Lorraine Courtney: TV's 'Girls' speak loud and clear to this generation
Published 28/01/2013 | 17:00
The HBO series 'Girls' is just back for a second series, having won critical acclaim for its refreshingly honest portrayal of young women living the call-this-a-dream.
Those of us who emerged from university into an economy stung by the recession quickly saw that the glossy existences depicted in 'Sex and the City' were utterly phony.
We were generation expectation but found that reality meant dead-end jobs or no jobs, grubby flats and continually being beaten down by the recession blues.
From disappointing sex, jobs and apartments, Lena Dunham has mined TV gold.
Hannah, the central character, has quit her unpaid internship, has a boyfriend who only wants her for sex of the most debasing kind and her parents have cut her off financially.
Her roommate Marnie just can't get her life in order and is so repelled by her boyfriend that she has to create "stranger" fantasies to be intimate with him. Glamorous Jessa is not very glam at all – she's a scrounging, self-deluded babysitter – and Shoshanna can only define by means of 'Sex and the City' characters: "I'm definitely a Carrie at heart, but sometimes Samantha kind of comes out."
But is life really as bleak as it seems for today's confused and directionless 20-somethings? Or are we exaggerating how bad it is?
A report last year by investment firm Skandia claimed that one-third of women in their 20s with a university degree were suffering from some type of anxiety crisis. Many of them have even delayed entering romantic relationships because of this. The vast majority believed they had fallen hopelessly behind with financial goals such as buying a home or paying off student debt, and one in three young women were putting themselves under massive amounts of pressure to succeed in their career.
In terms of job prospects, the most recent figures confirm it is indeed bleak out there. Just one in four people between 15 and 24 is now at work in Ireland. Graduate salaries in private industry are down by about €2,000 since 2008, to the €24,000-€26,000 range, according to the 2012 GradIreland Graduate Salary and Recruitment Trends survey for 2012.
Until this generation, the idea of working for nothing was unheard of. Now, prompted by the recession, people fighting for unpaid internships is the norm. Employers have cut back and competition for the few positions that do become available is fierce.
And by the time the economy finally picks up, our universities will have churned out several more years' worth of graduates chasing the same few jobs.
Factor in high rents and student debts, and it is little wonder that more than 1.6 million people aged between 20 and 40 are living with their parents because they cannot afford to rent or buy their own home.
The survey by YouGov for housing charity Shelter found that almost half of parents don't think that their children will ever be able to get on the housing ladder.
But the problems are not just financial ones. Our private lives, just as in the TV sitcom, appear to be making us ever more anxious, too. It might seem that women have more freedom and opportunities than ever before yet paradoxically we're now living in a world that is infinitely more degrading to women.
The backlash against women's freedom is everywhere. It's in porn, it's in evangelical religiosity and it's in the shoddy science of the cosmetics industry. It's in the internet meme that features the phrase "Hey girl, did you know. . ." followed by witticisms like "you spread Nutella, not your legs".
A 20-something woman is an opposed mix of confidence and insecurity. You're searching for your place in the world. You want to experience life and make a mark. You need a flawed heroine to aspire to.
Hannah, while under a chemical influence, announces that she might be "the voice of my generation. Or at least a voice. . . of a generation".
While this is clearly Lena Dunham parodying herself, she is actually spot on. I hear her disheartened voice loud and clear.