Last month, the popular — and gay — Scottish Conservative leader, Ruth Davidson, gave birth to a baby boy, Finn. Ruth and her partner Jen Wilson said they were absolutely delighted with the arrival of much-loved Finn, who was conceived through IVF treatment. Ms Davidson announced her return to full-on politics in the spring, when life returns to “normal”. If life ever goes back to “normal” (or, as it used to be) after motherhood. As Ruth will doubtless find out for herself.
She will also discover that she has entered a new dimension of experience: she has joined the tribe called ‘the mothers of sons’. Be they ever so feminist previously, the mothers of sons see the world in a subtly changed perspective.
Ruth will note that, from an early age, boys are slower to develop than girls. Slower to potty-train, slower to speak, less fluent in vocabulary, and more vulnerable to conditions such as dyslexia, dyspraxia and the spectrum of emotional dysfunction.
She will read the statistics indicating that boys take more risks than girls, so are more liable to accidents. Later on, she will know at least one lad among her son’s peer group who has taken his own life through suicide.
Early on she will realise that little boys can be ardently, even needily, attached to their mothers, and this can be upsetting when the mother has to tear herself away on professional duties.
She will find that little boys often love building things and constructing stuff, as do many little girls: Lego isn’t a global success for nothing. But even in our jet age, train sets still seem to have a grip on boys’ imagination and she may find herself entering a parallel universe of model train enthusiasts (as a friend of mine did), where entire weekends are spent with her son fixated on signal boxes, shunting sheds, axle dimensions and comparative gauge sizes in steam locomotives. Or she may just find herself knee-deep in Confederate and Union flags for endless re-enactments of the American Civil War (as I did). She will, naturally, discourage her son from allocating field nursing roles to little girl playmates.
If her son, as a reckless teenager has a tonful of alcoholic drink one night and can’t remember how he ended up in a girl’s bedroom, and if the girl subsequently accuses him of non-consensual sex, the mother of the son may be inclined to ask for a more forensic examination of the he-said, shesaid, rather than taking a banner on a street demonstration saying ‘Believe Women’.
Her son may be either straight or gay. She will surely accept whatever his orientation. Having two women as parents may have no impact at all on his inborn nature. But she may come to feel — as many a woman who has raised a son without a man has done — that boys benefit from having a father. And some boys positively need one.
If her son is a straight white male, she will have less tolerance for disparaging generalisations about ‘toxic masculinity’. You’re talking about my son, sister!
As a woman in a top job, she’ll be all for women gaining access to top jobs, and any kind of job they choose. But she’ll still notice that men do most of the tough, dangerous and even dirty jobs — sewer worker, garbage collector, tunnel borer, deep sea fisherman. Equality or not, that’s how it is.
And if her son does get married, his mother will feel that to some degree she has lost him to another woman, and she must let go. If there are grandchildren, she will note that the maternal parents usually have more proximity, and in the event of a split, the wife usually has more custodial power. She’ll again see, by the statistics, that paternal grandparents more frequently lose contact with their grandchildren after a split.
When it comes to a family break-up, women often hold the cards. And can be just as controlling as any male oppressor.
All this is purely conjecture. I have no idea how Ruth Davidson will handle the role of being the mother of a son: she is blatantly a proxy for my own experience and that of many mothers of sons I know, and have known, who bristle at the way that ‘toxic masculinity’ is now presented.
Because nothing altered my view of men so radically as giving birth to sons. Males changed from ‘patriarchs’ to little boys in all their vulnerability, teenage lads in all their uncertainties, and adult males in their struggles to become responsible men.
My sons attended an all-boys comprehensive school, and for the last two years, girls were introduced into the class. Poised, confident and self-assured young women appeared among these pimpled, jesting, jeering lunks of lads, to some puzzlement and consternation. My younger son came home one day shaken to his roots.
One of these young ladies had put her hand up in class and coolly challenged the teacher: “May I ask a supplementary question about that point?” This 16-year-old wanted more knowledge! She wasn’t fearful of being mocked as a ‘boffin’ for doing so! Cor blimey!
A learning curve indeed: like being the mother of a son.