Sara K. Johnson
Pop Culture SINQ
Success and Generation Y Women
Generation Y (Gen Y) consists of the demographic cohort of those individuals born between the early-mid 1980’s and the late 1990’s. There are an estimated 80 million Gen Y individuals who are beginning to enter the American workforce and they are redefining the true meaning of success (“Gen Y Women In The Workplace”). Gen Y is finally coming into it’s own. These next few decades will be managed, owned, and maintained by Generation Y men and women who are taking the work force by storm and are reinventing what is means to be young and successful. In news articles and sociological texts there is a common expression that states “Gen Y doesn’t work to live, they live to work”. But this reality of ambition and success is hidden, there is a huge disparity between what is happening in the real lives of Gen Y persons and what pop culture is telling us. This disparity is damaging to all Generation Y individuals but most prominently to Gen Y females. Gen Y females are often depicted as incapable of controlling their careers let alone themselves and these inaccuracies should not be perpetuated any further. Generation after generation, women have faced endless obstacles in both work and life to inevitability overcome them, this social liberation cannot come too soon for Gen Y working women.
Gen Y females are fighting against long standing beliefs that they are self-obsessed, uncommitted, and in some extreme cases unemployable. These beliefs contradict the real nature of Gen Y female workers who are quoted to be “defining success in a variety of ways, customizing their own approaches and balancing personal demands with their desire to succeed” (“Gen Y Women In The Workplace”). Unfortunately this reality is being overshadowed by shows that are claiming to be the “voice of our generation” and “socially accurate” that are reinforcing negative stereotypes about Gen Y women. Pop culture is stuck in a rut, falling back upon archaic female archetypes instead of keeping stride with the actual lives of Gen Y women today. The upsurge of female oriented programs such as HBO’s Girls or CBS’s 2 Broke Girls have claimed to capture the lives of Gen Y women, but that is not the case. These programs use a number of tactics to draw in viewers, spark their intrigue and appeal to their emotion while still insisting that these young women are incapable or success. I am here to challenge that.
Many financial and socioeconomic articles have debated over “What Gen Y women have to offer” and over time there has been a consensus: they have a lot to offer. These women are challenging all norms, Forbes wrote that “75% of women of all ages [say] that they disagree that women should return to their “traditional” place in society and two-thirds of Gen Y women [say] they “completely disagree” with this prospect”. This information clearly suggests that the seeds for change are already planted in the female Gen Y populous, which begs the question why are popular culture artifacts denying these ideas. These artifacts are not outright rejecting these progressive ideas, they are simply manipulating them to suit their agendas. These shows boast pro feminist dialogue but outright shame the feminists. They show young women rising up the corporate ladder only to inevitably crash and burn. These shows claim to liberate young women from the pressures of society while they themselves are adding weight to the shackles. These artifacts question the high expectations that Gen Y women have for themselves, especially for their careers. Attached is an infographic from an Accenture survey of Gen Y women. This resource gives a clear snapshot of what Gen Y women are thinking about their careers and their likelihood to succeed.
After reviewing so many pop culture artifacts, I found myself wondering, “What is the appropriate level of expectations for a Gen Y woman to have?” There is no clear definition. Generation Y females are on the cusp of great social change: There is continued feminist growth and economic change. We see that household norms are being broken and young women are putting their interests first. However Gen Y women, as a group, may feel lost or overwhelmed by the enormity of their own expectations. In all reality, this theme is present in most of my Gen Y female counterparts’ lives. We want it all while having to fight for it. We expect things that may be unattainable or impractical while working our best to maintain the basics of living through other means, such as temporary remedial jobs. We were never taught what is the appropriate level of expectation for relationships or careers or life for that matter, we were simply taught to want it all. These high expectations are often shown as a weakness for female characters in shows such as Girls where characters like Marnie are struggling to find their own identities and success. The clip below is from the HBO show Girls. It shares a moment between Marnie, a woman who has lost her job and relationships for being too intense about her work and desiring too much, and her airheaded rival Soo Jin who has achieved all Marnie ever wanted by unspecified means. This clip is a perfect example of how these shows like to place their stronger female characters at their lowest. Girls took a strong character like Marnie and in some ways made her out to be a villain. This moment touches on the ideas of success and how it is always out of dedicated Gen Y woman’s grasp.
This clip strongly affected me. I related very much to Marnie and her sense of purpose. She is career oriented and wants more out of life than her other Gen Y female counterparts. While she is firm with her principles she has slowly degenerated over the seasons into a whiney and uncooperative character (Settembre). Girls stripped her of her dignity and took one of the gleaming examples of a young and successful woman, and put her at her lowest. I understand that Girls wants to shows that not everyone is perfect and that Gen Y women do have some serious obstacles to overcome but the fact there there is not one single episode that shows a character succeeding and not having to grovel or cheat to earn that success is disheartening. This show exudes an air of young indifference but it touches on some very serious issues that I believe are perpetuated by the constant failure of their characters. Jeanette Setembre from the Daily News noted that in Girls “Hannah (Lena Dunham) is still working at Café Grumpy, Jessa (Jemima Kirke) is mooching off her grandmother for rent and rehab, and Shoshanna (Zosia Mamet) is more focused on putting notches on her bedpost than beefing up her resume.” I wonder when these characters will develop, if ever?
Many of these characters are being supported by parents or loans and are dependent on these support systems to achieve their goals. In pop culture however, these support systems have a habit of failing at the last moments before a Gen Y female character achieves success. this phenomenon is demonstrated in the clip below. It is an interesting trend that in shows like Girls, at the very last moment before a Gen Y female character achieves her goals, one of the many financial or emotional crutches that carries that character will crumble beneath her.
I have incredibly high expectations for my life while also struggling with self-doubt. After the economic crash of 2008 I felt like a lot of opportunities were taken away from both sexes of Generation Y. Growing up we were told “You can be anything you want to be” and we believed that to be the truth, but when the market crashed and we saw our parents and grandparents lose so much we turned that fear inwards and realized “We can’t be anything we want”. We had to be practical and complacent to this unseen entity that was the economy. We had to sit with our parents and discuss finances and job outlooks and what was the most practical choice for our future. We were young and confused and we had these lofty dreams that were suddenly marred by fear and doubt. There was no security to our hopes; in fact they were all the more elusive. A recent study found that “In a 1998 survey, 65% of 18- to 34-year-olds working full time or part time said they were extremely or very confident that they could find another job if they lost or left their current job. The share highly confident fell dramatically to 25% in 2009. It has rebounded somewhat since then (to 43% in the current survey) but is still nowhere near the 1998 level.” (“Young, Underemployed and Optimistic”).
My standards of living remain high but my fears keep stride. It’s like the expression “The bigger they are, the harder they fall”. Shows like Girls and 2 Broke girls highlight on these fears and use them as hubris for all Gen Y female characters. Doubt and fear, uncertainty and apprehension, however you say it these themes are ultimately what bring down even the most successful pop culture female characters. These weaknesses are what separate the women in pop culture from the men. Gen Y men are frequently attributed as being lazy, while Gen Y women are deemed something even worse: incapable. 2 Broke Girls touches on this idea of Gen Y women failing at even the most basic of jobs. There is a stigma now that Barista culture is taking over Gen Y women’s lives and this clip both mocks and reinforces these ideas. While the character Max tries to beat back the reality that she is indeed working for a corporate coffee chain with sarcasm and insults, the truth is she is incapable of performing her job there. This again shows strong Gen Y women at their lowest.
Gen Y women want it all while having to fight for it. We expect things that may be unattainable or impractical while working our hardest to be as successful as we can be. We were never taught what are the appropriate levels of expectation are for relationships or careers or life for that matter, we were simply taught to want it all. There was no goal too high; we were all going to be the first female president. With the slow progression of change within the media for Gen Y women there comes a sense of futility to what Gen Y women are achieving. Gen Y women are an incredibly successful cohort, they have tipped the scales and will continue to reshape the workforce with their inventive and ambitious ideas. How long can these media trends persist? Will the next generation face these same insecurities that pop culture is forcing upon us when in fact it is growing further a further away from the truth? There needs to be a media revolution for Gen Y women, there needs to be change so that credit is given when it is deserved. Gen Y women are one of the most ambitious cohorts to enter the American work force in decades and I am proud to count myself as one of them.
“2012 Women’s Research-The Path Forward.” 2012 Women’s Research. N.p., n.d. Web. 30 May 2014. <http://www.accenture.com/us-en/company/people/women/Pages/insight-womens-research-2012-path-forward.aspx>.
“Pilot- Season 1 Episode 1.” Dunham, Lena. Girls. HBO. 15 Apr. 2012. Television.
“Incidentals-Season 3 Episode 8.” Dunham, Lena. Girls. HBO. 23 Feb. 2014. Television.
“Gen Y Women In The Workplace.” Young Careerist n/a (2011): n. pag. Business & Professional Women’s Foundation. Web. 25 May 2014.
Henderson, J.. “Beyond ‘Slut’ And Shopaholic: What Being A Gen Y Woman Is Really All About.” Forbes. Forbes Magazine, 6 Mar. 2012. Web. 23 May 2014. <http://www.forbes.com/sites/jmaureenhenderson/2012/03/06/beyond-slut-and-shopaholic-what-being-a-gen-y-woman-is-really-all-about/3/>.
“And the Group Head- Season 3 Episode 4.” King, Michael Patrick. 2 Broke Girls. CBS. 14 Oct. 2013. Television.
Settembre, Jeanette. “HBO’s hit series ‘Girls’ is getting backlash for its depiction of New Yorkers as shiftless losers.” NY Daily News. Daily News, 10 Jan. 2014. Web. 31 May 2014. <http://www.nydailynews.com/entertainment/tv-movies/hbo-girls-backlash-article-1.1571491>.
Williams, Ray B. . “Is Gen Y Becoming the New “Lost Generation?”.” Wired for Success. Psychology Today, 8 Apr. 2013. Web. 29 May 2014. <http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/wired-success/201304/is-gen-y-becoming-the-new-lost-generation>.
“Young, Underemployed and Optimistic.” Pew Research Centers Social Demographic Trends Project RSS. N.p., n.d. Web. 29 May 2014. <http://www.pewsocialtrends.org/2012/02/09/young-underemployed-and-optimistic/>.