As an early adopter, how seriously do I need take my role as an elder millennial?
Somehow generations on the internet have developed into these social memes of groups that we are all supposed to fit into. I am not a sociologist, so I don’t claim to be able to go deep into what this says about internet culture, but these factions do interest me. For me, I like the fact that I grew up in the pre-internet era and was an early adopter of social media. That, and my age of course, means that I am the classical elder millennial (I believe defined as post 1980 to 1985 birthday ). Mainly on Instagram, I have seen these arguments brewing. Nearly 40-year-olds, do you remember when everyone turned on us for wearing skinny jeans and side partings?
These simplistic definitions of generations fascinate me. I mean no-one is going to stop me wearing my hair how I like: you’ve guessed it, it’s in a mum-bun. But also, because it speaks to a wider sense of wanting to be defined as something. This can lead to very dismissive (and often quite funny) complaints about former generations. I remember being amused when I first came across the “ok, Boomer” memes online, particularly if we are being told to give up avocado toast so we can buy property in London. The criticism of a certain type of journalism that has frequently dismissed the cost-of-living crisis is very valid. I don’t think I need to demonstrate why someone could afford a house in 1970 that I would never be able to buy now.
But knowing as I do that the attitude of being dismissive and critical of younger generations work ethic, financial planning and fashion choices does not in the most part represent the opinion of Boomers I know, I have to question the value of grouping people in this way. Not least because some of these same Boomers we are criticising, are also the first and second wave feminists that I have admired so much. Feminism as a word goes in and out of fashion although I strongly believe getting to choose to be a feminist is a privilege that most, including these women, could not afford.
To reject the roles of your forebears, through this lens, is to ignore a series of important histories that have led us to these freedoms. If you annoyed at how your manager treats you do you remember she would have been rejected for management before the 1970s because of her gender? It is very possible someone sent her a letter to refuse her application as they don’t accept female candidates for management (I mention this example because I know L’Oreal did this to my Mum). Again, by all means have a joke at the expense at your manager who doesn’t know how to use excel, but don’t assume a general incompetence. Just as I find some mum jokes lazy, I am more interested in why we make these generalisations.
By all means, reject the fashions of the past, if it embarasses you. I mean, who hasn’t seen a photo of themselves and wondered what they were thinking. Fortunately for me, being an early millennial means my fashion mistakes are mostly not online. But I do wonder when we divide into these groups with these broad brushstrokes, if we lose out on the past and out rich and varied histories. A meme is a social joke, a collective understanding which can feel fun when your part of it – which is why I find jokes about Boomers funnier than the ones about my own generation- but it is also pretty dismissive.
I have been writing about a multi-generational family of strong women and, in a sense, they represent different types of womanhood. I suppose my research into the younger generation as I write about it has led me down the path to examine differences between us. But there are no quick, easy explanations of how you are formed into who you are, often it is through a series of circumstances, possibly privileges and through the art and media you consume. What then of these simplistic explanations of a whole generation? Well as an “elder,” wisdom tells me that it’s just another bad meme. Laugh at it sure, but please don’t think we are all the same.