Rushing off to lunch in a taxi yesterday, my son grumbled about being late and not understanding why girls have to put on all that make-up anyway.
Normally, in a rush on our way to lunch in a smelly Hong Kong taxi, I would have probably dismissed his question with a counter question: and why can you never find your shoes when we need to leave? Not this time - in the ten minutes that followed I unleashed a torrent of rhetorical questions on him that he is not likely to ever forget.
Why do we feel we have to wear all that make-up, or any make-up at all for that matter. The short answer is, we think it improves our appearance. Of course the follow-up question is much more complicated to answer: why do girls and women feel the need to improve their appearance when very few men bother with anything other than shaving*.
It's a timely question as well, because who could have guessed four years ago, after we re-elected a true gentleman President, that a future candidate for President of The United States of America would routinely publicly refer to women as fat, gross, ugly, and defend his behaviour without any shame or self doubt.
I have never heard anyone say that male politicians are incompetent because they are pudgy or ugly. No one would go that far, because it would undermine their argument and it is just not a decent or civilised way to behave. Men have never needed to worry about being denigrated solely based on their looks, but for women it is not quite as easy to be indifferent about our appearance, because below a very thin veneer of civilisation sexism and misogyny are dying to burst through the surface, as has become scarily obvious in the last few weeks in America.
In our first world struggle for not just basic, but true equality, we have often had to rely on men's decency to bring about change. Men have more power, and it's the willingness of decent men like John F. Kennedy (Equal Pay Act, 1963) that has slowly effected change in women's lives. I shudder to think what will become of such decency if the Republican candidate brings his personal brand of crass culture to the White House.
Will our daughters feel even more pressure to be pretty and thin than they already do? Will women with a size 16 be branded "massive" as a matter of course? Will it become common practice to hire women based on their looks rather than their abilities?
I don't know what is going to happen. But what I do know is that we all need to make sure our boys understand why their sisters and mothers may feel compelled to enhance their looks with make-up. That way, at least we know the future for our girls will be bright.
* Men did for a little while embrace make-up, at least in entertainment, during the eighties when New Romanticism ruled the pop music scene. The other day I watched a delightful make-up video in which Lisa Eldridge talks to the lovely Yasmin Le Bon, super model and wife of Duran Duran star Simon Le Bon, who according to Yasmin still knows a good eye pencil when he sees one.