The following was in response to a question on an application for a contributing position for “The Edit.” The editors asked, “What’s your biggest pet peeve about the way that people write about your generation?” First I thought about avocado toast, and then I thought about something bigger.
I have several pet peeves about the way people write about my generation, and “avocado toast” is not even close to the top of the list. As a young person in the media industry, specifically within the literary world, I’m subject to a Twitter feed full of Gen Xers and baby boomers that I have to monitor daily for content. At least a third of those people have voiced their belief that the younger generation shouldn’t even try to have a social media presence. Their reasons range from our brains not being fully developed, to our lack of taste in literature, to our devotion to reality television. They attempt humility by citing themselves as examples, admitting that they would have embarrassed themselves as young adults on the Internet. Even so, they manage to slip in a line like, “except I had read Homer by 19.” Wink emoji. Mention the classics, they’ve learned, and the retweets and likes pour in.
I, too, had read Homer by 19, but I don’t tweet about that. I rarely tweet, mostly because I’m busy tweeting for my job, but I love to read the thoughts of others my age. Tavi Gevinson, Rowan Blanchard, and Natasha Oladokun – all women whose opinions I cherish, and whose writing brings me hope in the midst of a trying political climate – likely would not blink at these tweets by older writers and academics. But it’s not them I’m worried about.
The first time I saw a reply to one of these men by a young writer, I froze. She wrote that she was too nervous to say much online in fear of being “too much.” The older man replied that she was “wise” to do so. I felt my teeth grind.
I know the value of editing oneself to produce quality work as well as the next person with a college education, but censoring yourself entirely is a different matter. There are already so many ways young people, especially women, are told to shut up. I’ve been told outright before that my voice isn’t as valuable as someone with more experience, and for a long time I believed it. Then I remembered the writers I adored in college, the ones who are universally celebrated: Flannery O’Connor, Emily Dickinson, and Charlotte Bronte. All three wrote in their youth, and left us with work that would be read for generations.
You can argue that they were all geniuses, exceptions to the rule. Maybe they didn’t have reality television as a distraction, or avocado toast to indulge in. Regardless, they are examples of what can happen when you use your voice. There are many ugly parts of Internet, particularly on social media. But when you tell someone her voice doesn’t matter, you deny the rest of us the possibility for something wonderful, whether it’s a tweet or a poem. Any opportunity for someone to feel empowered on the Internet is valuable. It shouldn’t matter how old you are.