The other day Dodai at Jezebel wrote a post on how she covets a $1,500 handbag, and solicited commenter approval of said desire and, implicitly, her wish to “splurge” on said bag on a blogger’s salary. Readers, the faint imprint of my keyboard remains visible on my forehead these 5 days later. I thank Ceiling Cat I didn’t make it past the first comment, because several hours of my life might have been sacrificed in the balance.
Suffice it to say I am not the kind of person who spends this amount of money on a handbag, though I could arguably afford to do so should the fancy someday strike me. Let us hope that day never comes.
Now, many of my co-workers and even some of us here at Harpyness apparently own extravagant handbags. This, defenders tell me, is a matter of pure aesthetics. They are cute! They go well with outfits! It’s only money! And who can argue with aesthetics? These bags are art!
Well, indeed, aesthetic matters are subjective preferences, and people tend not to agree. Dodai’s bag, to me, appears ugly, but I hear that among people in the know on the matter of fashion, it is beautiful. Or so their Gods pronounce.
But let’s be honest here: babies are likely not born with aesthetic preferences preset in their heads, and even if they do have, say, favorite colours and textures hard-wired into their wee brains, it is clear to us that a person’s taste changes over time. Those turquoise pedal pushers were surely rad when you were ten, but would you wear them today?
And if people’s tastes are not hard-wired, if they change over time, it seems only right to assume that the difference is that they come in contact with what we’ll call “culture,” or put more colloquially, “what other people think.” In short, you get your ideas about what’s pretty not from your head, but also from the messages you get in any number of settings.
Of course, what’s sort of ironic about the whole discussion is that this is Feminism 101 – think about why feminists say women hate their bodies, for example – but for some reason, among a certain subset of well-educated, smart, and witty women who also identify as feminists, all this thinking goes out the window in, well, the presence of pretty handbags.
My point, of course, is that the reason this handbag can be called sumptuous whereas this one is merely “cute” not a value-neutral one. It is not above or beyond the general thrust of culture. As PhDork said to me the other night, status-type bags like the one Dodai covets aren’t just bags – we pour a lot of meaning into them. They mean you are on the cutting edge of current trends. They mean you know what “quality” is – or at least what a fashion magazine might define it as. They mean you aren’t carrying a dreaded counterfeit knockoff.
And yes, you might, on top of all of that, also think they are pretty. You might appreciate their aesthetic far more than you would want a first-edition print of Georgia O’Keefe. But that does not render your choice to carry one beyond discussion or critique or social meaning. Particularly where, as in this case, the truth is: that’s way too much fucking money to spend on a fucking bag.