Advice to 20 year olds and the perpetuation of oppressive frameworks of analysis

In response to: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vhhgI4tSMwc

So in the above video, she discusses her work providing counseling to people in their 20s, from the sound of it, particularly women. She goes on to identify common tips to the ‘easily solved’ problems of those in their 20s: start your life now, find a career, have kids now, get married now, don’t depend on your friends, and, essentially, don’t view your 20s as an extended childhood to your real (heteronormative, traditional) life, but seize the day to begin that life now. The TED talk is apparently based of a larger book she has written about the topic of seizing your 20s. After seeing the video posted about my facebook I eventually gave in and watched it. I was, unsurprisingly, quite disappointed with the conservative, traditional values agenda veiled in the kind of 20 something mythology, common to websites like the thought catalog. I argue that she is essentially pushing a traditionalist, heteronormative agenda onto 20 year olds that she condescendly deems as having no real problems (we just need to get started on our real lives).  Prior to the critique I’d like to acknowledge that some people benefit from being told certain parts of their life do matter (as we might also tell teenagers, or people in their 40s) and can be part of their overall life goals or dreams. All parts of our lives matter, and I would argue they don’t need to matter in relation to others goals of how we should live our lives or even our longterm goals.

That's What Friends Are For (Modern Romance song)

That’s What Friends Are For (Modern Romance song) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

As she launches into what she has heard through her work as the modern problems of twenty year olds (jobs, love, friendship, money) and becomes to illuminate solutions (get a job, get married  don’t date losers) she fails to contexualize any of the troubles or difficulties within a larger narrative that might recognize the increasingly desperate economic circumstances for all, but also the fact that many twenty year olds live in poor and/or working class conditions regardless of the current economic situation. Two notes: many people do not want jobs such as those she recommends (not in the service industry) but jobs that do not align with middle class and upper middle class career paths should not be demeaned. Job advice shouldn’t be disconnected from the realities of class and knowledge of what kinds of labor our valued. The devaluing and disposable nature of much labor being confirmed by someone who counsels and speaks to people is deeply concerning to me as is the lack of any systemic analysis of systems of classism, capitalism, colonialism, racism, sexism and the whole kyriarchy that contribute to many of the struggles and battles she must hear in her practice. Understandings of how systems shape our realities can be a vital and powerful tool of coping with, surviving, and thriving in the myriad situations we are in more than being told to deal with and start looking for a real job.

Also of particular note in this video are the ways heteronormativity (the heterosexual matrix so to speak) is implicated and utilized as a tool for guiding the general audience of all twenty year olds to their problems. In her talk she emphasizes the importance of not dating people that are duds and viewing dating in your twenties instead as a path to starting your real life now (getting married and then having kids in your late 20s rather than in your 30s or later). Essentially fixing your 20s and working towards your goals, in this video, is described as getting on a proper, traditional values life path where one gets married, has kids, and has a valued job. These values line up well with the notion of heteronormativity which enforces particular ideas about the genders man and woman and what behaviors and life paths those two genders should take. Her video circumscribes or obfuscates other goals and life paths one might make in their life. Instead you should focus and orient your dates and careers towards fulfilling this particular path. Whether she personally believes this or not, her advice in this video reflects heteronormative (and (upper) middle class) notions of success and happiness, denying other options. In her video she denies the realities of working class experience and the possibility of queerness, especially queerness disinterested in the route of marriage then children. All of these are especially tied together by the current economic realities and systems of oppression that exist. Her advice is generalized, rather than contextualized within the systems of power that operate and affect people’s life decisions.

As well she is particularly interested of identity capital, while this an actual tool, reflects notions of capitalism and capitalistic, goal oriented ways of viewing and interacting with the world (also reflective of colonial realities). She describes goals that will help slot a person into existing forms chains of (re)production. Thus she denies other values of exploration and dating along with friendship. This reliance on capitalism and colonialism also leads to her valuing of marital and biological family over family of choice and community of choice, which again erases queerness from possibility. She crafts a dualism between friends and romantic partners/spouses that reflects a desire for the nuclear family, rather than fuller possibilities of being and knowing (that would also include biological family)/

additional reading:

http://www.educationrethink.com/2013/03/the-problem-with-ted-talks.html

http://www.policymic.com/articles/5260/ted-talks-hurt-the-free-flow-of-ideas

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One comment

  1. Pingback: 30 is Not The New 20…That’s Easy to Say | This is MY Soapbox

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