Patriarchy will always perceive the actions of two groups of people as “rebellious”–women, and teenagers. Take note that although “rebellious” is denotatively defined as resisting authority, the connotation is that women and teenagers are disobedient and insubordinate for the mere the sake of resisting authority, and not for the grander revolutionary cause of upholding the inherent value in their beliefs. Unlike rebellious men, who seek to overthrow an unjust system, the rebellious woman is perceived as one who seeks to destabilize the morals of society and needs to be “put back in place”–much like the rebellious child, whose opinions are “just a phase” and will come to end upon the adulthood realization that authority figures were correct all along.
I’m aware from your emails that some of you are teenagers. I was 19 when I started writing here. I’m now 24. When I was a teenager, I was a pedantic, quietly imaginative, overreaching kind of child. I was the kind of child adults enjoyed and other children disliked; I was a know-it-all or–worse?–a goody-two-shoes. Perhaps it is some kind of cosmic joke that I am fonder of children now. I didn’t like teenagers when I was one of them. But that was such an injustice! I hope you see that more clearly than I did. Teenagers are in fact quite wonderful. It’s a shame I disliked them—it’s a shame I disliked them while I was one of them, having accepted the myth that teenage problems don’t matter (“You won’t care about them when you’re older,”) that the only use for my intelligence was to prove my worth to adults, that I was immature if I refused to seek adult approval. I am amazed by teenagers routinely when I really shouldn’t be stunned–by Sarah Volz, who grew financially viable algae biofuels under her bed; by Paul Hyman, who invented a camera to aid firefighters seeing through smoke; by Adebola Duro-Aina who invented a urine-powered generator to address Nigeria’s energy problem. (And yes, it works.) The brilliance of teenagers is obvious, not astounding. After all, Louis Braille invented braille when he was 15.
Not that anyone should expect you to be a genius, or expect otherwise for that matter–that complaint about the pre-frontal cortex employed to discredit you every time gets pretty old doesn’t it?–no one should really expect anything at all for anyone. My point is that I was 19 when I began writing here, and despite the common side-smirk accusation about my beliefs and interpretations of Islam being transitory, they were not, in fact, a “phase.” They were the core of who I was, emerging from myself. I hypothesized that after I became an adult–I think I have yet to accomplish this–it would be accepted that I’m not “rebelling” for the sake of rebelling, that I’m just being who I actually am, living my life the way I saw it fit to be lived, but of course in anticipating this I had neglected to account for the fact that I’m a woman. Which means my “rebellion” will never be taken seriously. It is rebellion and not revolution. The Great Male Revolutionary may be revered, but the kindred spirit in a womanly form, eternally disparaged, is the true lone ranger.
Don’t let anyone claim your beliefs, your identity, anything about you is merely transitional. And if it is, don’t let anyone attribute it to your age. After all, transitional things are lovely, and their temporariness makes them no less valuable. Patriarchy will have you believe only men are allowed to change their minds whilst maintaining validity on any decision, on any assumed identity, as though this very human tendency to change is a privilege afforded to only those whose genders–and age–have been wrongfully associated with strength of character. I’d tell you it gets better as you get older–but why should it? You needn’t grow out of a certain age for people to begin respecting your perspectives. And you, 19-year-old reading this in your late teens on-the-brink-of-20–don’t you dare forget what it was like. I was 19 five years ago, and I still haven’t. Just because it stops mattering to you one day once you’ve passed a convenient threshold doesn’t mean it isn’t still important. The rule is suspended in the timelessness of morality. All it means when you think you “know better” now is that you’ve become oppressive as soon as you were given the opportunity to forget.