I am just back from holiday and some long overdue quality time spent with my daughters. Gone are the days of having to endlessly entertain them, hours spent in the sea to then emerge prune-like and bribe them to visit yet another local landmark. My girls are now all at an age where we can have lively debate. To be able to relax with them and listen without interruption to their ways in the world was refreshing and compelling. Their views are informed and intelligent, and as we talked over some long lunches I was struck by how similar our standpoints and attitudes seem to have become, despite the fact that we are separated by three decades.
Apparently we define generations through a timeline because when we are born dictates our values, attitudes and behaviours, and to a certain extent this does seem to make sense. If I look at my parent’s generation alongside my own, there can be no comparison. Born post WWI and living as children through WWII, they were guided by their parents to be seen and not heard. Rationing meant thrift and discipline lay at the core of their thinking. They worked hard, upheld traditional values and, for many women, marriage and a family took precedence because university and a professional career were considered a less attainable option.
Skip a few generations ahead to the Millennials and Generation Z and the world could not be more different. Led by the evolution of technology – and especially the upcoming Generation Z who will have no memory of life before smartphones, laptops and the development of social media – they are far more aware than even we were at their age, let alone our grandparents and parents. So it does seem to follow that attitudes, values and a perception of the world around us has to be defined through a stereotypical generational timeline.
What interests me though is that on holiday and talking to my girls, I realised that the line between their generation and ours is becoming increasingly blurred, and that societal expectations placed on the age of a generation don’t seem to exist in quite the same way anymore. I’m sure that this is true for men and women alike; but talking purely female here, I don’t think there are many 40 or 50 plus women out there now who feel that their age defines who they are, certainly not in the way that it has with previous generations. If anything, there is almost a sense that we are ‘growing younger’!
On a superficial level – we follow similar fashion trends, not because we feel the need to ‘dress young’ but because fashion has evolved to become more generic and less formal. Our tastes have merged into a universal outfit of jeans and trainers, dressed up or down with a silk shirt or an oversized jumper. I cannot imagine I would have swapped clothes with my mother, nor she with me, but when new purchases come through our door, there’s generally an unspoken (and admittedly irritating) understanding that at some point one or the other of us will borrow it.
On a more significant level, the rapid progression of technology over the last two decades plays a huge part. We all use it in some form or another now because we have to, and it keeps us current. For those who work, and as the pension age shifts, we have more working years ahead of us, surrounded by the millennial generation who began their careers at the forefront of technology, and yet increasingly we sit confidently alongside them – because we have to. And the development of social media – which again most of us use – means that we can all be part of the same platform, taking on board the currency of opinion and attitude, if we choose to, making the generational divide even more indistinct.
While today’s generation seem to be more unfettered by labels and division than we were at their age, there is a common ground in that they stand up and speak out against the discriminations they see going on around them – just as we did. They feel outrage that racism, sexism, ageism, gender inequality and any form of prejudice should still exist in our society – just as we still do. I’d like to think that we have passed on the importance of taking a stand for what we believe in, but it may be that we are becoming more aware and outspoken by their example. There’s a great Gloria Steinem quote: “We need to remember across the generations there is as much to learn as there is to teach.” Whichever way you look at it, the divisional lines between generations are definitely becoming more blurred. We may have an ageless society yet.