A recent study concluded that women want designer handbags only to warn other women to steer clear of their male partners.
Unless “Touch My Man and I’ll Cut You” is printed on expensive purses in some magical ink visible only to females, it’s hard to follow the reasoning here. This is the information that the two University of Minnesota scientists who conducted the study had to work with:
1) They asked women to imagine another woman flirting with their male partner.
2) They then asked the women to draw a luxury designer logo on a purse.
3) The women drew bigger logos than those in “other conditions” — a mysterious reference to some undescribed control group.
A press release from their university says that the researchers may have considered the findings of some other studies as well, but didn’t explain how those studies worked.
From this data, the researchers — Associate Professor Vladas Griskevicius and PhD student Yajin Wang of the Carlson School of Management — deduced that single women carry expensive handbags to warn other women to stay away from their hypothetical future boyfriends.
The academics’ thought process goes like this:
1) Women drew larger designer logos because imagining someone else flirting with their men made them jealous. Even the women who didn’t want or have men were motivated by this jealousy.
2.a) Women believe that the cost of a woman’s handbag is correlated to the intensity of her man’s devotion to her.
2.b) Unstated assumption: women believe that other women get all their purses as gifts from their men. Left unexplained is the paucity of men among the shoppers in high-end handbag boutiques.
2.c) Women can gauge the price of a bag just by looking at it, while men “have a hard time figuring out if a woman’s handbag costs $50 or $5,000,” as Griskevicius puts it — even though men are supposedly the ones buying all the $5,000 bags.
I don’t know how I, as a female, managed to finish college without coming across the ladies-only course on identifying and valuing designer brands, but somehow I lack that womanly skill. The researchers should have consulted someone who does have it — they would have learned that bigger logos are generally a sign of a less expensive designer bag. The priciest ones tend to bear very discreet logos. Maybe those jealous women drew bigger logos because they were preparing to economize should they become single.
3) Women believe that other women won’t flirt with a man who is deeply devoted to someone else.
4) Women carry expensive bags to demonstrate to other women that their men are very devoted to them, as evidenced by the bags’ high price.
5) Single women spend their own money on expensive purses so other women will understand that any men they may have in the future will be highly devoted to them. Wang explained, “the single woman is saying back off my future man.” I guess the pricey-purse-carrying single lesbian, who does not exist in Wang-land, is saying “I don’t want a man, but if I did, and if I had one, you would be well-advised not to flirt with him.” That message is surely worth spending a few grand.
Professor Griskevicius impugns the intelligence of coupled gals who, like me, cannot conceive of a good reason to spend four or five figures on a purse. “Conspicuous consumption is actually smart for women who want to protect their relationship. When a woman is flaunting designer products, it says to other women ‘back off my man.’”
There’s that magical ink again, turning handbags into billboards that only flirtatious women can read.
Griskevicius’s doctoral student, Wang, adds, ”The feeling that a relationship is being threatened by another woman automatically triggers women to want to flash Gucci, Chanel, and Fendi to other women. A designer handbag or a pair of expensive shoes seems to work like a shield, where wielding a Fendi handbag successfully fends off romantic rivals.”
Well gosh, these men know ladies and our automatic triggers so well! And they have thoroughly explained why wealthy, showy women are never ever cheated on.
The researchers also have Oprah’s number. The billionaire was interested in a $38,000 handbag she saw at a Zurich boutique. She claimed the clerk wouldn’t show it to her, saying it was “too expensive” for her, apparently because she is black; the clerk denied it; Oprah apologized; Switzerland apologized; blah blah blah.
We now know that the truly newsworthy point here has nothing to do with race. It is that Oprah must be worried about her man of 25 years, Stedman Graham, deciding to stray. The proof is right in this study.
The shorthand for these scientists’ findings: everything women do is about men, including keeping our wallets and keys close at hand when we are out. Without men we would revert to packing our stuff in plastic bags and pushing it around in shopping carts. We would languish, rudderless, as Oprah retired because what would she need money for?
Dear cheating men: thank you for giving us a reason to go on.
Photo credit: iStockphoto/Thinkstock
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