Saying “I Have A Boyfriend” Isn’t A Good Move…But We’re Wrong About Why.

It’s always scary to question something that people appear to be passionate about, but…if we didn’t, nothing would ever get done. Nothing would ever get better. I would never learn if I’m dead wrong, and neither would you.

With that disclaimer out of the way, I want to talk about THIS:

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There is a very well-written article that explains this thinking, and on some level, I get where it comes from. I see the arguments, and I don’t even disagree that lying to people so they leave us alone is something we should change. But look at that tweet. Look at how over-simplified that is.

“Yep, it’s the patriarchy. That’s it. That’s all.”

Really? No mention of peoples’ feelings, or egos. Of our cultural norms. Of, say, the fact that the word “boyfriend” is actually a relatively new term.

Yeah, that. Let’s talk about that.

The very concept of being able to have a boyfriend comes out of the feminist era. When you say you have a “boyfriend,” you are not referring to some ancient tradition of men-owning-women. You are referring to a relatively new tradition of people-being-committed-to-people.

This chart shows when the terms “boyfriend” and “girlfriend” entered our vocabulary (based on the contents of Google’s digitized books).

ngram

This may sound strange, but in some ways, it’s actually progress that people accept the “boyfriend” excuse. Today, we generally respect peoples’ commitments to one another, whether they’re gay/straight/young/old/married/dating. We are past the days where an unmarried woman was considered fair game. Now having a boyfriend or a different sexual orientation are very legitimate reasons to reject someone.

Of course, “I’m not interested” or “nope” should also be considered legitimate reasons to reject someone. And I think they usually are. But I get that it isn’t always perfect. I just think we’re wrong about why.

“I have a boyfriend” is more likely to get a guy to back off than “no,” because they respect relationship structures more than individual opinion/attraction. Not because you’re a woman. Not because your so-called “boyfriend” is a man. But because you claim to have a commitment that can’t be moved. Because people respect monogamous relationships a lot, and they respect peoples’ personal judgment less. Simply, it’s a lot more likely for someone to change their mind or their level of attraction as the night goes on than for them to change their relationship status. Attraction is considered nuanced; relationship status is clear-cut.  That’s why it works.

(Not to mention that this rejection is not personal, so no egos get caught in the conversation.)

I’m not saying it’s a good thing. People should back off if they are asked to, and you shouldn’t need to give them a reason to do so. But if we’re going to talk about a problem, we have to talk about the actual problem. I really don’t feel like the male-female dynamic is at the root of this one. I think “not respecting peoples’ jurisdiction over their own bodies/time” is more the issue.

And yes, I’m using the word “people.” I have also seen men use “I have a girlfriend” as an escape maneuver. Hell, I pretended to be a buddy’s girlfriend when a woman was coming on too strong once. It does happen on both sides.

I have always believed that feminism shouldn’t be about battle cries and blame games. It should be about questioning everything you see, looking at it from all angles, considering whether the patriarchy has seeped in, and responding to that.

Let’s be smart. Let’s think with a little more complexity here. Let’s dig deeper.

And then, then, let’s fix this shit.

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Kids. These. Days.

First, a short list of things that I have no control over:

My gender
My sexuality
My race
My parents
My blood type
Where I was born
When I was born

Now, a list of things that do not directly affect my employability or job performance:

My gender
My sexuality
My race
My parents
My blood type
Where I was born
When I was born

I’m new to adultland, so correct me if I’m wrong: I was taught that character, skills, competence and experience are what make or break a new employee.  I was taught that the factors I listed above are not all that important. At least, they shouldn’t be.

Thankfully, I live in a time and place that reflects these values. Being a woman hasn’t stopped me from getting a job.  I have worked alongside folks of many races and backgrounds, all of whom seemed to be treated fairly. Diversity in the workplace, in my experience, has been regarded as a good thing.

I’m lucky.

And I’m lucky that the media, bless it, is hesitant to blame any behaviour, good or bad, on such superficial factors.

…well, except one.

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For some reason, it’s totally fair game to pick on an entire generation.

In fact, it’s fashionable.

On a weekly basis, I am pummeled with articles about how  the attitude of Generation-Y, meaning anyone born between 1980 and 2000, is all but a signal of the end times.  We’re the worst employees to have. We’re the take-take-takers.  The entitled ones.

When I read these articles, I am tempted to write an article to shout back. To cite statistics and stories on the other side: NO YOU’RE WRONG! LOOK AT US!  LOOK AT ME! WE’RE WORKING HARD! IT’S YOUR GENERATION THAT RUINED THINGS! LEAVE US ALONE!  I could make a case for it. I could.  Most millenials I know are working multiple jobs, some of which are unpaid, often heavily supporting the very function of the government or helping advance the world of technology, while dealing with a hugely changing economy and paying off record-high tuition.

Whew.

Yeah.  I won’t write that article.

I won’t write it because all that seems self-evident to me.  And I won’t write it because the positives that I see are also an oversimplification. I don’t want to contribute to a totally contrived “debate” about what it means to be born between 1980 and 2000.  Because honestly? We’re insulting our own intelligence with this mainstream conversation about KidsThese. Days.

When we talk about the Generation-Y, we’re talking about a massive group of people with different capacities, backgrounds and relationships with reality. Admittedly, as with any cultural group, the Generation has some shared experiences and perspectives.  But the conversation we’re having is about jobs, about standard of living, about a person’s individual worth. Before we all flutter to the comment sections with our personal stories and claims of “I work harder than you work,” let’s get real:  You should really hire some of us.  You should really not hire others. Everyone born in this twenty-year period is not meant for the same job, nor are they bound to infect workplaces with the same “sins.” 

While headlines damning the upcoming generation may be a good way to sell papers (all together now: Kids. These. Days.), it’s lazy, self-indulgent, and stereotype-pushing “journalism.”  And it breeds attitudes which hurt. A lot.

Obvious stereotyping.  Gets a positive score of 5 on the Globe and Mail online.
Obvious stereotyping. Totally out of line. Gets a positive score of 5 on the Globe and Mail online.
tim hortons
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free education
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To be fair, the 9-year Arts party has left many young people able to spell words like "Like".

(Thankfully, the alleged 9-year Arts party has also created a generation of people able to spell the word “like.”)

Now, if these comments were tough love from someone with a right to give me tough love, I could take it.  If my client or employer thought I was acting lazy, entitled, or selfish, I would really want to know.  I appreciate, deeply, any constructive conversations that I’ve had in my short career. I love to work; I love to improve at work; I love to learn from people who have been there awhile.  Specific jobs require specific skills and behaviour, and figuring those things out is important.

But those conversations would be about me. They wouldn’t be about a Generation spanning twenty years.  In practice, it would be ridiculous for anyone to make it about that.

“Well, I’m a millennial and have an Arts degree…what did you expect?”

(said no one ever).

Once again, a list of things that no one can cite as an excuse for good or bad workplace performance:

My gender
My sexuality
My race
My parents
My blood type
Where I was born
When I was born

The reality is that it’s not only insulting for someone to use those things to categorize one’s competence: It’s dangerous.

Like any stereotyping, this “debate” distracts from real problems, solutions, and cooperation. It breeds fear and hate. It welcomes barriers based in bullshit.

If you don’t believe me, you should check out the backlash.  The “Generation” conversation has created unnecessary hostility between different age groups. As someone with a lotta love for older Generations, this backlash really, really upsets me.

NO YOU’RE WRONG! LOOK AT US!  LOOK AT ME! WE’RE WORKING HARD! IT’S YOUR GENERATION THAT RUINED THINGS! LEAVE US ALONE.

Remember this? That all may be true, but it’s about to get ugly.  A division has been created, and now there is no stopping it.

boomers

boomers2

boomers3

Look at what we started.

Not productive. Not helping. But when slurs are being thrown at the younger generation from high-ranking news media, is this defensiveness all that surprising?

Charlotte Whitton’s popular quote reads “Whatever women do they must do twice as well as men to be thought half as good. Luckily, this is not difficult.”

That was said a long time ago, but if you replace “women” with “Millenials,” it is somewhat of a reality for me today.  In some ways, I’m okay with that: To be perceived as “worthy” members of the workforce, we have to pay our dues, show up on time, and earn it.

But no one should have to “earn it” while faced with discrimination, lowered bars, and prejudice from so-called Generational differences.

If we need to work harder, and be smarter, then okay. Okay.

Let’s do it together.

Let’s start by being smarter about how we categorize people.