Pocketful of Hexes
Juxtaposing the History of Pockets to the History of Veiled Misogyny
Welcome to Berkana! I feel elated to be back with a new story to add to the Berkana archive. As the storm passed, I was lifted over by a strange kind of lightness and clarity that arises only after going through a cathartic experience. I am quite offset from my half-yearly publishing schedule, yet I am grateful that I got an opportunity to meditate on some of the most inevitable experiences associated with human life. We are born in this realm to create, but we are also here to experience. Art is only complete in its various manifestations when an artist creates from their experience of the world. I am immensely grateful that you held on to Berkana in my absence. Prayers are the most tangible form of magic, and all of your prayers have given me the steadfast mast of hope and support that I desperately needed. I want to admit that much of what I do would not make any sense if you did not relate or respond to the musings of my mindscape. Now, let’s get started with today’s story without further delay. We will look deeper into the history of pockets, which suggests a concerning analysis of gender-based biases that run deep in global culture.
“I do not need pockets unless I can carry my pet bumblebee secretly to distract the wild leprechaun from stamping on my garden of daisies,” said no woman ever. Then how did the inconvenience of false pockets creep into our daily lives and tied our two free hands from doing anything meaningful? The average pocket size is 4.5 inches in women’s and 8.5 inches in men's jeans. With the average smartphone size being 5.5 inches and credit cards slightly over 2 inches, one can hardly own up to the convenience of women’s pockets when you throw car keys and tampons into the mix. Unless I want to flaunt a single white rose in a protest march for world peace, it is well-established fact that my pockets are practically non-functional. History indicates that the absence of pockets was unimaginable for the working class woman, then why the pockets became eventually non-existent in women’s garments is a question that lingers. Did fashion standards determine the impractical false pockets in women’s attire, or was there an ulterior motive? The absence of pockets in women's garments in one way is also symbolic of the lack of autonomy amongst women on how they choose to carry their essentials.
Fashion historians may insist that there is no direct correlation between the controversy of pockets and misogyny. However, if we look back at the history of pockets and their evolution throughout time, we could spot subtle social disparagement women faced for needing one.
A brief history of pockets and petticoats
The origin of pockets can be traced back to the Middle Ages when both women and men used to have loose fanny bags tied around their waists. By the 17th century, fashion got more convenient for men as they had pockets sewed into their clothes. Women’s pockets remained the same, except they now look like pouches on a string tied around the waist and worn underneath layers of petticoats, accessible through the slits of their over skirts. A gentleman needs pockets to carry a pistol, flask of whiskey, or feverishly scribbled poems for the lady of his fascination. Adulatory or alcoholism was certainly not a matter of concern for gentlemen in western society, who were occasionally even glorified for being lotharios. However, when women got access to pockets everyone scuttled around in delirium. The anticipation of adultery among women folk, made pockets of women a matter of debate. Fear of feminine subversion and the idea of a woman in control of their life was terrifying because it challenged the status of feminine submission in the western world under the influence of Christianity. The aristocratic class revolted in invisible ways against the idea of a woman having the opportunity to conceal many letters from lovers or perhaps carrying liquor in her pockets. Although it cannot be proved, there seems to be a hidden agenda behind the evolution of woman’s fashion in slimmer hemlines with no space for loose bulging pockets to fit. There is, of course, not much privacy in carrying secret objects in a reticule. The paragons of fashion have decidedly reinforced that there is no reason for a woman to have pockets. Pockets are for immoral women, pockets are for a subverted woman, pockets are for a woman whose sensuality is a snarling trap, who challenges her domestic role and in doing so defies God. Pockets are for witches.
As society's morality was under obligation to define the right behavior for women, their freedom of expression came under scrutiny. When a pocket was present in her skirt, a woman’s private life became a topic open for speculation. It was not evident to me as to why pockets could have been so dangerous unless I pondered deeply from my subjective outlook. What could I have possibly carried in my pockets that might have ignited suspicion and superstition, strands of dragon’s beard? a vial of snake poison? lizard’s tongue? a flask of ginger ale? a stolen baby? Black Death? The list can go as long and wild as the myths associated with the practices of witchcraft. You should look no further than Malleus Maleficarum, and you will find whispers and warnings like ‘Witches are real and dangerous'. Where else could they have carried all the spiteful hexes and sinful potions other than their dangerous pockets? This is the period of history, where new social assumptions about secrecy and privacy took the front seat to convenience, and like a finger in the eye, speaks of gender inequality.
The Element of Style in Subversion
With little to no rights to inherit money or work outside the domestic domain, women remained limited without possessions. They carried nothing but hope in their non-existent pockets. All of that was about to change when suffragettes clad in white suits challenged the norms of feminine fashion and started the battle for the 19th amendment. The suffragette suits were infamous for two reasons, defying the common sensibility of what is supposed to look feminine and the access to multiple pockets. The resemblance between the suffragettes and their medieval counterparts who were burned on the stakes was uncanny. There was a price to pay for carrying pamphlets of paper in your pocket that could fuel revolutions.
A recipe for social upheaval or a vial of mixed herbs is all the same when created by a woman. The use of pockets is all the same when worn by a woman. It is to conspire against the foundation of suppression and inequality. To break the rusted machines of misogyny disguised as the natural order, to summon the innate power that drives autonomy of being. The quintessential witch and the suffragette lived beyond her years in the modern woman. The essence of generations of struggle still haunts her modern life with its fake pocket. Her pockets are not much of use unless she is carrying an iPhone, a speech for the presidential election, and a bunch of hexes all at once.
Leaving you today to ponder on this poem on pockets written by Alice Duer Miller writer of the book 'Are women people?'. In this poem, Miller responded with satirical precisions to the rampant anti-suffrage sentiments.
“Why We Oppose Pockets for Women”:
1. Because pockets are not a natural right.
2. Because the great majority of women do not want pockets. If they did they would have them.
3. Because whenever women have had pockets they have not used them.
4. Because women are required to carry enough things as it is, without the additional burden of pockets.
5. Because it would make dissension between husband and wife as to whose pockets were to be filled.
6. Because it would destroy man’s chivalry toward woman if he did not have to carry all her things in his pockets.
7. Because men are men, and women are women. We must not fly in the face of nature.
8. Because pockets have been used by men to carry tobacco, pipes, whiskey flasks, chewing gum, and compromising letters. We see no reason to suppose that women would use them more wisely.