Les­sons from go­ril­las

Sunday Star-Times - Sunday Magazine - - THE GRILL -

When I was a kid my brother de­cided to con­duct an ex­per­i­ment.

He got me to put on some baggy clothes of his and one those rub­ber go­rilla masks that cover your en­tire head (if you were a kid in the 70s or 80s you will have owned at least one of th­ese masks and will re­mem­ber the clammy con­den­sa­tion that formed as you strove to breathe).

As there was only a small age gap be­tween my brother and me, I passed for him in this get-up.

He then in­structed me to run into my par­ents’ bed­room, where they were pack­ing for a hol­i­day, sur­rounded by bags and piles of clothes. I was to leap about, make go­rilla noises and be gen­er­ally an­noy­ing. In other words, to be­have as he would.

No prob­lem, I said. And I went forth and did my girl dis­guised as a boy dis­guised as a go­rilla act.

Their re­ac­tion took me by sur­prise. Be­cause at first, there was no re­ac­tion. They just car­ried on pack­ing as if no pri­mate was in their midst. I was used to more ac­knowl­edge­ment. I stepped it up a bit and they sud­denly snapped. “Get out of here!” said my mother. And my fa­ther gave me a push to­wards the door. I stum­bled back­wards and dra­mat­i­cally pulled the mask from my head.

“Ohhh,” they said, and they laughed at my adorable act. “I thought you seemed smaller and sweeter than usual!” said my mother.

They had failed the gen­der equal­ity ex­per­i­ment. OK, it wasn’t wa­ter tight. The method lacked con­trol, but still it al­ways stuck in my mind. I also re­mem­ber see­ing boys get the strap at school and think­ing, how do you han­dle that? I would never come back to school again. I as­sumed boys must be 10 times tougher.

Thank­fully, teach­ers aren’t per­mit­ted to phys­i­cally abuse chil­dren any more but, ac­cord­ing to friends who have sons, boys are still treated dif­fer­ently. They’re yelled at more and told off in packs, as if the be­hav­iour of one boy rep­re­sents all of his friends as well. And some of th­ese boys come home sad and don’t want to go back to school.

If the #MeToo move­ment has demon­strated any­thing, it’s that all is not well in gen­der re­la­tions in New Zealand. We know that women are still fight­ing for equal­ity on many plat­forms, but what of men? As­sum­ing that no one is born a sex­ist jerk, how are they be­ing cre­ated? I asked four men to write about what it was like to grow up male in this s coun­try. I didn’t ask spe­cific ques­tions, just for a glimpse of their experience. The re­sults, on page 8, are in­ter­est­ing.

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