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‘Manifestation of patriarchy’: The surprising feminist history of women’s pockets

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Brooklyn Neustaeter, CTVNews.ca Staff


Published Thursday, December 20, 2018 6:22AM EST

A recent study has revealed that women’s pockets are nearly 50 per cent smaller than men’s pockets, with industry experts citing the topic as a feminist movement that goes back for centuries.

Women’s clothing rarely had functional pockets yet men’s garments were given them as early as the late 1600s in a silent solidification of sexism that even now still exists in fashion.

“The size difference in pockets perpetuates and reinforces gender inequality and is a manifestation of patriarchy,” said Chair of Ryerson School of Fashion Ben Barry in a phone interview with CTVNews.ca.

U.S. website The Pudding measured the pockets on 80 pairs of men’s and women’s jeans with the same waist size and found that women’s front jean pockets are 48 per cent shorter and 6.5 per cent narrower than men’s.

The study — released in August 2018 — revealed that the biggest front pockets for women are found in Abercrombie, American Eagle and skinny H&M jeans. However, the study says the brands were still relatively smaller than the equivalent pockets in the men’s jeans. These brands did not respond to requests for comment from CTVNews.ca.

“Women’s pockets tend to emphasize fashion over function. How [women] look in jeans seems to be more important than what [they] can carry in them,” said Jan Diehm, one of the journalist engineers behind the study, in an email interview with CTVNews.ca from San Antonio, Texas.

Toronto-based fashion designer Hayley Elsaesser says she tries to design without gender in mind to create garments — such as overalls, pants and jackets — for everyone that are both attractive and functional.

“I hate that fashion is often all about trendiness and only [focuses] on the aesthetic of clothing rather than the practical aspect of it,” said Elsaesser. “It’s been engrained in society that women have to be beautiful and sexy and cater to the male gaze, while men can just be men… But it’s super easy to just put a pocket in a side seam.”

Size guide

According to The Pudding’s study, a pocket is only as good as what can fit inside it and the size disparity assumes gender roles in limiting what items a woman can stow in her pockets versus a man — if anything at all.

“It’s assuming that women will wear purses and men don’t, so they have to have pockets because they’re busy guys,” said Elsaesser. “It [implies that] women aren’t as busy so they can carry a purse around.”

The study found that only 40 per cent of women’s front pockets can fit the iPhone X, 20 per cent a Samsung Galaxy and only 5 per cent the Google Pixel. Less than half of women’s front pockets can fit a wallet specifically designed for front pockets and while 100 per cent of men’s pockets could handle the average male hand, only 10 per cent of women’s could fit a woman’s hand.

Back pockets were about the same between genders with women’s only 5 per cent shorter and 2 per cent narrower than men’s.

Diehm says the equality in back pockets does not make up for women’s clothing having little or no front pockets or worse, having two seams stitched together to create a fake pocket.

“It’s a much more layered problem than saying ‘men are bigger’,” said Diehm. “It is ridiculous that we don’t even have the means to carry something as essential as a tampon on us without an external bag.”

Not being able to keep belongings in a pant pocket may seem like a minor inconvenience but for women it is a controversy they have faced for centuries.

Sexist beginnings

According to London’s Victoria and Albert Museum, women traditionally didn’t have pockets because they did not have their own money to put in them.

Both men and women had bags tied to their belts during the medieval era, allowing them to carry any essentials around hidden from thieves. Clothes had little slits on the side through which the pouch was easily accessed.

In the 1700s, men did away with pouches and pockets were permanently sewn into their garments. Women’s clothing did not make the same move. It was considered unladylike for a woman to hide her hands — except in gloves — so they continued to use the hidden pouches.

The French Revolution brought on slimmer silhouettes, making these pouches unable to fit under clothing. The London Spectator previously reported that the common thought was that women “had four external bulges already — two breasts and two hips — and a money pocket inside their dress would make an ungainly fifth.”

Reticules and chatelaines — small, ornate purses — were introduced in what is now considered the earliest form of a handbag.

Practical pockets were first sewn into women’s clothing at the end of the 19th century thanks in part to campaigns led by early feminists of the Rational Dress Society in London, England that fought for female clothes to be more functional.

However a societal expectation emerged after the First and Second World Wars that women were to dress more feminine and do away with the pocket-adorned clothes they had been wearing while the men were away. If a 20th century woman wanted to bring anything with her, the only option was to carry a bag.

Famous fashion designer Christian Dior further cemented the patriarchy of pockets in 1954 when he allegedly told U.K. journalist Paul Johnson that “men have pockets to keep things in, women for decoration.”

Pockets for men and handbags for women became symbolic of the inequality between the sexes and the struggle for women’s equal rights.

“Fashion is prime example of how we police and regulate bodies and part of [that] is policing and regulating gender,” said Barry. “Fashion does that by creating this very strict binary of masculine and feminine [that starts] when people walk into a store and are immediately directed towards the men’s or women’s section.”

Gender Politics

From full petticoats and money pouches to the age of skinny jeans, pockets continue to be a contentious object for women.

Women who answer a compliment about their clothing with “Thank you! It has pockets!” reveals how impractical pockets are for women and how long they have been denied them.

Barry says pockets are seen as personal spaces meant to keep important items close to the body and denying a woman that while forcing her to carry a bag reinforces that she is different from a man and cannot have his luxuries.

“If you have a bag, you have another item to purchase that is required to perform femininity,” said Barry.

“Fashion has been defined as a feminine pursuit and as an activity required by women rather than by men. Men have the opportunity to focus on their careers because fashion has not been associated with them in terms of performing proper or appropriate masculinity,” he continued.

Diehm said she has not seen any change in the major clothing brands mentioned in the study but says she has heard from smaller companies including Radian Jeans and Quokka Pockets that claim they are working to tackle the pocket problem.

Barry says the fashion industry needs to be actively critical of its practices to break down these gender binaries it has constructed.

“Pockets are such a routine, everyday practice that it goes unquestioned,” said Barry. “Exposing why women’s pockets are so much smaller than men’s… helps us understand the ways in which gender inequality is perpetuated in everyday life through something as seemingly mundane and routine as a pair of pants.”

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LIFESTYLES

University of Windsor establishes first Canadian transportation cybersecurity centre

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The University of Windsor will be the site of Canada’s first organization dedicated to countering threats to the connected transportation marketplace.

The SHIELD Automotive Cybersecurity Centre of Excellence will focus on developing the skills, innovations and policy to secure connected and autonomous vehicles.

Researchers will partner with industry, government and community stakeholders.

Co-founding and heading up the centre will be Dr. Mitra Mirhassani of the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering and Dr. Ikjot Saini of the School of Computer Science.

In the past year, the two University of Windsor professors were both recognized as being among Canada’s top talents in the automotive cybersecurity field.

“Hardware and software vulnerabilities could put personal information and vehicle safety in jeopardy,” said Mirhassani.

“Transportation systems are especially susceptible to attacks from malicious actors due to the complexity, implementation costs and lifecycles of equipment and platforms.”

The SHIELD centre is a continuation of the Windsor region’s focus on developing its cybersecurity ecosystem.

The province has already designated the area as the regional tech development centre for cybersecurity and border logistics.

The cybersecurity centre got a further boost this week with the announcement of a memorandum of understanding with the Automotive Parts Manufacturing Association (APMA).

APMA and SHIELD will collaborate to develop market-based technologies to meet the needs of producers and consumers and build academic programs to address industry’s evolving requirements.

“We hope that this partnership will help to advance a cybersecurity culture shift in the industry in Canada,” said APMA president Flavio Volpe.

“There is much work to be done to protect our collective interest in advancing this country’s globally competitive automotive sector.”

The centre will also promote the sharing of knowledge among parties to advance standards and enhance policies in the field.

Part of the plan is to offer micro credentialing through the university’s Continuing Education programs.

“We plan to offer consultation and test services to small- and medium-sized Canadian companies that will help them stay up to date,” said Dr. Saini.

“Open-access publications and public webinars will widely share the latest information.”

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Hamilton police charge ‘Hugs Over Masks’ protest organizers in two separate events

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TORONTO — Hamilton, Ont., police say they have charged two organizers of an anti-mask protest group for holding events that allegedly violated public health rules.

Police say the events were held in downtown Hamilton on Jan. 3 and Jan. 10.

The force alleges that 40 people attended first event and 60 attended the second.

Current provincial restrictions limit gatherings to a maximum of 10 people outdoors.

Police say they informed the “Hugs Over Masks” organizers that the planned Jan. 10 gathering would result in charges, but they went ahead with the event.

They say a 27-year-old man and 38-year-old woman are facing charges under the Reopening Ontario Act that carry a minimum fine of $10,000 if convicted.

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Ontario issues stay-at-home order to start Thursday as Ford declares state of emergency

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Premier Doug Ford is declaring another state of emergency, effective immediately, in response to surging COVID-19 infection rates.

In a news conference on Tuesday, Ford announced Ontario is issuing a stay-at-home order, effective 12:01 a.m. Thursday.

It requires people to stay home except for essential activities such as accessing health care or shopping for groceries.

The new measures also include restricting the hours of operation for non-essential retail stores such as hardware stores to between 7 a.m. and 8 p.m.

Addressing big box stores, which are allowed to remain open, Ford said an inspection blitz is coming to ensure they are following proper protocols.

“I’m going to come down on them like an 800-pound gorilla,” he said.

Schools in Hamilton, Toronto, York, Peel and Windsor-Essex will not return to in-person learning until Feb. 10.

Other public health regions, including Halton and Niagara, will find out when students can return to class by Jan. 20.

Schools will now require students in grades 1-3 to wear masks and masks will be required outside where physical distancing can’t be maintained.

Child-care centres for non-school aged children will remain open.

The premier announced the restrictions shortly after the province released new projections that show the virus is on track to overwhelm Ontario’s health-care system.

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