I can’t tell you how many times in school I was forced to read coming-of-age books for boys, like Lord of the Flies and The Catcher in the Rye. It’s enough to make a girl wonder – what would happen if I were the kid-king after an abandoned airplane crash? I can tell you this: Lord of the Flies would have been a much different story with me in the lead.
In the 1970s, feminism responded to a lack of female role models and stories about girls. Now, with heroines like Katniss Everdeen from The Hunger Games in our worldview, women of my generation are transforming what it means to be a feminist.
Once a word young women ran from (no doubt due to the coining of “femi-nazi” that appeared in the late 1980s), the connotations have changed. I don’t negatively perceive feminism – and neither do other millennials I know. Nobody sees it as a cause that eschews men. With celebrities such as Patrick Stewart, Tom Hiddleston and Benedict Cumberbatch sporting tees saying “This Is What A Feminist Looks Like,” millennials embrace feminism.
What Changed for Millennials?
Millennials like me cut our teeth on Tina Fey — first on “SNL,” then with her book, Bossypants, and now, most of us have memorized the film she wrote, Mean Girls. What makes this movie unique isn’t just Fey’s connection. It aims to tackle bullying, but so did The Breakfast Club – which millennials also love, but for different reasons.
Mean Girls differs from similar movies because the teenage girls in the film are front and center. They aren’t side characters, girlfriends or helpers. They are the story. And that was, at least for me, crucial – I wanted to watch something that was more reflective of my own life.
I’m drawn to TV shows and films with strong women leads, like Outlander and Once Upon A Time.
As October’s breast cancer awareness campaign winds down, many products read “Fight Like a Girl.” Being a girl is no longer synonymous with weakness. Always, the feminine hygiene brand, embraced the “strong girl” idea on a grand scale last year — at the Super Bowl, no less. Their campaign carried a powerful message about cultural bias.
Do millennials even think about the word feminism?
I don’t, at least not in daily life. The term has been transformed in part by a leather-clad Beyoncé singing “Who Runs the World? Girls!” Sure, I sing along, but so do my male friends. Feminism has been internalized by self-assured women and men who don’t spend time worrying about what to call it and who have the confidence to question everything that doesn’t live up to our standards. Equal pay, I’m looking at you.
Do Women and Men Still Have a Different View of Gender Roles?
Women of my generation, if stranded on the side of the road, know enough to get going again. We’re not calling our dad, husband or brother to come save us from changing a tire or checking the oil. Millennial women no longer assume that roles are delegated by gender. Part of that is practicality. For example, in spite of wage inequality, if a woman gets a job and her husband can’t, it just makes sense for him to be their children’s primary care giver, a vast change from the baby boomer generation.
This Isn’t Our Mother’s Feminism
Of course, my generation’s relationship with feminism is complicated. Consider Lifetime’s series, UnREAL, where two women manipulate the ladies who populate a Bachelor-like TV show. They don’t fall easily into the categories of “good” or “bad” — which most fiction throws women into. Instead, they are nuanced, like women in real life. We’re sick of being typecast, in all areas of life. Don’t assume something about me because I’m a woman.
More recently there is Amazon’s import, Fleabag. It’s hilarious and heartfelt, but it is unflinchingly honest about what sex means for single women today. Taking notes from Amy Schumer’s comedy, millennials are relating to feminism less as an identifier and more as a lifestyle. And that’s good for all of us.
Lynne here. I hope you enjoyed our first essay from Millennial Representative Holly Whitman. (I’m joking; I promised I wouldn’t expect her to be the Voice of All Youth.) I appreciate her taking the time to give us an idea of how young women see feminism, and I trust her observations; she’s an experienced writer for Yahoo Finance, The Good Men Project, Feministing, Babble, Bust, and Politicus USA.
What about you? Do you see evidence that the young people around you have accepted feminism? Let’s hear it, cultural reporters. And please check out Holly’s website and blog.