Despite the fact that there’s plenty of evidence that Millennials aren’t lazy, entitled, or awful, the myth that Millennials are lazy, entitled, and awful still persists, and for a while, television wasn’t doing much to prove otherwise. In 2012, the women of Girls began failing spectacularly at every single job they tried to do, with the possible exception of Shoshanna, who by the series finale had gotten her life together enough that her story happened mostly off-screen. Then in 2014, Broad City started showcasing the antics of Abby and Ilana, neither of whom you can imagine know what a 401(k) is.
But now, TV finally seems to be reflecting the lives of young women who work, in complex and nuanced ways. Consider Molly on this season of Insecure, discovering that she gets paid less than her white male counterpart, or Younger’s Kelsey finding out the hard way that sharing information with the seemingly friendly competition can lead to major consequences. These plots haven’t been tied up neatly or discarded after one episode; instead they’re ongoing, much the way they would be in real life. Women don’t stop thinking about work because things worked out with some Tinder guy or they went to a crazy party one night — the feelings are always there, because careers are as much a part of life as romance, friendship, or anything else that gets ample screen time.
This isn’t to say that TV doesn’t already prioritise the experience of working women, because it definitely does. Scandal’s Olivia Pope, Homeland’s Carrie Mathison, Parks and Recreation’s Leslie Knope, How to Get Away With Murder’s Annalise Keating — these are all women who prioritise their careers at the expense of their friends, family, and in some cases, basic human decency. Even the women of Sex and the City, who spent a truly mind-boggling amount of time dating in a pre-Tinder era, had jobs that they occasionally discussed. But the key difference is that these characters are all older and at the tops of their fields, dealing with problems that often arise as a result of the power they already have. You never got to see the struggle to get to the top — you just knew that Miranda was a lawyer brilliant enough to make partner, or that Olivia was the kind of type-A boss whose skills are necessary to White House operations.
The Bold Type (which, yes, is loosely based on Cosmopolitan) has so far done an excellent job of documenting that struggle that twentysomething women know all too well, no matter the industry. One of the three main characters is Sutton (Meghann Fahy), a desk-bound, green-juice-fetching assistant who dreams of working in the fashion department at Scarlet magazine. Sutton is in a relationship but even that is tied up with her career ambitions — she’s dating an older man who just happens to be on the magazine’s board of directors. This is still TV, so it doesn’t take long for Sutton to get her dream job, but once she does get it, she quickly realises it's not all she thought it’d be. The pay is terrible, her experience is negligible, and she still has to fetch things. But instead of giving up or complaining, she negotiates a better benefits package and pushes herself outside her comfort zone to gain the contacts she needs.
On the current season of Younger, Liza (Sutton Foster) has a rude awakening when she gets a promotion but still has to do her old job if she wats a payrise — her new salary meant there wasn’t enough left over to hire a new assistant. (Liza is a 40-year-old pretending to be 26, but since her bosses don’t know that, assume she’s getting the same treatment any twentysomething would.) After that episode aired, multiple friends of mine in different industries texted me some variation of “LOL, too real.”
This kind of “mixed bag” career success is something there can never be too much of on TV, especially for young women, whose real-life entrepreneurial models are so often impossible to imitate in any real way. Who’s got the backing to start a business as big as Kylie Cosmetics was right out of the gate, or the cult following to launch a brand like Tavi Gavinson’s Rookie? Most people will experience something more like Issa on Insecure — massive career high (the successful fundraiser in season one) followed by complicated career low (suppressing your own moral code in order to compromise with a racist colleague).
Obviously, none of this means that TV is perfect on this subject. There could be more diversity in every area — race, class, and sexuality, in particular — and a wider range of industries depicted. It wouldn’t hurt to add a few young working mums either because who besides Jane Villanueva is raising a child while also trying to succeed in her field? But this handful of shows is on the right track, showing that young women care as deeply about their careers as everything else in their lives and are willing to put in the effort required to get to the top. If they can do it while maintaining social lives and relationships too, then great — that’s what real women do every day.
Via: Cosmopolitan US