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Column: Women Always Are Left Holding the Bag

Not only do women hold up half the sky. We do it while carrying a 500-pound purse.

Women carry with us, at all times, everything we might need to start life in a new state. Our purses contain the all the merchandise found in a Quickie Mart or a bodega.

Men? Men carry a credit card and a twenty. If they need it, they buy it. Or they ask us for it.

After all, we’ll have it in our bag.

We carry extra eyeglasses, lip balm, Q-tips, Band-Aids, a half-empty water bottle, four pens (two of which work), 16 crumpled receipts, a tiny notebook, gum, mints, hand sanitizer, perfume sample (empty), tampon, aspirin, non-aspirin pain relievers, Tums, Imodium, matches (we don’t smoke, it’s for friends), a “fun size” Snickers, nail glue, an emery board, a compact 5X mirror (ironic, right?), tweezers, cell phone, Bluetooth, floss, AAA battery (which helps with nothing, ever), and three cute, striped paper clips too adorable to discard.

We also have a folded article we’re going to read as soon as we get a minute, an address book (don’t trust technology — like to have it written down somewhere), calendar (ditto), an encouraging fortune from a cookie (“Forget the doubts and fears creeping into your life. The universe is guiding you!”), a packet of cheap tissues, a packet of nicer tissues (for other people), a note from our niece (“I love you THIS much!”) and one earring.

Every woman over 30 has, at the very bottom of her bag, a lipstick that we got as part of a “Free Gift” from Clinique in 2007 that we’ve NEVER worn (it’s beige) but who in her right mind would ever throw out a perfectly good lipstick from Clinique? Yet we don’t want it cluttering up our bathroom. So we carry it, talisman-like, and go around offering it to strange women, saying with false conviction, “I think you’d look great in this color!”

We stock up. A few months ago, before doing a talk on humor and wellness at an elite medical conference, I walked around the vendors’ area to see what items they offered as bait to lure attendees to their booths. I find some of these treasures particularly alluring; I once came home with, no kidding, a Viagra clock. I laugh when it reaches noon.

At this conference, however, one company was giving away medicated bandages in small plastic containers bearing their logo. Nice, right? Practical, sensible and inexpensive.

And for 20 minutes I watched as elegantly dressed, name-badged women from the medical industry, the insurance industry and huge pharmaceutical companies who, in Armani suits and with Fendi purses, scooped up those plastic containers as if they’d never seen an adhesive strip before.

They could be heard justifying themselves as they grabbed handfuls: “I’ll keep this in the car. I’m putting this in Zack’s knapsack. Good for traveling.” Some were sliding the containers directly into those Fendi bags. They wore the same glazed expressions as Doomsday Preppers.

I did not see one man — not one, mind you — take this particular trophy.

Guys were taking baseball caps, pens, flashlights and pedometers, so it wasn’t as if they were averse to the process.

They simply steered clear of the non-fun items, which, of course, they could rely on the women around them to have.

C’mon, would you ever consider going up to a guy and asking if he had a Band-Aid? Or some ibuprofen?

In fact, if you went up to a man and said, “You wouldn’t have any pain reliever on you, would you?” he’d recoil. He’d assume you were nuts or that you mistook him for drug dealer — and not from a pharmaceutical company.

Women get asked this kind of thing constantly, and we feel guilty if we can’t say yes. One morning I was muttering about missing my coffee. A stranger reached into her bag, gave me a cardboard container of hot coffee and apologized because it might not be the way I take it.

Women: Isn’t it time for us to lighten our burdens, dump the junk and use our shoulders for the real work of the world? Also, would you like this lipstick? You’d look great in it.

Gina Barreca is an English professor at the University of Connecticut, a feminist scholar who has written eight books, and a columnist for the Hartford Courant. She can be reached through her website at http://www.ginabarreca.com.