This is our truth, tell us yours
I have been following the news of the arrest of a 14 year old boy for supposedly inciting terrorism in Australia with a growing sense of unease. This peaked when I learnt that he, a child was apparently grooming adults, and is now on trial for this.
We live in a world where if a 14 year old is sexual in any way then they are assumed to not have agency or autonomy. I do not want to go into the long, complex reasons why I think we focus on age rather than consent when we talk about the age of consent, but lets perform a thought experiment. Imagine this was the case of a 14 year old girl, who exploring her sexuality exchanged messages of an explicit nature on the web with two 18 year old men. Would we charge her with incitement? Would we assume she was responsible for the adults behaviours? Would we blame her for what others chose to do?
I hope the answer to all those questions is no, of course not. Teens are sexual, and at the same time vulnerable. It is up to adults to simultaneously not shame that sexuality but not exploit it.
Teens are also political, often on the extremes. I was, to my eternal embarrassment, a trot at 14. I believed in opposing socialist reforms so the crisis of capitalism would lead to its inevitable downfall. I was, it must be said, pretty damn obnoxious. It comes with the territory of being 14. I was also sexually exploring. The net did not exist, my explorations came via books like Little Birds, fanfic that came in plain brown envelopes and sneaky sessions with porn mags. I was trying to make sense of liking boys and girls, and if the net had existed would have most likely wandered into inappropriate places.
So why can we accept that teenagers should be protected from some of the consequences of their actions, when it comes to sex, but not when it comes to politics? In this specific case why are we prosecuting a 14 year old, a child, because adults chose to react a certain way to their words?
To answer my own questions, this is I think a clusterfuck of moral panic, our uneven treatment of boys and girls, and straight forward Islamophobia. The internet is a modern bogeyman, the NSPCC recently showed its murky side by leaping aboard the interwebz is evil bandwagon. The fact this all took place online is I think part of the problem. Teenager says stupid, or even dangerous stuff, not a problem. Teenager says stupid or evil stuff online, OMG end of the world.
Then there is the sexual double standard, one which is sadly pushed by mainstream feminism. 14 year old girls are delicate flowers, (or white girls are) even seeing a pair of breasts causes them to have a fit of the vapours (see every no more page 3 defender ever). Their agency is consistently ignored, and despite the fact the age of puberty is decreasing all the time any sexual interest they provoke is described as pedophillia. Its part of patriarchy to infantilize women, and sadly mainstream feminism agrees, girls are children, without minds, to be wrapped in cotton wool at all times.
However a 14 year old boy, is it seems, an adult, treated like one, prosecuted as one, feared as one. While a white woman is forever a child, a boy is denied childhood. Which brings us to racism and islamophobia. If you followed #FastTailedGirls you will be aware of the denial of childhood to Women of Colour. If its new to you I cannot recommend educating yourself enough. This denial of childhood also extends to Men of Colour. There is a particular intersection for South Asian boys, who often have facial hair at an age when white boys are struggling to grow a bum fluff mustache on their upper lips. Taimour Fazlani wrote about how beards are different for men of colour for Media Diversified here. Add onto this our rampant Islamophobia, and it becomes easy to see why a 14 year old is being treated differently because of his gender, race, and religion. Easy to see, but wrong in every way.
Treating this teenager as an adult is based on racist othering, that denies the privilege of childhood to those who are non white. The fact the left, and usual suspects, have been silent is an insight into what they care about, and is deeply worrying.
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