I was in post-graduate university when I first heard the term “millennial.” It was at a conference. The session was about how to serve millennial students, because they have different characteristics than the Generation X students that went before them.
It was here that I first started hearing things like “millennials need to be recognised for participation,” “millennials feel they are special,” “millennials are sheltered,” “millennials are likely to have helicopter parents,” so on.
Society as a whole loves to hate on the millennial generation (those born between 1980-1999), calling us “special snowflakes” and sarcastically referring to us as “social justice warriors,” calling us out for “being offended by everything” and, everybody’s favourite, pointing out how very entitled we are.
Here’s the secret: We’re not.
The negative opinions directed at millennials are a perfect example, on an enormous societal scale, of cultural gaslighting.
Glad you asked. I learned about gaslighting within the last couple years as I explored topics surrounding emotional abuse and narcissism. Gaslighting is the psychological manipulation of making someone question their own sanity. It’s an emotional abuse tactic. It can also be described as “the attempt of one person to overwrite another person’s reality” (as defined in this article from Everyday Feminism).
Have you ever gotten into an argument with a parent, boss, or romantic partner about something they’ve done that upset you, but by the end of the argument, YOU’RE the one apologising for hurting their feelings? This is often a result of gaslighting. They flip it around and become the victim, and your original feelings never get resolved because the conversation always descends into the other person’s victimisation.
As one example from my life, when I first faced up to the fact that my first marriage was in real trouble and I was considering divorce, I (very calmly) asked my ex-husband if he’d consider marriage counselling. His response? “I cannot believe you can even ask that of me.” He was so offended by the suggestion that something was wrong that I questioned the validity of my feelings. “Oh my god,” I thought, “I must be terrible. Is anything even wrong or are my expectations just crazy?”
This is an example of gaslighting.
Now imagine a similar scenario where you are applying for a job, but the job requires a university degree, but you can’t pay for a university degree without a job so you end up taking out massive loans. Then when you graduate, you still can’t get a job without experience. So you end up in a minimum wage job (or three), making ends meet and barely making your loan payments.
You say something like, “the minimum wage needs to be raised, people can’t live like this,” only to receive a barrage of old, crotchety white people yelling at you about how gosh-darn ENTITLED you are, and how THEY got a university education working part time and how it’s your fault for taking out the loans in the first place.
This is what I’m talking about. Generations before us completely drove the bus into a lake and it’s somehow our fault everybody’s drowning.
What are millennials really like?
So if millennials aren’t a bunch of spoiled brats with an entitlement mentality who need a trophy just for putting on pants in the morning, what are they?
I am in a Facebook group of geeky women (mostly mums) from around the world, and our group is capped at 500 members. When it was discovered that two of our members were actively fighting to get out of physically and emotionally abusive marriages and needed money for legal help and deposits for moving, the group arranged a massive auction and hundreds of members donated their belongings and purchased in the auction to raise thousands of dollars.
When another member of that same group was faced with an unimaginable loss and an enormous bill, we had more auctions and helped her get through the worst moment of her life as best we could.
I have shipped pet supplies, groceries, books, clothing, and more to broke friends whose kids and cats were hungry, who have experienced loss and just couldn’t get up to “adult,” and to people who needed to receive a message to pull themselves out of a bad place.
I see us raising money for funeral expenses, medical bills, emergency surgeries for beloved pets, and more. I see us trading services or goods for other services or goods. I see us sending money via PayPal to make somebody’s day a little easier. I see us buying things from work-at-home-moms on Etsy or Facebook rather than support large corporate stores.
Once, I could feel a cold coming on but I was out of grocery budget, and a friend shipped me a box of tea from Amazon. I’ve sent her groceries and pet supplies when her budget was tapped. This is our generation.
We barter and trade, we lift each other up when we need it, and we empower each other. We have each other’s back.
But what are they reeeaaallllyyyyy like?
Millennials are multi-taskers. Multi-tasking is actually harmful to the brain and leads to a huge decrease in productivity. But, you know, we gotta work all these jobs and get everything done, lest we die penniless in the gutter.
According to a 2012 report from the US Chamber of Commerce Foundation, millennials are engaged and expressive: 75 per cent have a social networking profile, 20 per cent have posted a video of themselves online, 38 per cent have 1-6 tattoos, 23 per cent have non-earlobe piercings. The research indicates a trend toward “self-promoting,” which some skew to mean that millennials are self-confident (OH NO, THE HORROR) and self-absorbed. Others take this data to conclude that millennials are identifying their passions and making their own path instead of following others’ paths for them.
Millennials get their news from TV (65 per cent) and online sources (59 per cent).
Millennials may be the first generation in over 100 years to have a decrease of their average lifespan.
Millennials have a high graduation rate from high school (72 per cent in 2012) and university enrolment rate (68 per cent in 2012). Over half (58 per cent) of millennials that enrol in a four-year university post-graduate degree within six years.
Millennials struggle with mental health
Most millennials I know struggle with mental illness to some degree. Anxiety, depression, bipolar disorder, and more. I wonder how much of that anxiety comes from being told that wanting a living wage, affordable university, or adequate healthcare means that you’re being a spoiled entitled brat. It really doesn’t.
These things were not caused by millennials, but after being raised on a steady diet of “you’re entitled,” we don’t even need to hear it from other people. We believe it about ourselves. As a society, we now romanticise struggle, busy-ness, and “the hustle.” If you’re not losing sleep and working two or three jobs, you must not want it enough.
What if we’re actually not crazy? What if wanting to work one full-time job and have the ends not only meet but actually overlap a little is NOT an entitled pipe dream?
The sheer stress of existing in today’s world is enough to give anybody an anxiety disorder. Add the fact that we’re told over and over again how we need to just bootstrap it, because generations before us handled life just fine, and you have a recipe for disaster. The generations before us also didn’t have bosses who expect us to be tied to our devices at all hours.
I often feel this way about our financial goals. I have a full-time job and bring in extra income from freelance marketing work and resume writing. I make “good money” by most standards. And I catch myself thinking I should be working a part time job in the evenings or on the weekends to make our financial goals happen faster. But at what cost?
I know for a fact that my mental health would suffer if I did that. I can’t even imagine the psychological stress of people who have to work multiple jobs just to meet their basic needs. We’ve got people working two or three jobs to feed their families that they barely see. That’s not even getting into the cost of child care.
The millennial generation has been tasked with fixing the broken system we inherited and chastised for not doing it right or for daring to suggest improvements.
If you think we’re doing a bad job, ask yourself how it got this way in the first place.