Songs for the Struggling Artist


Circles of Gen X Friends

Someone in the Gen X subreddit proposed a “dating” app for making Gen X friends. I expressed my enthusiasm for it, saying it appealed to me because most of my Gen X friends have moved out of NYC. Someone replied that they still had a lot of Gen X friends in NYC and I did not respond to that person with a hearty sarcastic, “Well good for you! Aren’t you a lucky one?” Though I wanted to.

I did not say, “I guess most of your friends didn’t move to NYC to chase their theatre dreams or their art dreams or their music dreams or their poetry dreams or their film dreams or their dance dreams and I guess everything worked out for your people, huh?”

Now I don’t mean to imply that stuff didn’t work out for my friends. They moved here to follow their dreams and then they followed them to other places. They run theatres in their hometowns or their adopted cities. They have poetry programs and dance companies around the world. They make movies in their native mountains. They make paintings and sculptures of their new neighborhoods. They bring their big city dream-following perspective to young people in far flung spots. It’s working out for them.

But the fact of those folks leaving does mean that any community that formed when we all moved here has been scattered and lost. I imagine that this happens to every generation at some point. Everyone moves to NYC like they’re going to be here forever and then they leave after a handful of years. I guess that’s the norm. Contrarian that I am, I moved here like I was only going to stay a year and here I still am, over two decades later. I miss the leavers and need to find (or reconnect to) more stayers.

That’s why a Gen X “dating” app for friends sounded really good to me. That’s why (prior to the pandemic) I wanted to be invited to your party. That’s why I joined multiple book clubs. That’s why I joined a knitting/crochet group, even though I am VERY BAD at crochet. I will tell you – in every single instance of attempting to make friends in this city – I was always the lone Gen X-er. Every single time. So, sure, this random person on Reddit may still know a lot of Gen X-ers who live here but they probably travel in much different circles than I do. Maybe they’re high-powered lawyers or over-committed doctors. Maybe they belong to the Yale Club or Soho House and hang out drinking martinis with fancy people. That’s nice. Sounds like fun. I used to hang out at Dojo where you could get a whole carrot-ginger dressing-covered dinner for less than $5.  It’s harder to find Gen X-ers here, in general, and even more challenging to find some who would have felt at home on the St. Mark’s Place of yore.

It’s not like I don’t have any Gen X friends here. I still have quite a few. It’s just that I used to have a community of Gen X friends, or rather, communities. Two decades ago, I had circles of friends. I had theatre friends, music friends, circus friends, education friends, college friends, Shakespeare friends, random friends, friends from my home state. There were circles that intersected and some that never would. I have lone friends now. The communities have gone off to more hospitable climates but one lone friend usually remains. Often, I am that lone friend.

Also, the friends I still have here are New Yorkers and therefore usually impossibly busy. Most of them are also parents so they don’t have acres of time for galavanting around NYC with the childfree likes of me. It’s not that no Gen X-ers are here. It’s just that they are busy and the social nets of our communities have vanished and so we stand a vanishing chance of just happening to be in the same places together at the same time.

So maybe I don’t need a Gen X friend app. I need a Gen X circle creating app. It’s not that all the dream followers have followed their dreams elsewhere – some of us are still here – it’s that the communities that formed around those dreams have dissipated and there’s no good way for those of us whose circles have vanished to build new circles.

Frankly, I think it’s a problem that this city spits out as many artists and dream chasers as it does. It may be good for the places it spits people back into, but it is terrible for the artistic life of this city.

We lost artists from multiple generations this last year and a half. The city failed to support most of them in their darkest hours and now we’ve lost them, probably forever.

Most Gen X artists already left when they were in their 30s and now most Millennials are in their 30s (the eldest ones are turning 40 this year) and what with the abysmal way this city supported its artists recently and the inevitable waves of NYC spitting out its dream followers, I think there’s bound to be an exodus in the next decade. Maybe I’ll be in it, who knows? (Unlikely, where would I go?)

Will Gen Z artists and dream-followers even bother coming here? If they do, I hope this circle dispersal doesn’t happen to them, too. I read recently that we know a city is dying when young people stop moving there to chase their dreams. I’m not loving the prognosis for NYC that way right now. Maybe let’s get that circle app going, pronto.

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In case you’re new here, I wrote a whole series about Gen X a few years ago. It starts here and expands in many thematic directions. Or you could search the whole range of Gen X writing here.

Just a circle of Gen X childfree friends galavanting around the city like we used to. We’re going to go get a soy burger at Dojo after.

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Every podcast features a song at the end. Some of those songs are on Spotifymy websiteReverbNation, Deezer and iTunes

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These Ads Aren’t Helping

The first one I saw just made me roll my eyes and say, “Of course,” in classic Gen X style. The ad features an illustration of a white haired woman with a bag of Whole Foods-like groceries next to a red haired woman carrying a plant with a small figure between them. I thought it was a baby the first time I saw the ad but it turns out it’s a little dog. (In a spacesuit?)

The tagline is “Whether you’re a boomer or a millennial, we’ve got a seat for you.”

Implied tagline?

And Gen X – You Can Go Fuck Yourself.

I mean. Classic Gen X erasure. I was going to Tweet it but someone already beat me to it. This is the most dominant Gen X media experience now – just noting when we get left out. It seems to have become our primary pop culture meme. Anyway – all I know about the company that made this ad is that they have no Gen Xers on staff.

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Then I noticed their OTHER ad on the subway. It features two white men in suits – one with a blue tie and one with a red. They are cheersing one another with coffee and the tagline reads: Whatever your politics, we’ve got a seat for you.

I’ll give you a second to think about this ad and to guess why it made me angrier than the Gen X erasure of the first one. Just take a second. It took me a second to really take it in.

I’ll give you a hint. It is ALSO about who is missing. I mean – look – I know that when I say “politician” you probably picture a white man in a suit. These two douchebags in the back of their Via car cheersing their coffees are exactly who most people picture – consciously or unconsciously when they picture the political landscape. To some people (including the people who made this ad) the whole political situation is just a jovial game – a friendly competition between white men who wear different color ties. Meanwhile, the rest of us are fighting for our lives and the lives of those more vulnerable than ourselves. And the absolute fiercest fighters right now are women.

The press fawns over the men in their ties while the women, laying out substantive policies and ideas are given significantly less coverage.

So these two illustrated douchebags who can agree on one thing – coffee and ride sharing – are not cute. They’re re-enforcing again – as has it been for so long – that politics is for the boys. And white boys specifically. And you know, right now is a really terrible moment to do that. It’s not great at any time but right now, Via? While we watch the white men in ties take the lead in polls over all the qualified, interesting, exciting women candidates? You wanna show me how it’s possible for two privileged white men to get chummy in your car service? Just – you know – why don’t you take the implied message you sent to Gen X in your other ad and go fuck yourself.

This company, by choosing to reinforce the historical, patriarchal norm, while they are claiming to be for everyone, is making the most conservative backwards choice they could make and also reveals that, in addition to not having any Gen Xers on staff, they probably don’t have any people of color or women in decision making positions either.

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This post was brought to you by my generous patrons on Patreon.

They also bring you the podcast version of the blog.

You can find the podcast on iTunes, Stitcher, Spotify or wherever you get your podcasts.

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Every podcast features a song at the end. Some of those songs are on Spotify, my websiteReverbNation, Deezer and iTunes

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Generation X Part 7 – Born at the Right Time

This brings me to this supposed rivalry I’ve been reading about around the web. According to the AV Club, Gen X and Millennials are in a battle. There are articles like What Are Millennials Killing Today? and Why Gen X is So Pissed at Millennials. This “blood feud” seems unlikely to me. I recognize that there’s a lot of anti-millennial talk out there and maybe Gen X is to blame. If so – on behalf of Gen X, I would like to apologize to you, Millennials. That’s shitty behavior and we will try to do better in the future. But…I think it’s kind of hard to be in a rivalry with a group of people when you are outnumbered by them so dramatically. I suspect it’s hard to be in a rivalry if the other side doesn’t even know who you are. A Gen X friend of mine recently described having to explain what Gen X was after being mistaken for a Baby Boomer by a young bartender. The bartender didn’t even know Gen X existed.

I have seen some resentments bubble up, of course. Gen X is outnumbered and that’s never an easy position to be in. It’s like, a few locusts are cool, they make cool sounds and they have cool legs but when there are more of them, they can be a little overwhelming, especially if they get into your trees. So sometimes it’s just a numbers game, a situation of feeling alone in a room, like no one understands where you’re coming from. And sometimes it’s a sense of having waited years for your work to pay off to be promoted or signed or published or produced or whatever and then while you were waiting patiently in line, someone came up with an app that eliminated the line completely and they leaped into rewards that you’d been waiting for for decades. Articles about Gen X at work point to a kind of skipping over us that seems to happen to a lot of Gen X-ers. So if some Gen X-ers resent you, Millennials, it’s not personal – it’s just a bit like watching one’s parents change all the rules for your younger siblings and also not giving you the present they promised you.

And my fellow Gen X-ers, it’d probably be best if you toned the resentment of Millennials down, otherwise we all end up like the Grumpy Old Man from the SNL sketch of the 90s.

“In my day, we didn’t have smart phones, no, we had dumb ones, ones you had to dial with your finger in a little plastic or metal prison that you raked across the surface below the razor sharp end point over and over again until your fingers bled. And when you finally finished dialing the number, if they happened to be on the phone with someone else when you dialed, you’d have to hang up and go through the whole process again until you got your bloody-fingered call through. And we liked it! We loved it! We were bloody-fingered, exhausted, desperate dumb phone callers without a hope in the world of reaching anyone and we liked it. We loved it!” (*Not an actual Grumpy Old Man sketch)

Also, it wouldn’t do to get our future overlords angry. (JK, Millennials, we know it’s actually the robots and sentient smartphones who will be our overlords.)

Maybe we should all just pile on to Generation Z, who are growing up with Smartphones and are clearly the worse the wear for it. By the way, while growing up with Smartphones is a legitimate concern, one of the things that Sherry Turkle has often pointed out in her work is that it is often not the child’s use of the Smartphone that is the problem, it is the parents’ use of the Smartphone (and tablet and so on.) That is, the thing we blame younger generations for may in fact be our problem. We’re the ones who can’t put our phones down and talk to each other. We’re the one who get anxious, living in a constantly plugged in world and we project that onto kids. Or in the words of an often mocked Gen X ad, “I learned it from you, Dad. I learned it from watching you!” So I don’t think piling onto Gen Z is the answer.

We need to find ways to work together. Generationally, Millennials and Boomers are better at coming together within their own generations than Gen X. That’s something for Gen X to explore doing more of. Simultaneously, what we all need to look at is including a diversity of age and generations in our structures. If you’re not Gen X, you might not notice when Gen X is missing but it’s worth paying attention to, I think, because we do have quite a lot to contribute. If nothing else, we can provide missing Gen X. If ping pong games at the office are always Millennial vs Baby Boomer, you’re missing someone. It could be Gen X or it could be Generation Jones AKA OG-Xers AKA Shadow Boomers AKA The Following Edge – or as I like to call them, the heroic generation. Because damn, Gen Jones! You got Barack Obama, Rebecca Solnit, Sally Yates, Jaron Lanier, Billy Bragg, Angela Merkel and so on. I mean – Gen Jones is badass and even less often discussed than Gen X. Probably because they didn’t get a trendy nickname at an opportune time. I think Gen Jones is so cool, you guys.

Which makes me think about generations a bit like a family. See, I tend to idolize Gen Jones, like a really cool big sister or brother and I see Millennials and Z as spunky younger siblings. And Gen X starts to get resentful when our younger siblings start to behave as if they are Only Children – when all we ever wanted was for our little sisters to know how cool we are and we were. If there is a rivalry (again, I’m not sure there is) this is what it’s about.

This familial feeling is a huge aspect of the “rivalry” conversation and age-ism is another. Often, the generational shots fired are age-ism in disguise. Ageism is usually thought of as an issue of the old but it goes both ways – ageism can impact all ages. Our culture fetishizes the young and dismisses the old, particularly old women. This TEDtalk by Ashton Applewhite makes a great case for why ageism is everyone’s issue. I imagine we can all do a better job of listening to and learning from each other.

I heard some Millennials on the younger side of the Millennial spectrum chatting in a coffee shop recently. They were sure that they’d have their lives completely figured out by the time they were 30 – that they’d stop caring what anyone thought by then. This made me laugh. Because the gift of not giving a fuck anymore is probably much further away than that, if my generation’s experience is anything to go by. Most of us just entered this stage in the last few years and we’re long past thirty.

See, this is why it’s worth it to talk to each other about this sort of stuff – to know how other generations made it through the same things that are coming down the pike for you. To find inspiration and courage from the heroes ahead of us and the heroes behind us and the ones we’re standing right next to. The more we talk to each other, get to know each other, have some of those valuable conversations Sherry Turkle talks about in her newest book – the better off we’ll all be.

In diving deep into my generation with this series, I’ve not only learned a ton about my cohort but also about the rest of you. It helps to get together. It helps to learn about ourselves and it helps to learn about each other. Even things as seemingly small as what songs meant something to you in your youth or what TV shows shaped your world can help us understand one another. A generation is a way of understanding waves of experience, of understanding the formative landscape for each group of people. I want to read your generational analysis, too. I want to know what it was like to grow up Millennial, to know what it was like to grow up Xennial (yep – that’s a thing) or to grow up Generation Jones or Baby Boomer. Generational Thinking may be bullshit. It may be a marketing ploy. But it is still meaningful bullshit.

I think I was born at the right time. I belong here in Generation X. But I also think you were born at the right time. We were all born at the right time to teach each other what we missed or what we still need to learn.

This was Part 7 of a 7 part series. Then I wrote a Part 8! It’s a coda. Read it here.

You can read Part 1 here Part 2 here  Part 3 here

Part 4 here

Part 5 here

Part 6 here

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Generation X Part 6 – Selling the Drama

We are the few, the proud, the brave members of Gen X who continue to make our way through the world while many of our peers have given up.

Do you remember, before we were Generation X, when we were the Pepsi Generation? Right about that time that Michael Jackson’s hair caught on fire? We were told that Pepsi was the choice of a new generation and there were videos and apparently our generation bought into it hardcore. We were also Peppers. Wouldn’t you like to be a Pepper, too? But that Pepsi Generation technique was actually a marketing campaign for Baby Boomers first and it worked so well for Pepsi when Baby Boomers were kids that they thought they’d try it out on us, too. And all the generations after. How you like Pepsi, Generation Next? Feel like joining the conversation since you “are the movement, this generation“? A lot of the conversation about generations is actually driven by advertising.

I read an article about an ad campaign for Lululemon wherein they’re targeting “the Yoga generation.” And which generation is that? As far as I can tell, every generation is doing yoga. My grandmother was doing yoga in the 70s and she was the Silent Generation. So that’s dumb. But…that’s what I mean, they’re trying to put you in a generational category so they can sell you stuff. I say you, not me, because advertisers are apparently not targeting Gen X-ers, because there are so few of us.

And here I think we have the heart of why Gen X tends to resist being labeled. We somehow have always known that once a marketer could label us, they were getting ready to sell us shit. But what’s hilarious is that marketers worked this out about us anyway – so they got sneakier with us when they still cared about us. I once bought a record almost entirely because of it’s ironic cover.

What’s ironic is now that Gen X is older, some members of Gen X have more money to spend but advertising has (mostly) stopped trying to reach us. Which probably explains why there’s been a recent bubbling up of Gen X articles. Marketers are perhaps getting interested in us again. For good and ill, I imagine. Just google anything to do with advertising and Gen X and you will see such an extraordinary trove of weird articles about how to advertise to us. Actually, search how to market to any generation and you’ll see some eye opening stuff about what’s going on behind that advertising curtain and where you might be vulnerable.

So Millennials and Gen Z, just in case you’re still here…I think it might be useful to recognize that when you see articles and listicles and so on and so on that reference your generation, you are probably being marketed to. The condescending pieces about you that make you mad may be designed to encourage you to spend your money on something or just click on something to get an ad near your eyeballs. The imaginary rivalries between Gen X and Millennials, or between Millennials and Boomers, are essentially clickbait for the people trying to sell you stuff.

As we now carry devices that have the capacity to market to us everywhere we go, we all need to become savvier about our vulnerabilities to advertising. As marketing becomes more personal and more direct, it will become harder and harder to remember our humanity. It might be helpful for all generations to take on some of our good ole Gen X skepticism.

We seem to now live in a world of relentless marketing. And it’s not just businesses who are marketing at us. The new norm seems to be a kind of marketing of self. People have become brands instead of individuals.

Most of Gen X has a gut response to this trend and it is a strong-armed revulsion. To us, this branding of people carries all the horrors of the origin of the word – the branding of cattle with a hot iron. For most of Gen X, this branding of the soul is relentlessly uncool. We liked our icons reclusive, uninterested in self promotion, and intensely private. Prince once gave an interview to the BBC wherein he neither spoke nor showed his face. Both Kurt Cobain and David Foster Wallace were incredibly uncomfortable with their own popularity.Can you imagine a Cobain clothing line? A David Foster Wallace cologne? For us, as soon as a band became popular, it ceased to be cool.

But we live in a gig economy now and if we want to survive, we must do as the digital natives do and put out all of our goods for clicks and likes. We cannot be the reclusive geniuses we want to be because the world doesn’t work that way anymore – And maybe it never did.

Every Gen X-er I know is deeply uncomfortable with self promotion. We recognize that we need to sell our book or our record or our blog or our podcast or our show or our theatre company or our business or whatever it is but it is highly problematic for us.

If we do it, we tend to see it as a necessary evil. I’ve taken multiple marketing classes and despite having a lot of knowledge and skill at my disposal, I have generally yielded next to no results. While attempting to sell my show in the highly crowded market of the Edinburgh Fringe, I discovered that the only real marketing skill I had – that is, the only thing that would reliably bring people to the theatre – was making friends. Like, actual friends. This is the only successful marketing I have ever done. I made some friends who showed up for me because that’s what friends do for each other.

I have had a podcast for over a year and I am so bad at self promotion that most of my best friends don’t even know about it.

And maybe it is just me. Maybe I’m the only one (see part 4) that is unwilling to trade my authenticity for more likes or hits or shares. Maybe I’m the only one that closely guards my best work until I’m ready to share it. Maybe I’m the only one that would rather share my truth than a promotional photo. I don’t think I’m the only one though.

Gen X tends to see the world that has emerged behind us as a life-sized version of that SNL sketch “You Can Do Anything!” We see that kind of self-promotional vibe as not only terminally uncool but completely at odds with authenticity, which is one of our core values.

I really do admire the hutzpah of Lena Dunham in having her character announce at the beginning of her show that she is the voice of her generation (or “a voice of a generation.”) This is something that no Gen X-er would ever do, even if she wanted to. Even as a joke. And Dunham was definitely joking. I dig the gutsy self-aggrandizement of it and I dig that it made her extremely popular.

Most of Gen X would rather be authentic than popular. We would rather be true to ourselves than just about anything else. I wonder if, in addition to the small numbers of us, our general lack of interest in self-promotion is a factor in our invisibility. In a world where everyone seems to be shouting about how great they are, Gen X is sitting in the corner, making something totally cool that few people will ever see.

I wonder if this is part of why there have been so many think-pieces about how Gen X is going to save the world, how Gen X is our last hope, etc. I think this is how we like to be seen – as the quiet secret heroes – chronically underestimated but swooping in at the last minute to save (and astonish) a grateful world. This image appeals to us. But frankly, even after reading dozens of these articles, I have yet to be convinced that somehow Generation X has the secret world-saving serum. I’m pretty sure we’re going to all have to get together to get that done. Generation X would like to do it alone but this is a job that’s going to need all generations on deck.

This is Part 6 of a multi-part series. To read the next part, Part 7, click here.

You can read Part 1 here Part 2 here  Part 3 here

Part 4 here

Part 5 here

Help a Gen X-er with this self-promotion thing

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Generation X Part 4 – I’m the Only One

If you haven’t seen it, Reality Bites was a film about a bunch of twenty-somethings trying to figure out what to do with themselves after college. (A subject that would never play with contemporary twenty-somethings – oh, wait! That’s the exact premise of Girls!) Singles was also in this genre. So was Kicking and Screaming. And also Last Days of Disco. And St Elmo’s Fire.

The funny thing about thinking about the movies of my youth is realizing the sorts of men that the culture wanted me to find attractive. Watching clips of The Breakfast Club anew helped me understand a lot about why I was attracted to jerks in my youth. (Oh, Bender! You’re just misunderstood!) Reality Bites taught me that it was better to be with a cool asshole than a nice square. Lindy West’s article “I Re-watched Reality Bites and It’s Basically a Manual for Shitheads” sums up the issues of that film quite hilariously and succinctly. Heathers features a sexy sociopath that you’re supposed to find attractive and then realize that he’s an actual murderer and that’s not really so cool, you know? In music, boys were “Nasty” and “Wild” and “Bad.” In Singles, the bar for men was so low that all the Bridget Fonda character wanted was a man who’d say “bless you” when she sneezed. The ideal Gen X man was a scruffy tortured cynic who told it like it was.

And, pretty much, this cut across genre. David Foster Wallace is the literary Gen X man. Kurt Cobain is the music version. It’s a sort of hyper-masculinity, a hyper-cool. And it was clearly toxic. Almost every icon who embodied it eventually killed himself. (Keep it together, Ethan Hawke! We’re rooting for you! Eddie Vedder – do you need anything? Any kind of support group we can send you to?) The quintessence of Gen X-ness was a sort of aggrieved masculinity. While Winona Ryder may have been a Gen X icon, she was always in a relationship with this type of cool dude.

There was never a real Gen X feminist movement. We were told our mother’s had taken care of that for us. And surely our mothers hoped they had. Some of our mothers (and fathers! There were some feminist fathers then, too!) bought us Free to Be You and Me and from that we learned that mommies were people and daddies were people and William had a doll and that it was alright for all of us to cry. Lego was for all of us and girls were told we could be anything we wanted.

But it wasn’t that easy. I’ll leave it to a male Gen X writer to speak to how boys took on these messages but I can say that there weren’t that many models for girlhood back then. The percentage of girls in film and TV has gone up in the last decade or so, due to Geena Davis’ remarkable Institute for Gender in Media but when I was a child, there was pretty much just Josie and the Pussycats for me. (And watching clips of that now, I’m a little disturbed by how much those costumes look like kitty versions of the Playboy Bunnies.) On the Smurfs, being a girl was the girl character’s only trait. While the entire village was full of male Smurfs with one defining characteristic (Brainy, Jokey, Painter, etc) the one girl was just Smurfette – the girl one. The Muppets main characters were mostly male where once again the only major female character was defined by her femaleness – and her species. And while Miss Piggy has a distinctive personality – other animals have names that define them more than their species. What if Fozzie the Bear had been Mr. Bear? Or Rolf the Dog had been Mr. Doggie? Or Kermit was Mr. Froggy?

At home we learned we could do anything but at school, and in pop culture, it became clear that mostly we were supposed to be cute, pretty and/or sexy. We were supposed to get ourselves boyfriends this way. Cool boyfriends who’d (maybe) say ‘bless you’ when we sneezed but who’d admire us and tell us we were pretty. Oh and maybe also we could go to college and learn things and maybe have a little career while we were doing that. Nothing too demanding, you understand. We weren’t gonna be challenging anyone for their jobs – don’t worry, we just want to have a little something to make us interesting enough to marry.

I was a pretty feminist kid – and I hung out with feminists. But I also wanted a boyfriend. And I felt that I’d have to sell out a little of the sisterhood, a little of my feminist sensibility to enjoy the affections of dudes. This same impulse made its way into my career. My dream was to perform in the theatre. But I clocked pretty quickly that the professional theatre was not a feminist friendly place. In one of my first acting jobs, I was berated by a costume designer because I did not own a push-up bra. “You want to be an actress? And you don’t have a push-up bra?” he said, horrified, before fitting me for the costume with the plunging neckline. I wanted to work, so I kept my feminist feelings to myself. I bought a push-up bra. I auditioned for floozies and girlfriends and vamps and worked in companies where men always outnumbered women, sometimes three to one. I knew the deck was stacked before I started but my belief in myself was so powerful, I thought it would overcome anything. Even a sexist theatrical landscape. I believed I could transform the world around me. Newsflash. I didn’t quite.

And this is a mistake that every generation seems to make. We think that by raising our girls to believe that they can do anything, that they will. But if we don’t make inroads into changing the systemic sexism, we continue to perpetuate the same patterns. Belief is a wonderful thing but without systemic changes, the same old shit gets reinforced.

The thing is, I expect older generations to be sexist and I expected my generation to be sexist. (I saw what they were seeing. I heard their jokes. I got into those arguments about boys just being better than girls.) What troubles me are the sexists that are younger than me. Because I had some idea that the generations behind me were so much more open, so much more diverse. That’s what the media tells me. Millennials have a reputation for being well ahead on cultural open-ness. And a lot of them are. But some didn’t get that memo. According to this article, the KKK was about to go out of business but are back in play due to the revitalization in the young. A third of Millennials who voted, voted for Lil’ Donnie T. This doesn’t fit into the story of who Millennials are in the common imagination. Avocado toast and Nazis wouldn’t seem to be compatible. (Also if avocado toast is a Millennial invention, I applaud you because it is awesome.)

Millennial feminists are rockin’ it so hard. I love the exuberance and the vitality of their fight. They started a dye-your-underarm-hair trend. I love that. But I watch Millennial men enjoy the same sense of entitlement that my male peers did and that the generation before them did and I can see from this angle how patriarchy gets handed down from one entitled fella to another, like property.

In my local coffeeshops, I see 22 year old men already in the seats of power while the 22 year old women chat about their internships at a magazine. I see young women defer while young men take. And it is so much worse to watch a young man do this than an old. I see young women baffled by a system that they thought was fair when they were getting good grades in school but that doesn’t seem to want them when they graduate. The system banks on young women not noticing the hurdles to their goals until they’re older and the system doesn’t value them anymore. It banks on young women being so busy trying to shape their bodies to an ideal to please some imaginary man that they won’t have time to change the world.

Gen X just got wise to this. We crossed over into the middle space and lightbulbs have started to flash. No one’s coming to fix this for us. Percentage wise, American Gen X–ers vote more than any other generation. We are politically engaged. We are calling misogyny. We are calling bullshit. But we don’t have the numbers. We’re the smallest generation.

So Millennial women, I’m especially talking to you and to you, Generation Z and whatever we’re calling the generation after you. You probably stopped reading this a long while ago, (if you’re reading at all) but if you’re still here, thank you. And I’m just going to tell you what I wish someone had told me earlier: You may think, from where you’re standing, that you will be the woman to beat the odds, that sexism won’t have its way with you. But even if you do beat the odds – one way or another, sooner or later, sexism will become apparent, if it’s not obvious already. You can be the valedictorian of your class, marry an attractive man, try and shape your appearance to please the masses, do all the work, win a bunch of battles, be fierce and capable and prepared and you’ll still be beaten by a man with none of your accomplishments or skill. You think it won’t happen to you – that you are the exception. And I hope you will be the exception. But I have yet to see a woman make it through a few decades without some patriarchal bruises, even if she doesn’t recognize them as such. If you start fighting it now, Millennials and Gen Z and beyond, maybe you won’t have to watch the generations that follow you go through the same frustrating cycle.

This makes me think of Good Girls Revolt, the TV series. (The book is fantastic, too.) Good Girls Revolt tells the story of the young women working at Newsweek in the 1960s. In the TV series, there is a character who doesn’t join the lawsuit filed by most of the female employees at first because she’s doing well. She gets opportunities other women aren’t given. She feels exceptional, because she’s the one beating the odds. She rises in the ranks. Then, in her position as the token woman, she runs face first into some high level sexism. The show perfectly illustrates why the exceptionalism we can fall victim to can be so damaging to our progress as a whole. Our power is in collectivity.

Each generation seems to look at the ones before it, blaming them for their troubles, while meanwhile, in our own midst, the same trouble is brewing. While I was busy worrying about the Baby Boomer Patriarchs and OG-xers in charge, many of the men in my generation were busy learning how to take their places. I missed it because I was too busy working on my exceptionalism. Now as I watch it grow up behind me, I see how it happened. We hope each generation will be better than the last and in some ways they are. But the patriarchy is still in the water.

I know some amazing Millennials of all genders but watching entitled white male Millennials embrace their power gives me the shivers – because the world has a slot for them that they have only to step into to fill. This happened in my generation too – but I missed it because I was too busy looking at the sexism ahead to worry about the sexism next to me. And there was plenty.

When I started my theatre company in 2001, there were dozens of others doing the same. But as I went on, the men’s companies received recognition while the women’s companies floundered. The companies started by men were reviewed and funded and mentored and fostered and encouraged, while the women worked on in obscurity until most of their companies finally folded. While it was happening, I thought it was just me, that somehow my work just wasn’t as good as all those guys getting reviews. It was exceptionalism again but the shadow side of exceptionalism. And in my generation, pointing this sort of thing out wasn’t cool. (And as we learned from our films and music, cool was the best thing to be) so I went along, hoping to swing from the shadow exceptionalism to the one in the light. I think a lot of us did this. Maybe every generation falls victim to exceptionalism. Each generation thinks it will be the one to beat the odds. Each generation blames the other generations for the problems in our own.

Perhaps nothing makes us more American than this attachment to exceptionalism. Even if we don’t necessarily believe in American Exceptionalism, (if we don’t think we are an exceptional nation, for example) we might still find ourselves believing we are exceptional individuals. I suspect that this impulse to believe we will be the exception is how we end up with such abysmal safety nets, such terrible health care and so on. We always think we will be the ones to rise above, that we won’t get sick, that we alone will beat the odds. It is the dark shadow of American optimism. Maybe Generation X is the dark shadow of the optimism of the generations that surround us.

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This is Part 4 of a multi-part series.

You can read Part 1 here Part 2 here and Part 3 here.

And to continue: Part 5 is here and here is Part 6.

 

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