The three teenage girls — shy and even seeming slightly embarrassed as they peer out from their Islamic head scarves — do not look much like a heavy metal band.Because I read a fair amount of conservative writing on social change, and have spent a lot of time myself pondering why freedom and wealth have not made us happier, I often wonder what it would take to stop the transformation of our societies. And the answer is, beat up girls like these and chase them back into their parents' houses. That's what the Taliban would do.
But a dramatic change occurs when they take the stage. All pretense of shyness or awkwardness evaporates as the group — two 17-year-olds and one 15-year-old — begin hammering away at bass, guitar and drums to create a joyous, youthful racket. . . .
But beyond blowing away local audiences with their banging music, the three girls are also challenging entrenched stereotypes about gender and religious norms in the world’s most-populous Muslim-majority nation.
In finding their voices and becoming a band, they say they have endured criticism from their families, friends and neighbors, and have received hundreds of online death threats for supposedly blaspheming Islam and not acting like proper Muslim girls — in other words, submissive, they said.
One night, while riding motorcycles home from a recording studio, they were pelted with rocks wrapped in paper inscribed with profane messages.
But they have fought back, through songs about intolerance, gender equality and the rights of young people in a country where issues like forced underage marriage are still prevalent, especially in rural areas like West Java.
And that, I say, is why change will not be stopped, and why most of the American and European conservatives who rage against it in their essays are really on its side. Because we lack the faith, the determination, and the nastiness to enforce social rules against charming young people determined to break them. For every conservative who really believes in an idealized Victorian past and hates everything that has happened since there are ten who turn out to be closet Rolling Stones fans or openly gay or just plain soft-hearted. You often see conservatives complain about the acceptance of single motherhood, and say that it ought to be more stigmatized; but if their own niece got pregnant in high school, do you think they would shun her? Not a chance.
One of the best things about our society is that we are more open, tolerant, and accepting of difference than any other people I know of; and we, including most of our conservatives, are proud of this. The rise of Trump has shown that there is a strain of repressed intolerant nastiness in a wide swath of America, people who miss the good old days when retards and pansies could be mocked with impunity. But turn a camera on them and most would disavow any such sentiments. This, like much of what passes for conservatism right now, is an angry spasm rather than a determined reactionary program. Trump after all is a promoter of professional wrestling, casino gambling, divorce, philandering, and a contemptuous attitude toward any sacred cows other than the flag and the military, so he is hardly the one to lead us back to the 1950s. His popularity is a sign of the collapse of social conservatism, not its strength.
Change will continue, because in our world even the meanest are too soft and forgiving to stop it.