Millennials, or my generation, seeing as I was born in 1990, are sadly generalized as lazy, disrespectful, bawdy and privileged. Throwing salt on the wound, as I write this, Miley Cyrus holds the leading public vote for Time’s Person of the Year. Despite the bad reputation we hold in the eyes of “wiser” generations and even those of our peers, however, I hold a lot of value and hope for my generation despite the faults it has already displayed.
I believe the hot-button issues of our time that my generation will deal with are as climate change, access to water, dealing with the prevention of genocides — because they are still happening, no matter how many times we all say “never again” — understanding how to interact and grow with other countries rather than in competition with them and how to share information and knowledge across borders rather than build higher fences. The hot-button issue of my peers could and should certainly be considered race (should I even mention the commodification of black people and culture by said “Person of the Year”?). At UC Berkeley, we are all very lucky in the sense that we are made aware of each of these issues daily. Cue the “privileged” accusation.
As you can tell from my answer thus far, I was a peace and conflict studies and rhetoric double major. Hoorah for granola and yoga. But because these are the issues I’ve been involved with throughout my studies and efforts in college, I’d like to bring up something I think is surprisingly ubiquitous now that I’ve graduated. Please note that this is not to diminish the importance the aforementioned issues have to me — they’re most likely to be the issues I build my career around.
Entering the workforce and leaving UC Berkeley made me realize that outside of our liberal university bubble, the issue of gender equality is something I personally observe (and face) every day. With older generations, despite much progress toward women’s rights (are we the only ones with issues, America?), gender equality isn’t actually here. I see secretarial expectations of women in the workplace, relegated to answering phones or, at best, event planning. Could you set up lunch for the meeting later today? How can we make this memo look nicer? On the other hand, there is a sort of managerial expectation of men in the workplace. What do you think of this issue, and how can we better address it? Put a team together, and take the lead on this one. Or: Son, I have some executives from a board I sit on in my office that I’d really like you to meet.
But more than these antiquated expectations of either gender is my issue with the idea that there are any areas, qualities, characteristics or expectations at all that are restricted to one gender. Past the workforce’s rigid gender norms, there are expectations within our social interactions. Assertiveness and intelligence are discouraged in women, men have to hide the fact that they have insecurities or sensitivities (just as everyone else does), sexuality is first encouraged and then shamed, the queer community is told to hide or decide. Mothers and fathers do not have socially interchangeable roles as parents, and forget the confusion and “damage” inflicted on children of newly married gay couples. Overall, our stereotypes and generalizations of one another simply harm and censure. As a woman, I’d love to say we need to focus on women’s rights, but who am I kidding? We need to focus on gender rights.
I don’t know, maybe I’m ranting, but I do believe gender is the most important policy issue to our generation. It is a daily factor interwoven into our human interaction, disposition and outlook that needs to be addressed. My hope is that millennials, as people, will come together to expect equality and that the respective stereotypes of “bitch” and “pussy” and “fag” and “dyke” and “tranny” for those willing to act outside of the gender norm can be rejected for their inherent stupidity and prejudice.
A. McGuire is a 2013 UC Berkeley graduate.