The XX Factor

Male Aides Carry Female Politicians’ Purses. What Is Happening to This Country?

Nancy Pelosi, giving her boy toy the day off

Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images

Writing about women’s fashion in politics is a tricky proposition, as the Washington Post learned last week. But Ashley Parker almost pulls it off in her piece for the New York Times fashion pages on the complicated relationship between female politicians and their purses. Parker analyzes the symbolic power of the growing presence of this particular fashion accessory in the halls of political power. Then, all of a sudden, Parker gives more than six paragraphs to sexist griping about female politicians who dare treat their male aides like they are there, gasp, to provide assistance. A sample:

When Kay Bailey Hutchison, a Republican, represented Texas in the Senate, she had her purse trotted through the Capitol by a rotating cadre of young male aides, to some raised eyebrows.

But now some version of the so-called “purse boy” is almost commonplace.

On the first day of this session, a young male aide to Representative Nancy Pelosi, the California Democrat and House minority leader, juggled the coats of female members as he tried to snap a group photo. And on the night of President Obama’s State of the Union address, Representative Kyrsten Sinema, Democrat of Arizona, was trailed through Statuary Hall by a male staff member holding her bag.

The only reason to include these passages is if you believe that it’s emasculating for a man to provide assistance to a woman. It’s hard to imagine any article tweaking the noses of male politicians who have assistants of either gender carrying, say, the boss’ briefcase. As Think Progress notes, personal aides to male politicians, such as President Obama’s right-hand man, Reggie Love, are also called something: body men, which certainly has a different ring to it than purse boy.

We have a historic number of women in Congress this term. These women have power over our economy, laws, and military. These women also have purses, and, cool, the Times wants to tell us what they look like and contain—how big, what color, what stuff goes in which compartment, etc. These women also have assistants. These assistants sometimes carry the purses. This is, in the end, quite unremarkable.