Women are expected to carry things. Need a tissue? The inclination is to ask a woman.
There’s a deeply-engrained association of women as caregivers prepared to meet a family’s needs. And really, everyone’s needs. As I watch Flowergirl enthusiastically toss a bag over her shoulder when Sunboy did not, I wonder if there is a genetic basis for the behavior. Certainly pregnancy and breastfeeding set a biological predisposition of women to be the primary caregivers in early childhood, and being prepared to meet children’s needs strengthens any natural inclination we have to carry things.** The association of women as carriers of things endures even though present-day parenting and homemaking is a joint enterprise shared by the genders.
The link is not just biological or familial, but societal and cultural. Women’s clothing generally lacks pockets because clothing manufacturers assume that woman will carry a purse or bag, thus precluding the need for pockets. Our fashion sense reinforces the expectation that women won’t carry a few items in pockets as men do (which would detract from our natural curves) but rather will carry a mini-survival kit in a bag wherever we go. We carry many things for others, simply because we are expected to do so.
I’m not the best carrier of things, and frequently find myself apologizing for not adequately fulfilling this role in the family. I buy into the cultural expectation. I try to be prepared, carrying snacks, water, a pen, lip balm, hand sanitizer, phone and an extra diaper for the toddler. Yet there’s always something I forgot. Often it’s the sunscreen.
I don’t like to carry a purse. In fact, for many years I carried a wallet in my jeans like men do. These days, I tend to use my car as a giant purse that I can drive. This allows me to have back-up clothes for Flowergirl, books for the kids and the ever-necessary blanket in case we become stranded. Never mind that the weather is warm.
I concede that once I had children, my desire to carry things grew and was amplified when this desire intersected with safety concerns for the children. I have a tendency to overnurture, and I’ve discussed the likely basis for this previously. For a perfect example of this, consider ferry boat travel. The ferry we ride stores adult and child-sized life jackets in labelled bins indicating the number of jackets in each size. Bins tend to contain something on the order of three child-sized for every sixty adult-sized life preservers. Not many jackets for the children. Further, it’s unclear if the life jackets offered would be small enough for Flowergirl or if they have the necessary groin strap that enables a life preserver to remain securely on her. Given these concerns, I carry a life preserver for each of my children in a bag with us when we travel by ferry. I once saw another family carry their own life preservers, and so at least one other person in the world finds this to be a reasonable activity. A bit eccentric, perhaps, but I feel it is essential gear for us.
On the other hand, Orchid and I have both traveled enough to realize that most things can be procured at the destination and that few things are truly necessary. Perhaps the definition of what needs to be carried can be adjusted:
Dear weary traveler, in addition to the essentials that keep you safe, nourished and clean, do not forget to carry a sense of adventure, flexibility, stamina, resourcefulness, a favorite song for singing, your creativity for a fun diversion and a few extra hugs for the children to see them through.
But what one is to carry is only half of the issue, and frankly, it’s the obvious half. When did you pack for a trip and think about what to leave behind? Really, it’s as much about not carrying things that don’t need to be carried as much as what is carried. Let’s see if we can simplify our load:
What’s more, weary traveler, you do not need to carry things you can invent or create yourself along the way. You don’t need to carry someone’s ego for them when it becomes too large for them to carry alone. What’s more, you don’t need to carry someone else’s anger or self-loathing, or carry drama for its own sake. You do not need to carry someone else’s expectation of you or their biased definition of you. You only need your ever-evolving touchstone that you hold for yourself.
Those who have backpacked know of what I speak. Carry the essentials, eliminate the unnecessary, and trust in yourself to define the two (even if others find it eccentric). It’s the only way to be a carrier of things.