Spurred by Raina Kelly's recent Newsweek piece about turning 40 and adopting Madonna as her role model, I've been pondering the idea of life stage role models, particularly as it relates to those of us at the quarter-life. Just who is out there for Gen Y women to look up to or to emulate?
I have to say that I drew the proverbial blank when considering the question. There are no lack of more senior role models, but who among our twentysomething/thirtysomething peers (still living if you please!) fits the bill? I posed this question to fellow Millennials, both online and offline. Names like Amanda Palmer and Lady Gaga came up (which makes this video all the more apropos), but there were no clear frontrunners and much head scratching.
I think one difficulty in identifying a Gen Y role model is tied to the fact we can't pin down what the aspirational aspects of her persona should be. What are the qualities, accomplishments and character traits we want in a pedestal-dweller? Should she be successful in the corporate world? In sports? Arts? Politics? Should she be married? A mother? A home owner? An activist? What about paving and paying her own way and not exploiting her sexuality to do so? Exercising creativity, influence and career savvy? Defying gender roles and refusing to conform to typical beauty standards? Vocally identifying as a feminist? Where does name recognition fit in?
All of these questions tie into the broader challenge of articulating our own self-identity (for both Gen Y women and men) and our efforts to define success in a way that reflects our values and asserts our autonomy, but without having a framework other than the tried and true American Dream with which to work. Do we simply personalize the Dream for our generation (out with conspicuous consumption, in with mindful conservation and minimalist living) or do we reject it outright? And if we do, what are the alternatives? As individuals, we can choose not to go down the ladder-climbing, home-owning, 2.5 children-raising path, but what about at the collective level? We have yet to define an alternate conception that isn't predicated on individual rebellion against the traditional. And if we can't determine what constitutes success for our twentysomething selves, how can we reasonably identify those who embody this TBD ideal as our potential guideposts?