(*See legal disclaimer below)
Even in our era – sadly so full of fears and threats – there are few places as scary as the ladies’ room at a ball, or other dressing up social event. In fact, the more elegant the clothes, the higher the atmosphere of menace in the powder room. To all the men who have a natural fear of the gentler sex, I would say, you cannot truly experience the ferocity of the felines except in their natural habitat. And women’s natural habitat, where nails are filed to a point and scarlet is carefully reapplied to the lips, is the only female inner sanctum where no male is allowed – the ladies’ loo.
It is the self-contained headquarters of espionage (“How did he react when I said that? I deliberately wasn’t looking at him”), psychotherapy (“He’s not worth it. Plenty more sharks – I mean fish – in the sea”), first aid (“Could you help me – my zip has got jammed?”), military strategy (“Next time he does that, just say –” and diplomacy (“You’re so much better than his new girlfriend”). It is there that a keen zoologist can study the many facets of the female instinct, from nurturing to destructive, with all the rich graduation of colours in between. It’s too bad only female zoologists qualify for that particular research fellowship.
Firstly, let’s look at a typical visit to the ladies’ room. As you push the door open, all eyes turn to you. It is a quick assessment to check that you are a bona fide member of the club. Then, you are confronted with one of the universe’s great unresolved riddles – why is there ALWAYS a queue in the women’s toilet? (Answers on a postcard, please.) Once you have emerged from your private time in the cubicle, your next stop is the sink and – most importantly – the mirror. Even though you know it will still get wet, you try and balance your make up purse on the only tiny dry section on the sink, and you start taking out your war paint. You lengthen that thin dark line on the edge of your eyelid, smudge some more concealer on that blemish, add panache to your lashes with another stroke of mascara brush and slide the lipstick over your mouth.
That is when you catch several other pairs of eyes in the mirror. Scientists say that women’s brains can multitask better than men’s. Although the other club members are visibly absorbed in retouching their own make up, their attention is on you. In their feline eyes there are questions: how is SHE doing it? Is it something I can do, too? Does she have a new warfare strategy than I can learn and use to my advantage? Of course, the moment they realise they are also being watched, the staring eyes narrow into a pussycat blink and a tight lipped smile that says: don’t worry, we’re all sisters here. At this point beware. If one of the other club members says, “I love your dress”, the literal translation is “I hate you for looking better than I do”. If you want to follow the club’s code of conduct (and if you wish to keep your eyes unscratched, I suggest you do), your response must never be, “Oh, thank you very much!” but “Oh, you like it? I’m not sure about it, myself, I think it makes me look so fat”. If you’re aiming to become a senior member, then add, “I’m so glad you think it looks OK on me, I was so worried I looked awful”. By acting the defenceless kitten, you automatically appeal to the nurturing side of the other women, who – knowing there is nothing to fear from you – will retract their claws and, if you’re very lucky, will even give you a well-disposed piece of advice (which you will make sure you bin at the exit).
Of course, once you’ve left the gynaeceum behind, and rejoined the company of men, the sisterhood vanishes like a chimera. What is left behind is a group of Celtic female warriors, ready to fight to the death.
* Legal Disclaimer: not all women are like that.