Disobedience, in the eyes of any one who has read history, is man’s original virtue. It is through disobedience that progress has been made, through disobedience and through rebellion. – Oscar Wilde
Girls do, too. Our acts are just a little different. Swiping that first tube of lipstick comes to mind. How many of us were GIVEN our first “not appropriate” shade (my was black)? We had to use our babysitting money or steal it, and wipe away every trace before we got back home.
First push-up bra?
First cigarette (thankfully, not a popular thing to do anymore)?
First copy of the Story of O?
I don’t think a rebellious heart is gender specific, but how we express it undoubtedly is.
I saw the potential for an interesting discussion in that comment, and since many of my posts have been rather heavy of late I thought a lighter one might be nice. I’ve written about my childhood before and I don’t think I need to tell anyone that rebelliousness and unconventionality are bred deep in my bones, but Andrea’s post inspired me to talk about some of my adolescent rebellions.
As I’ve said before, my mother never quite knew what to do with me; in addition to my precociousness and independence I was a strange, moody child, prone to visions and flashes of insight which quite disturbed her. I was the product of a brief flirtation with unconventionality in her early twenties, and I think she unconsciously viewed me as a sort of “punishment” for that flirtation. I was never, ever maltreated nor denied any needs, and in fact my parents spent more on my secondary education than on that of any of my siblings. But my mother seemed bound and determined to control my natural free-spiritedness and to delay my sexual maturation for as long as possible. When I started my period a few months after my tenth birthday, she seemed almost angry about it; she asked if I knew what it was about and when I replied in the affirmative, gave me a box of pads and told me to read the directions.
But though she couldn’t hold back the natural developments, she sure could try to stop the social ones. For example, I was forbidden to shave my legs despite the fact that, as I’ve written before, I have the terrible combination of dark hair and translucently fair skin. The first few months of 9th grade were thus an ordeal of mortification, and soon after my 13th birthday I decided I was going to shave my legs whether my mother liked it or not. Of course, I had no idea what I was doing and though I mostly managed OK, I somehow gashed one of my ankles (with a safety razor yet) and could not stop the bleeding for a frighteningly long time (the scar was visible for years afterward). I’m not sure when she realized I was doing it, because nothing was said; she just started buying more disposable razors.
Makeup was another forbidden fruit; due to chronically chapped lips I was allowed clear lip gloss from the age of 12, and when (at about 14) I started crying and fussing and carrying on about pimples she relented enough to allow concealer and powder, but colored lipstick, eye shadow and such were absolutely off-limits. This actually worked out all right because I had been blessed with spectacularly long eyelashes and a lovely natural coloring which made everyday makeup unnecessary; years later I actually did most of my calls with no makeup at all because I didn’t need it. Still, I was pretty excited when, after I turned 16, I was finally allowed to wear real makeup for the dates I was finally allowed to go on. Of course, I really hadn’t waited for permission; I had already learned how to “do my face” years before from less-restricted friends, and in fact had often made up when going places with those friends (though I was always careful to wash my face thoroughly before coming home).
And though I guess my mother thought she was “protecting” me from sex by not letting me date until 16 (and even then restricting me to group dates for chaperoned events), she couldn’t stop me any more than prohibitionist laws stop prostitution. As I’ve told before I lost my virginity on my 15th birthday to an 18-year-old LSU freshman, and by the time I had my first official “date” with a boy I was already two months into my first lesbian relationship. Nor had the complete lack of sexual information from her done anything to stop my learning about the “normal” stuff from library books and the “kinky” stuff from various sources, including a shoplifted copy of Xaviera’s Fantastic Sex (I hated doing it but I knew the clerk wouldn’t let me buy it), a borrowed copy of The Happy Hooker and a garage-sale copy of My Secret Garden (see bibliography for both). My copy of Story of O (which I still own) was obtained neither rebelliously nor secretly, though; I bought it in the UNO bookstore a few months after my 17th birthday.
There were a host of other small rebellions, many of them absurd or stupid when considered through adult eyes but important to me at the time. Sneaking into R-rated movies at the age of 14 and 15, going out for walks late at night after everyone was asleep, wiring up a kill switch on my ancient black and white Motorola TV set so as to watch reruns of The Twilight Zone which aired after my bedtime (10 PM on school nights until I left home), and innumerable curfew violations which nobody recognized as such because I was a university student and looked about 25 even when I was 16 and 17.
Adolescent rebellion is born from an impatience with arbitrarily-imposed restrictions and does not necessarily end at 18 (or 21 nowadays) because parents don’t always automatically recognize those landmarks. Though I moved out of the house for good several months before my 17th birthday my mother still attempted to re-establish control every time she saw me, so of course I had to resist and rebel in any way I could. Judging by her attempt to restrict my employment choices at the age of 30 she never did accept that I had grown up, but most everyone else did; a family friend once said “Maggie was born adult”, and I still remember the day I finally knew most of the women in my family felt the same way. I guess I was about 20 and there was an extended-family picnic; my father’s sister (who had a strong impish streak herself) had made a dessert popular at that time called “Better Than Sex Cake”, and as I took my very first bite she asked loudly, “So what do you think, Maggie? Is it really better than sex?” Instantly all the older women grew quiet, awaiting my answer; I took my time chewing and swallowing, then said, “it depends on who with.” The sincere laughter and total lack of censure let me know with certainty that I had been accepted into the circle of adult women.