Please stop telling millennials to “pay our dues”, we’re already doing it

Don't I look like I'm about to murder someone? There's probably a good reason...
Don’t I look like I’m about to murder someone? There’s probably a good reason…

Last week I saw a video I’ve seen a thousand times: some older white guy proclaiming that Millennials are all screwed up because we were treated like special snowflakes and then we grew up and realized life is hard. I’m not going to link to that video because I don’t like sharing bullshit, but I want to address the idea behind it. I’ve already gone on a massive Twitter rant about this video, so I’ve Storified the rant for your enjoyment, and I’m going to expand on it below, addressing some misconceptions that came up in conversations around the rant.

It’s not the work we’re upset about

Obviously my rant gained a lot of attention. Most of the people I spoke with were supportive older humans who were also tired of hearing this crap. They talked about the hard working Millennials they knew, and said they wish people wouldn’t make such callous blanket statements about an entire generation.

Of course there were also a couple people whose response was to talk about how much they and their friends struggled when they were young. They mentioned teachers stuck on supply lists for years finally moving across the country just to get a job. And they told me that while their friends struggled through those things, they didn’t complain about it.

Here’s the thing: I am not complaining about having to work hard. Nor are most of my friends. We want fulfilling careers, and we understand that we must work hard to get those careers. This is particularly true for those of us determined to be artists and to have our artistic careers before our 40th birthdays. We understand the work, and we’re willing to do it, because we know the alternative is a lifetime of misery and regrets.

What we are complaining about isn’t even lack of recognition, it’s the lack of monetary payment. The cost of living has risen exponentially, especially if you live in a big city. Adjustments for recent rises in rental costs put the minimum cost of a half-decent life at $2,350/month in Toronto, and there are cities where the number is even higher. And those numbers don’t include payments towards student debt, credit cards or car loans. They also don’t include any kind of savings or investments.

Unfortunately wages in pretty much every industry have stagnated, and so have employment rates. The prevalence of low paying jobs forces Millennials to work two or three jobs, live with roommates until they’re 35, and sometimes choose between eating and paying rent. Of all my Millennial friends, only three can afford to live completely on their own, and they’re all at the upper end of our generation – between 33 and 35. They’re also all in tech, and are the people who were smart enough to get into tech right out of school.

We don’t want to be treated like special snowflakes. We don’t want another fucking handout just for existing – we hated those participation medals anyway. All we want is to be paid a living wage for the work we do, and to be treated like the adults we have become. We want to be able to get married and buy houses before we’re 50. We want to be able to afford those luxurious vacations everyone else is always talking about. We want to make enough money to pay off all of our debts. We know tuition and rent and food aren’t getting any cheaper. We don’t expect that to change. What we do expect is that our wages will also rise.

So please, don’t tell us to be patient. Don’t tell us we have to pay our dues. We know that. We are paying those dues. The older Millennials have paid those dues. All we want is to be able to live a half decent life while we pay them.

On looking like ourselves

I’ve also heard Millennials get shit on because we want to be true to ourselves by doing things like dyeing our hair colours we actually enjoy. I have a couple big problems with this idea.

First off, I think it’s disgusting that we’ve built an entire society on the idea that the only route to success is to lose all your personality and individuality. Yes, society’s been this way a long time, but that doesn’t make it any less fucked up. Being different from each other is a beautiful thing. It allows us to form teams filled with people who are extremely good at different things. It allows us to create art of all kinds. We should celebrate our differences, not hide them.

Second off, women are expected to not look like themselves on a daily basis anyway. We’re supposed to wear make up so we look like we’ve never had acne or gotten tired. Oh, and high heels to make our legs more attractive. And push up bras to make our boobs seem bigger. Adding brightly coloured hair, tattoos or piercings to the mix shouldn’t make us less acceptable as human beings.

I do have to add the caveat that women are more frequently allowed to work in the office with brightly dyed hair/tattoos/piercings. This is most likely because we’re already expected to alter our appearance in other ways. It’s obviously bullshit, because everyone should be allowed to present in a way that makes them feel good, but that’s a completely different rant for another day.

A quick note about changing media treatment

A couple people were also quick to point out the number of articles that say Millennials are great. Yes, there has been a big shift in the media’s treatment of Millennials. The media now talks about our struggles more often than it mentions our “entitled and lazy” attitudes. But too many people have already internalized those ideas about us. I can feel them looking down on me as I walk down the street. It weighs heavy in the room during many job interviews.

The damage has already been done. People don’t change their beliefs easily. And all too often the voices condemning us are louder than the ones applauding us.

You may have been at it longer, but don’t assume I haven’t been working just as hard as you have – and don’t tell me I have no right to a decent life.

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