Another week, another second wave feminist putting her foot in her mouth.
Around this time last year it was Patricia Arquette, having just won the Best Supporting Actress Academy Award for Boyhood, who urged “all the men that love women, and all the gay people, and all the people of colour that we’ve all fought for to fight for us now” as if women are monolithic and don’t have identities that intersect with other marginalised groups. While I’m sure she meant well, and the pay gap is real, she failed to take into account that women of colour are the lowest paid people in America and, while gay marriage may be legal, gay people still face massive discriminations. This is not to mention the trans and disability erasure in Arquette’s call to arms.
In this year’s Oscar race, amidst another all-white cohort of acting nominees, Charlotte Rampling and Julie Delpy made insensitive remarks about the dearth of actors of colour being recognised for their work.
And, perhaps most spectacularly, second-wave feminist foremother Gloria Steinem asserted on Real Time with Bill Maher that millennial women prefer Bernie Sanders as the Democratic Presidential nominee because “that’s where the boys are”, while Madeleine Albright employed her famous “women who don’t help other women” quote when campaigning for Sanders’ opponent Hillary Clinton.
This is not the first time I’ve heard older women lamenting the decisions of young women today. In fact, I experience it in my own day-to-day life as I’m sure many reading this do, too. For example, at a work luncheon a full-time colleague berated myself and another millennial co-worker for being part-timers. “Part-time work would have never occurred to me when I left school,” she said incredulously. “It was finish high school, start working, get married and start a family.” Another colleague of a similar age agreed as my fellow college-educated part-timer and I exchanged glances.
It didn’t stop there, though; later in the day we were discussing older, single and child-free people traveling the world. The same colleague who gave me her two cents earlier passed judgment on my single and child-free state (it’s well known throughout the office that I do not want children at any stage in my life), saying that she couldn’t imagine being old and having no one to look after her because she’d been “selfish” and had put marriage and family off.
I’m so sick of hearing the word selfish tossed about when it comes to the decision not to have children. Not being perceived as selfish and giving your whole life over to making sure another person is happy, healthy and doesn’t grow up to be a serial killer for at least 18 years of their life might be important to some people, but others value their time being their own and strive to make sure they themselves are happy, healthy and aren’t entertaining murderous thoughts (which I’m sure children drive their parents to at one time or another!). There’s nothing selfish about knowing that you don’t have the time, energy, money, mental health and the myriad other attributes necessary to raise children. If anything, the biological imperative to carry your genes on to the next generation and to have someone to look after you when you’re old are two of the most selfish reasons to have kids.
And to return to Steinem’s comments, young women are either boy crazy because they won’t commit to one man (and it’s always a man; no room for non-heteronormative/monogamous relationships here), or undateable prudes because they won’t commit to one man. I can barely keep up on what aspects of my life are deemed unacceptable.
But if older generations think we’re so problematic, I have this to say to them: you’re the ones who raised us. When you’re pissed that we won’t get off the couch and help with the housework, it’s because you didn’t make us. If you’re pissed that we’re mooching off your paycheck or superannuation, it’s because you didn’t instill a strong enough work ethic in us. If Gloria Steinem’s pissed that we’re not more politically engaged (which I think is a complete overstatement), maybe it’s because many of the candidates have proven themselves to be out of touch with what young voters want and/or are just plain sociopaths (Donald Trump, I’m looking at you).
For the record, I don’t think the state of millennials in society is as dire as Steinem et al. would have us believe. I may work part time, but I also freelance. Last year, I had two additional jobs and the year before that I had two internships. As far as job loyalty goes, I’ve been consistently employed in my primary part-time job for six and a half years (and I’m up for long service leave this year!), while the part-time gig I had before that I worked in for seven. A few of my friends work to travel, and another is working in the Prime Minister’s Cabinet! We’re more educated than our parents and we’re more likely to volunteer and get involved in community projects. Gloria Steinem was a grassrooter from way back, but how many activist campaigns in recent years have been started by millennials? There’s the Occupy movement, SlutWalk, #illridewithyou, Love Makes a Way, #BlackLivesMatter. In the corporate sector, Mark Zuckerberg created the most popular social media platform in the world, Facebook, while Jennifer Lawrence was 2015’s highest-grossing female movie star. (The highest grossing male movie stars are mostly older white men until Channing Tatum makes an appearance on the list at number 13, which perhaps says something about the determination and drive of young women more so than millennial men.) Millennials are hardly left wanting for ways to make an impact on the world.
One career from high school graduation until retirement may have cut it for our predecessors, and certainly there are many people of my generation who have the view to stay in the field they graduated in, but that’s increasingly not the way it works. Furthermore, secure employment isn’t as important to as many of us as it was to our parents, especially as many young people will never own a home. The somewhat-tired phrase “work/life balance” and making a contribution to society in our earlier years are anecdotally what millennials value most.
To return to Steinem’s sentiments, if women get more radical as they age (which I believe to be true, at least in the sense that women do lose power) then they should really be supporting Sanders, whose politics are far more radically socialist than Hillary Clinton’s, who still supports the death penalty, for example, an issue which many young people oppose. To urge women to vote for Clinton just because she’s a woman (and not because she’s clearly the more experienced, diplomatic and better equipped candidate to lead a country) is regressive, reductive and, quite frankly, sexist.
Sure, there are plenty of young people who give the rest of us a bad name just as there are many older people, such as the ones mentioned above, who verify their out-of-touch and change-resistant stereotype. Young people and young women are very engaged in the political process as we find new ways to get our voices heard about the issues we’re passionate about which don’t always happen to be the ones our forebearers deem we should be.