Rebellious Daughters, edited by Maria Katsonis and Lee Kofman, is a collection of stories by seventeen Australian female writers, featuring tales of rebellion – both as daughters, and in some instances, as mothers of rebellious daughters. Some are humorous, while others are more sombre, but they all have the same message: it is okay to rebel. Rebellion is not just the domain of rowdy boys, or those who sneak out of their windows at night to drink or do drugs. Rebellion can come in many different forms, and none of these forms is ‘better’ or ‘worse’ than the other. Some of these forms are also seemingly dictated by the times in which they occur, and I wonder what such a collection would look like in ten or twenty years’ time, what with the advent and increasing influence of technology in our lives.
Nevertheless, Katsonis and Kofman have collected stories from a variety of backgrounds, and they work together stunningly well. There are stories from only children, stories from those who had to endure domestic violence. There are many musings over boys, many reflections over childhood diaries. There are glimpses of life as young migrants, from Asian and European countries alike. There are stories of the difficulties involved in being an adolescent female, and the ways in which we choose to deal with these trying times.
As a self-proclaimed rebellious daughter myself, it was easy to latch onto the ideas that were put forward in these stories – there was always something that I’d done as well, or a thought that I’d also had. I read Silvia Kwon’s story in my own apartment, 45 minutes away from my parents’ place, and understood the enormity of moving away from an institution that assumes you will stay with your parents until you are married. I read Michelle Law’s story, and wondered what my father was doing with his time, now that his days of a stay-at-home father were over. I read Jamila Rivzi’s story, and thought of my little sister – the sister I would give up anything for, but who was also (perhaps unfairly) given more freedom and patience than I ever was when I was her age. There are stories that feature grandmothers, and I thought about the grandmother I never got to meet, and the one who passed away too soon.
Even though it was comforting to pick out similarities in these stories, it was equally interesting to note the differences between my experiences and those of the women in the collection. I would never, in a million years, dream of yelling at my parents, or disobeying them loudly in any way, shape, or form. I knew it would get me into more trouble than it was worth, so my rebellion was quiet, consisting of gentle nudges at the strict boundaries until I could find a way to creep through the cracks I had made. I wonder how different things would have been if I were allowed to yell and scream.
But where there is rebellion, there is, eventually, a place for reflection. A recognition that their parents (and/or grandparents) were trying to do their best, considering the circumstances. Sometimes this occurs when they become mothers themselves, and other times it simply occurs with the passage of time. But there is always an underlying feeling that rebellion is, or was necessary – it was a way of getting through the world, a method of self-discovery. Funnily enough, these stories of rebellion, of pulling apart, or pulling away, helped to consolidate my personal understanding of family and community. In an environment, both globally and nationally, that has become increasingly divisive and antagonistic towards those we proclaim to be Other, this collection provides a timely reminder that no matter who we are or where we come from, family will always be the cornerstone of our lives. This does not necessarily have to be the family we were born into, but it is the family we make for ourselves.
In Rebellious Daughters, Katsonis and Kofman have put together a collection that encourages young women to rebel, to seek out new pathways for themselves and not to be tied down by tradition, or “the ways things have always been done”. A deceptively easy read, Rebellious Daughters provides moments of hilarity and food for thought through stories that can be revisited time and time again, and I hope to read more stories to and by rebellious women in the future.