Millennials (otherwise known as humans between the ages of 20 and 36) are frequently described or implied to be pretty terrible people. We’re narcissistic, transient, politically-disengaged leaches who sponge off our parents in a bid to buy a house and some smashed avo on sourdough everyday, because we damn well deserve it!
On Monday night’s Q&A, host Tony Jones summed up this social perception pretty accurately when he suggested to Buzzfeed journalist and token youth on the panel, Alice Workman that perhaps millennials just weren’t interested in learning about tax reform.
‘Q&A’s host Tony Jones thinks young people are too dumb to pay attention to politics. pic.twitter.com/3NqWySDF6F
— Junkee (@junkee) March 19, 2018
He missed the mark.
Contrary to Jones’ suggestion, millennials aren’t even slightly apathetic, we’re just engaging with politics and policy through different mediums. We’re also seeking real change, opposed to three-word slogans and partisan whinge-fests.
It’s true, we’re not latching onto a party or a leader with gusto, as generations before us may have, but why would we?
I’m sure I’m not alone when I say that if I hear another middle-aged, white, balding MP or leader use the phrase “fair dinkum” in a bid to sound down-to-earth, I may die of shame. Add to this the lies, corruption, hypocrisy and basic inability to manage their own personal affairs, and it’s fair to say the pollies aren’t giving us a whole lot to work with here.
But it runs deeper than this.
Politicians in Australia are so conscious of the next Newspoll or internal scandal, that they’re failing to set an agenda for the issues that young people care about. In effect, they’re failing to do what we elect them to do and then wonder why we’re not jumping on their bandwagon.
Ariadne Vromen, Professor of Political Sociology at the University of Sydney says that millennials tend to be issues driven and focused on the ways in which they can actively pursue change, hence why we’re disillusioned with the political point scoring.
“It’s based on the issues that matter to them, that mobilise them, that they believe that they can shape and create change on, rather than political institutions such as traditional actors, parties, unions, community organisations,” she says.
Vromen also stipulates that “When young people want to express themselves, be heard, organise other people, they always go to digital means first. Be it petitions, be it donating, be it joining discussion forums, digital is the first port of call for young people when it comes to politics.” But there’s no truth in the assertion we’re checking out altogether.
Right now in America (and I suspect Australia as well), millennial women are changing the game in politics, despite only 50 percent of eligible voters in this age group turning up to the 2016 US election.
The Washington Post today reports “a huge shift in political identification among millennial women,” who are moving leftward at a dramatic rate. According to the PEW Research Centre, seven out of ten millennial women now identify as Democrats or Democrats-leaning– an increase of 14 percentage points from 2014.
While it would be easy to attribute this to the election of Donald Trump, it’s likely there’s a whole lot more going on here. And the big point is this:
Millennials were the first generation of women who grew up thinking they would be on an even playing field to their male counterparts. We were told we’d get ahead by trying hard, applying ourselves and making the right connections. We were told we were equal.
Yet today, millennial women face a number of significant hurdles based solely on our gender. The pay-gap for instance still sits at 15.3 percent in Australia and 20 percent in the US. We incur discrimination at work when we choose to take maternity leave, plateau mid-way through our careers despite better qualifications, and contend with sexual harassment (and sometimes assault) regularly over the course of our lives. We also retire with half the superannuation of our male peers.
As such, the recent #MeToo and #TimesUp campaigns signal something greater than protests against sexual misconduct. They signal an uprising. Millennials (and millennial women in particular) want more, and we expect it. This doesn’t make us entitled, it makes us a united force, calling time on a long history of bullshit.
And we’ll keep doing our thing, until the world finally catches up.