We drew all the stereotypes about ‘millennials’
They’ve got it really wrong
Last week, The Guardian launched a series which sought to define what life is like for young people. It was time, it decided, to put “millennials in focus”.
For a while now, older people have been telling us millennials what to think about ourselves, without even stopping to wonder if that’s what we want to be called. They don’t ask us what we’re worried about, they tell us; they don’t report on our problems, they decide what they are.
The fact is, the prevailing views on the plights of the millennials (which we’ve never called ourselves) don’t always hit the mark. We thought we’d try to clarify some points on what life is really like for Generation Y.
We shun fags and booze for staying in and watching Netflix
The argument: One of the things we’re most often told about 20-somethings nowadays is that we’re young fogeys – we don’t drink, we don’t smoke, we Uber everywhere and we Instagram everything. In her piece on “why it’s good to be a millennial” Daisy Buchanan suggests we’re all adult children who “eat ice-cream for breakfast, or spend their disposable income on amassing an enviable collection of Lego”.
Who can blame us? After all, going out is “an expensive, vomity exercise in diminishing returns, and for the first time the young are allowed to feel OK about staying in because the TV is too good to miss.”
The reality: Don’t get me wrong, Netflix is great: I watched the first season of Jessica Jones in like, two days. But are we really abandoning the Great British night out in favour of Macbooks and Ben & Jerry’s? In short, no – we love our apps, but they don’t hinder our social lives anywhere near as much as the older folk seem to think.
Check our Snapchat stories: for every bunny face filter selfie, there’s a stumbling laughter track on the way home from the pub. Tinder has taken dating online, yes – but it still often ends with the same late-night awkward fumble as a real-life date with a real-life person.
Technology hasn’t stifled our social lives, it’s enhanced them. After all, Uber was made for 4am pickups from greasy takeaways – and the best Instagram shots are the ones you have to delete in the morning.
We’re healthy to the point of unhealthiness
The argument: Millennials are obsessed with their health, and feel pressured from all sides to maintain it. In the words of Sarah Marsh: “It’s no longer about just eating your five a day. It’s also about having a stash of cacao nibs or chia seeds in your cupboard, and working out every day. And when this is thrown in our faces on social media, we can end up feeling guilt and despair just for enjoying a chocolate bar.”
Allegedly, we’re so obsessed with health food blogs and fitspo accounts that it’s making us unhealthy – not to mention the huge amount of time and money we’re wasting on the pursuit of peak fitness.
The reality: There’s no doubt we’re a healthy generation, but we’re not exactly an unhealthily healthy generation. We play it healthy-ish during the week, but we’ll still sack it in for an evening at the pub – and at the weekend, we regularly toss it all in altogether. The green juice fanatics are like unicorns, not the established standard.
We’re obsessed with Jeremy Corbyn
The argument: Big Jez is a millennial messiah figure, some sort of tweed-jacketed knight in shining armour we all think has saved modern politics.
One thing we do have in common is the fact that we also wear boilersuits, although apparently ours are more about imitating working-class people because we’re so scared of not having jobs of our own. Wait, what?
The reality: He’s great, sure – but he’s not that great. Even Guardian blogger Rhiannon Lucy Cosslett admits “without Corbyn and his beard, the acute sense of injustice felt by many of his supporters would not just hang in the ether – it would find another focal point,” and that’s the thing: most of us are disillusioned with politics, and Corbyn hasn’t changed that much.
We don’t differentiate that much between Corbyn and all the other old white men in parliament – we just prefer him because he’s nicer to look at than David Cameron’s smug ham face or any of the other plastic Labour leadership candidates who most of us can’t name.
And as for the boilersuit thing – isn’t that just cos the ’90s are in now?
All we talk about is housing
The argument: If you believed the papers, you’d think that the only thing our generation ever talks about is housing (or the lack thereof). Whether it’s our inconceivable lack of living rooms, our inability to afford deposits or our fear of being priced out of London, the defining narrative of the millennial is one of “owner-occupiers” on a housing rope ladder we can’t begin to climb.
The reality: Yeah, it sucks that we’ll probably never own a house – and £800+ a month for an absolute dive in Bethnal Green is hardly a bargain. But there’s something charming about our badly-heated hovels, and we’re much happier where we are at the moment than everyone else is led to believe.
We can’t decide what we’re going to scrape together for dinner, let alone how we’re going to save enough to buy our own place – so don’t think for a minute we spend all our time talking about it. We’ll worry about that in 10 years.
We’re painfully opinionated, yet don’t like speaking out
The argument: “This is a generation that cares deeply”, Kira Cochrane tells us – yet we self-police our speech to an agonising extent. The picture Phoebe-Jane Boyd paints in her narrative on “the millennial tranche of the liberal left wing” is one of a generation scared to speak up in case someone else, or even themselves, find what they say “problematic”.
“‘Why?’ isn’t just an exasperated question for others,” she says: “We ask it of ourselves most often of all. Always difficult to answer, but it’s worth it. That questioning search for improvement is a very millennial trait.”
The reality: Once again, this is a case of extremes which in reality aren’t all that extreme. Yes, we’re more careful about what we say – but the average 20-something won’t shut themselves up because someone on the other side of the internet has a problem.
Likewise, we know our opinions are sometimes a little loud and a little grating – but it’s naive to think most of us don’t know when to shut up.
Anxiety is our defining feature
The argument: This is the crux of what defines the millennial: we’re scared. We can’t cope, we’re told – we’re all anxious, even if we can’t exactly decide what we’re anxious about. “Young people feeling at sea is nothing new,” Rose Bretécher recognises: “but my generation is staring down a peculiar set of unknowns.”
And don’t we know it? One blogger screams about an “anxiety epidemic” – intermittently the housing crisis, the lack of jobs, the hours we work and the food we choose to eat are all blamed for our apparent all-consuming fear. “This is no emergency,” we’re patronisingly told: “You’re expected to be lost.”
The reality: Anxiety is a nervous disorder, not a blanket term to lazily apply it to an entire generation. What we have is more a mild sense of unease, and despite what you’re told it doesn’t govern every facet of our lives. Sure, we’re worried we may not be able to make our rent and we’re scared we won’t get the jobs we want – but we’re capable of enjoying ourselves in the meantime.
Life has always been a scary business, and it’s no different for us – but if there’s a sure way of making us more anxious, keep calling us “millennials”.