and, at times, he might even hold my own bag or purse for me. I never thought of him as “less than a man” just because he did that. To me, it just seemed like gentlemanly behavior — like opening a door or pulling out your seat for you, a simple way to show he cares for you. And besides, whenever we shop, I’m the one who’s usually rifling through the clearance racks and dashing in and out of the fitting rooms more than him, and I’m the one with the list of stores to hit and things to buy. Honestly, it’s nice to have someone to take care of the bags so my hands are free to sift through the shelves and racks without worrying about forgetting or losing the bags. (I am, after all, incredibly absent minded!)
As for so-called “manbags”, my husband’s oldest brother just bought him a brown leather bag as a gift. It was square and had a sturdy shoulder strap. My husband ultimately wasn’t interested in it (he’s prefers backpacks or computer bags) but neither of us judged his brother for the gift.
What I’ve learned from my experiences is this — there is no such thing as a universal definition of what it means to be a man. Different countries and cultures have different ideas of what men should and should not do. So we shouldn’t automatically assume that our country’s definition of “how to be a man” applies everywhere around the world.
We shouldn’t assume that when an Asian man carries a woman’s bag or purse for her, or carries what some label as a “manbag”, he’s somehow not a man. Maybe it’s not something you or the men in your life would do, but that doesn’t mean it’s wrong. So why should anyone make a big deal about it?
Personally, I love the fact that, here in China, men can carry all kinds of bags without thinking, “Will this compromise my masculinity?” Sadly, that’s not true in the US, my home country. For all of the talk about freedom and being yourself in the US, our definition of masculinity is frighteningly restrictive.
Ultimately, the measure of a man is not in what bag he has under his arm or on his shoulder. It’s about who he is as a person. And you’ll never know that from a casual glance on the street.
For everyone who still insists that carrying a woman’s bag/bags for her or toting a so-called “manbag” undermines your manhood, let me ask you this. Who told you so? Where is it written that “Thou shalt not carry thy woman’s bag/bags or carry a so-called ‘manbag’”? And why is it okay for men to carry certain bags, like laptop bags or backpacks, but not others?
No good answers to those questions? Exactly. 😉
P.S.: For further reading on a similar topic, read this post by Grace of Texan in Tokyo titled Things I Love About Japan: Men can wear Pink Running Shoes without being Labeled “Gay”.