My son came back from his biology lesson looking fed up. “Soya contains oestrogen!” he said, “Aren’t there any foods that contain testosterone?”
I laughed at my son because I know he is hoping to find a wonderfood that will make him superbly tall and strong (preferably overnight). I asked him what food he thought was the most masculine.
“A bacon sandwich.” he announced, “But it has to be made by a woman – and a woman who stays in the kitchen!”
He was kidding me (a bit) but I felt a little sorry for him too. It has often been the subject of discussion between us. His life to date has been full of dominant women, and not that many men. Our family is full of powerful women, holding down jobs whilst running a household; the men are simply less visible, and sometimes absent. His primary school was almost entirely run by women, many of whom wasted no time in telling him that “boys were noisy and naughty” while “girls were neat and good”. Even his secondary school has a large number of women in senior leadership positions. Worst of all, he is surrounded by girls of his own age outperforming the boys (and mostly taller than him).
All this female power and success may cheer me up, but it is dismal for a boy like him. He would like to live in a more male world, a world in which being male was potent and glamorous, not lumbering and inept. I tried with all my might to raise my children as human beings first, gender last, but it never worked out that way. Being a boy has always defined him: he could no more leave it behind than the bindweed in my garden could wind clockwise.
I sometimes try to explain to him that the adult world is quite different from the way it appears to him at fifteen. Being male is not so much of a handicap in our society, I say wryly, whatever men would like to tell themselves. You will not spend your entire adult life in a world dominated by women. That is not the way it is, not at all.
But of course he doesn’t really believe me – and anyway, has a more pressing concern. Even if the world were ruled by women, will he eventually at least be taller than most of them?