Lessons from gorillas
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.