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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?

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Here is the new laptop bag I bought for myself at Christmas. I bought it because of its big practical strap, making it much easier to carry my heavy laptop close into my body. But I’ll admit: it has a great colour and a fantastic print! I love wearing it, and not just because it makes the weight of my laptop less of a burden. It is unlike anything else anyone else wears at work. But I’m not expecting to hear compliments about it for a while yet.

“You’ve changed something about your hair.” said a work colleague the other day, and promptly blushed bright scarlet.

As a matter of fact my hair changed from mousy blonde to vivid red a whole nine months ago: nine months in which I have repeatedly visited the office, spoken to colleagues, and held meetings. This is the first time anyone has mentioned my hair, and knowing the people I work beside as well as I do, I am impressed that anyone finally summoned up the courage. This is because my colleagues are programmers, and this is what life with programmers is often like. They are first predominantly male, and second predominantly cerebral. Mere changes to appearance are an irrelevance; an irrelevance to be discretely ignored.

When I was a young woman, I used to blend in, in the way many young female programmers do, by wearing jeans and baggy T-shirts. My cover was blown when I became pregnant. My pregnancy was far from discrete: from the fourth month I could have been mistaken for a sofa. Maternity wear was not as varied as it is now and the only thing I could find to cover my vast and swelling form was a black and white checked pinafore. I wore this pinafore day in and day out for months on end until the birth and then, to my mortification, had to wear it for some months afterwards. There was no disguising to my colleagues the awful truth of what had happened to me – I had become female.

For the first few years of motherhood, my “mum” uniform was not too dissimilar from my old “programmer” uniform of jeans and T-shirts, but the cat was now firmly out of the bag. As I grew older and more confident, I began to wear more feminine clothes – brighter colours, skirts, rediscovering floral, lipstick earrings, and no more “building site” shoes.

And my colleagues were greatly embarrassed, scurrying around with heads down, and very little eye contact. Don’t get me wrong: I don’t go out of my way to embarrass them – I don’t show cleavage, I don’t do stilettos, I don’t have piercings in unexpected places. I don’t want to frighten the horses. I am, however, obviously not of the same world as they are. That bag is a statement that I am not, after all, unisex.

I don’t regret one bit that my colleagues work so hard to ignore my outrageous tendencies. It is a huge benefit to me: I have hardly ever felt that my gender matters at work. It is embarrassing to my colleagues that I happen to be a woman, but I have rarely had to worry abut sexual advances, or innuendoes. If I am in the middle of a lively discussion, the only thing I need to worry about is whether or not I am right, not whether my bra strap is showing.

A brief stint in a more “lively” office, with a strong masculine culture, was enough to make it clear just how difficult office life can be for a lone woman – there I was the constant butt of sexist jokes, comments about my appearance, and laddish pranks. It was impossible for me to work in that environment. I was very relieved when my stint ended and I was able to return to my office of mild-mannered, socially-challenged males. How ironic it is: because my gender is invisible there, I feel free to be as outrageously feminine as I please!

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I think about food a lot of the time, when I am not otherwise busy with my dayjob, and sometimes even then. Not thoughts about eating food, but about buying it, or preparing it. This is not because I am a good cook, but because I am quite the opposite. Putting three meals a day on the table for the family remains a major challenge for me. There are few other aspects of family life that I have found so difficult to master.

For years I have pored over books and food magazines, watched TV programmes, and searched the internet for cooking tips. On the whole I do not want to learn to cook fancy food: all I aspire to is to be able to cook good food. I want to be able to turn out a decent meal reliably, using a certain amount of skill, knowing that my family will eat it, enjoy it, and grow up strong and healthy. I want food to be the centre of family life, and I want to be able to cook as my grandmother cooked – plainly, instinctively, and with love.

(At the same time, I want to be able to hold an argument with my teenage son about feminism, the banking crisis, or the collapse of Soviet Russia, while I cook!)

Over the last few years, cooking has slowly become a more enjoyable task, and I have come to feel genuinely attached to the pots, knives and dishes I use every day. I feel a certain competance now, enough to be able to experiment, and to explore. I am ridiculously pleased each time I finally master a new skill, or work out a new shortcut for myself. But most of this wonderful process of discovery is done alone because I’m not a good enough cook to go round swapping recipes with other cooks. And in any case, I only just have time enough to do it – I don’t have time to talk about it too.

The most important ingredient it turns out, is time. When I worked longer hours, scrambled to pick up my babies from the nursery before it closed at six, and returned with them to a cold and empty house, I had to overcome my own hunger and exhaustion to put something warm on the table in twenty minutes flat. I still remember the desperation of those evenings – a mind-numbing feeling of panic and dismay and empty cupboards. Now that circumstance has forced me to cut the hours that I work, I rarely work after four, and reserve at least an hour every evening to producing an evening meal. It is my family’s biggest luxury, if they but knew it: the luxury of a homecooked meal almost every night.

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