Back in the day, Tina Fey aka Liz Lemon aka Sarah Palin was in her element alongside Amy Poehler aka Leslie Knope tearing it up on “SNL” with her weekend updates. The comic duo were sassy, sharp, and never missed a punchline. They represented a new prototype of feminist – they weren’t your mom’s brand of feminist whose extremist tendencies of either too traditional or too workaholic repelled you from the whole notion of “women’s lib.” Poehler & Fey proved that funny, smart, and confident with a hint of vulnerable could work and moreover, women could be successful at this shtick.
So imagine my disappointment this season as I watch Liz Lemon on “30 Rock” pathetically whining, mooning over past loves, and contemplating the concept of settling for the dreamy Michael Sheen over going at it solo. Her cynicism reaching new heights, Lemon’s once empowered femme drole is merely a shred of her former hip lady self. The compelling storyline involving Liz’s desire to adopt a baby (something many single, career-minded women in their late 30s might be able to relate too) which was ongoing for the past few seasons has all but vanished with her character shifting into more of a slapstick sidekick providing occasional comedic relief for the venerable Alec Baldwin. On a side note: Do I really care if Jack chooses Julianne Moore or Elizabeth Banks? Just bring Selma Hayek back! Note to network television: In case you didn’t notice from the ratings success of “Modern Family,” Latina relief is the only thing working on sitcoms these days…
On the other hand, Amy Poehler has managed to transform Leslie Knope, a rather plain yokel and no doubt the anti-Liz Lemon hipster chick into a comedic heroine by steering clear of the “SNL” footfalls of vitriolic NY-bred humor – the type of bagel humor that might have worked with “Seinfeld” 15 years ago but doesn’t do it for the iGeneration. In contrast to Liz Lemon, Leslie is kind and giving to a fault and like Liz, she is not without her ambitions and her desire to win at all costs. The difference is Poehler’s affable delivery – it’s her refreshingly candid demeanor that endears her to us and also at the same time represents a true shift in in what we want our female role models to look like.
Today’s Mary Tyler Moore doesn’t need to wear black, live in the 100- zip code, walk around all day muttering “oy vey” under her breath, and sip soy lattes while dreaming up the wittiest retorts in preparation for their next rendez-vous. They can date park rangers, go hunting with the boys, and put it all on the line for a friend in need. They don’t need to arm themselves with sarcasm to shield themselves from being vulnerable or employ self-deprecation as a means to communicate with others for fear of actually conveying any shred of authenticity.
Today’s lady can be geeky, socially responsible, single, self-aware, sassy, and genuinely happy. Welcome to the ’10s ladies. It’s a bold new world and you, too, can be cool in this one – even in NBC’s impossibly hip Thursday night line-up.
As I’d mentioned in a previous post, growing up my mother was a stay-at-home mom. This meant that terms like “daycare” and “latchkey” were pretty much foreign to my vernacular. While I realized I was in the minority, I also knew that my mother’s choice was largely borne of her traditional upbringing and what she felt was expected of her as a woman. As far as societal norms go, all around my mom were working mothers flooding the workforce in the early 80s feeling the after-effect of the women’s lib movements of preceding decades.
My mother’s choice also resulted in her laying all her hopes and dreams in us – to say we had to be over-achievers was putting it lightly. I liken it to Tammy Erickson’s spot-on observation in “What’s Next: Gen X?” regarding the generational differences in rearing children:
Boomers want their children to be successful. You [Gen X] want to be successful as parents.
So here I am 8.5 mos pregnant, making preparations to go on maternity leave, and unable to ponder what will be in 4.5 months, let alone 1.5 months. I also know that after my leave, barring anything majorly traumatic, I’ll go back to work, but I’m also not crazy about the idea of dropping my kid off at daycare at 7 AM and picking him/her up at 7 PM only to be a stranger to them. I can’t help but feel I don’t work my ass off (pardon the French) to fall short of being a parent and sacrifice valuable time I won’t get back. Hell, I don’t work my ass off to feel I’ve fallen short on anything in my professional life. Why should my personal life be different?
I know this struggle is not mine alone. There are groups dedicated to women’s work-life balance when it comes to raising kids.
But I also know that more and more of my peers I grew up with and those I went to college with are opting to stay at home with their newborns and don’t seem particularly driven (at least superficially) to get back to work. These are women with advanced degrees who would rather talk Maya and Moby wraps (baby slings) than opt to re-enter the workforce.
According to the Pew Center for Research, when it comes down to it the world is still a very traditional place when it comes to gender roles in the workplace and at home – mamas tend to the decisions at home while baby daddies/partners go out and work and bring home the bacon, even with the growing trend of women being the bearers of advanced degrees and attaining nearly the same earning potential as men.
Maybe I can’t have it all but there has to be an in-between. Simply put, I don’t want to be stuck in mommy yoga overhearing bored moms obsessing over the little one while they slowly stroll their Bugaboos over to Starbucks for their daily shot o’jolt – flirting with the gay barrista there. I’ve been there, done that in a past life when I was a nanny where I worked for a stay-at-home mom. And I know there’s just got to be more to the whole work-life thing than that.
I’ve waxed a bit on this blog on the generational divides that exist between Yers all the way on up to Baby Boomers. One thing I’ve been thinking a lot about lately is whether generational labels apply uniquely to our American culture, whether its a broader Western phenomena, or we can find enough commonalities across different cultures and varying generations to apply these labels liberally.
Baby Boomers are a generation defined by the big baby boom post-WWII. Theirs’ was a generation characterized by catalyzing social change, demanding more social reform and equality from our government, and ultimately fighting for a better world. This gave way to them becoming Wall Street, money-hording yuppies of the 80s, the ones living in the McMansions and at present making Xers’ lives none-too-fun.
My personal point of reference for the baby boomer generation is my mother and father. They never participated in any protests, knew what “Laugh-In” was but were most likely fuzzy on what smoke-ins were, no bra burning transpired, and the closest my father ever got to a doobie was a pipe he used to smoke which I was convinced was more affect (he was a professor) than anything else. In short, as a kid, I was a little disappointed that they weren’t really what I deemed bona fide members of the hippy generation.
Despite all institutional and academic pressures to mainstream my dad into more PC thinking over the course of nearly 50 years, he never gave up on his philosophies – even at the cost of career advancement, more $$, and all those material pleasures that might have made life for his family a little easier. My mom decided to stay at home and raise my siblings and I so the latch-key hardships that other kids of my generation endured were never known to me. In a time in which women were encouraged to go out into the workforce and looked down upon for staying home, I knew my mom’s decision was the decidedly unpopular one too.
So how does all this relate to whether or not Baby Boomers share commonalities with other cultures?
Certainly the internet has revolutionized on a global scale the way people think, communicate, their access to information and how readily they digest that info. That’s a given. It’s made us all a little more aware that a greater world exists out there, that in this world exists organizations that harbor the ability to crush us at a moment’s whim, and that in order to survive we must band together more globally than even before. It’s also allowed us the ability to connect with others around the world, to be influenced by those other cultures and for other cultures to be influenced by us. But the internet revolution is a recent one and one that as a result most likely would impact Gen Xers and Yers leaving Boomers in the dust.
While my husband and I grew up in very different cultures and worlds apart (me, a Midwest transplant to the East Coast at a young age, and him in the Middle East), with little shared cultural references to get by on, I would be hard-pressed to find evidence that we’re not of the same generation as evidenced by our approach to work, life, relationships, and family.
The same can’t be said of our parents’ generation. Most of my parents’ adult life was spent straddling ethnic identities and religious sensibilities they wanted to instill in their children but also assimilating into a more homogeneous American culture – one that doesn’t really exist anymore. This created a paradox for us, but also a heightened awareness when it came to our collective “otherness.” As a result, my parents and their peers are more like other Americans their age than they might be my in-laws.
In today’s diverse world, fewer cross-cultural generational disparities will exist. But how those that do exist, especially in cultures with very different world views on the individual vs. community, manifest themselves remains to be seen.
This AM I was reading Penelope Trunk’s post over at Brazen Careerist on the generational differences between Gen Xers, Yers, and Baby Boomers. I’m a cusp child, but closer to the Gen X mindset – at least when it comes to conducting myself in the workplace. Xers are naturally more inclined to strive for independence professionally and not big on being constrained by rules of the corporate establishment put into place by the Baby Boomers who have capitalized on these rules, but whose rules don’t do much to help position Gen Xers as up-and-coming leaders.
…Leaving us wondering if Boomers are simply paving the way for Yers to move into those coveted spots? Then again do we even want these types of hierarchical roles or would we rather establish some sort of specialty niche in the middle where we could still get our hands dirty with the work (and not just delegate) but also be recognized as an esteemed expert in our field on level with those in sr. management roles?
While Trunk contends that Gen Yers are better at the pretense of teamwork than the rest of us, that they get along with Boomers better (all of which might be true), I’d also like to assert that Gen Yers lack the depth of their X counterparts. They grew up in a post-Max Headroom, Glasnost era where the open world was enjoying the fruits of technology, far enough away from the footprints of fear that left our generation uncertain and distrusting. Theirs was a universe swept by the rapidly changing landscape of technology and its suitability for the type of accessibility and connectivity human relationships crave – resulting in Yers’ affinity for over-exposure (not just in the literal sense by them realizing their exhibitionist tendencies online, TV, etc) but also a desensitization to the world around them – an indifference that may mimic on the surface the Gen Xers’ cynicism but is coming from a very different place. Whereas the latter’s cynicism is rooted in idealism gone wrong and a sense of injustice and disillusionment in the world as a result, the former’s comes from a self-awareness which has more to do with how they will be perceived. By always being “on” they may be perfectly suited to act the part they need to win the workplace, just possibly not be the ones to revolutionize how we work.
I’ve always known that being born in the late 70s put me in the nebulous gray area when it comes fo generational labels and identity. Today, as I was chatting with my sister and she kept referencing me as an “X,” I thought to myself perhaps, I had misled my legion of readers on this site into thinking I was a “wannabe Gen-Xer” when in fact I am an Xer according to this site.
So what are the key characteristics of an Xer? (I’m totally lifting this btw)
- Feedback and recognition
- Time with manager
- High-quality end results
- Balance between work and life—work to live not live to work
- Flexible work hours/job sharing appealing
- Free agents
- See self as a marketable commodity
- Comfortable with authority but not impressed with titles
- Technically competent
- Internal promotion
- Ethnic diversity
I can’t tell if this is a case I often find when reading my astrological sign (Libra) where every attribute speaks, “me!” but generally this reference does a pretty good job of describing my approach to work and the things I value. Realistically, I don’t see myself as a Yer but I know that employers often see me outwardly as one, so maybe the analogy we can make here is Y is my sun sign and X is my moon sign and they can co-exist peacefully within the complicated realm that is my head and every once in a while I can completely baffle people with my mix of X-Y attributes and by the very fact that I cannot and will not be labeled so superficially.
And on that note, I’m going to go and meditate on this one…
If you want to find out what you are or know who you are but are curious to know what others think you are, go here. It might help explain your parents too. (i.e., I thought my dad was a baby-boomer, but turns out he was a “traditional”)