A couple of things have recently made me question: when will my girls ever feel liberated? You know that wonderful feeling when you feel free from constraint and free from serious worry. I think that I was probably first aware of this feeling of liberation when I went travelling for 6 months before university. Away from parents and everything else that was known, I felt liberated by the lure of the unknown and by the fact that I didn’t have to be anywhere at any particular time. Reading the Times today, Emma Duncan points out how different backpacking is these days. It’s more a case of, not if you will bump into someone you know in Laos or Vietnam, but who and when? Hostels can be pre-booked by smart phones and debit cards work in most places. I guess that google maps may ensure that you never get lost. None of this sounds very liberating to me. I would send a postcard home when I felt like it and could never afford to ring, so never did and because no-one expected me to, no-one worried. Now, even if your child is in deepest Borneo, you at least expect a Facebook update and quite often a photo on Instagram of them in a Starbucks at some iconic site.
I was chatting to partner about this liberation malarkey and asking what he thought. When they get their first flat! he said triumphantly, that’s when I felt truly liberated. But they won’t be able to afford to leave home, I said pessimistically/realistically.
Watching the girls on their phones, I feel even less convinced that they will ever discover the true meaning of liberation, at least in the way that I understand the meaning of the word. Their obsession with keeping a snapchat streak going, leaves me with little hope. Duke of Edinburgh weekends really get in the way of the streaks. (Please don’t ask me to define a streak – I was told once, but am still not sure. I am fairly certain that no-one takes their clothes off). Oh, the stress of how this streak issue would be overcome, completely overrode the need to check that the tent was complete (it wasn’t…)
I have recently made a huge effort to get to grips with Twitter. By ‘huge effort’ I mean that I have stared at it with fear and trepidation and no understanding whatsoever of the symbols and even less understanding of the etiquette that is evidently involved. I know I sound old, but I can tell you that it doesn’t leave me feeling liberated. Twitter makes me feel beholden and stressed and even when I am more accomplished at it and I can remove the stress, I think that I will still feel beholden to it. So I’m guessing that this is how my girls feel to what lies within their phones. Rather than these amazing pieces of technology liberating them, they are being tied down by them and frequently tied up in knots by them. Online bullying, for example, is so much easier than punching someone in the face; silent and invisible to others. The online bully is in your bedroom day and night: they go to sleep by your side and wake you up in the morning.
Then there’s sex and according to Peggy Orenstein in her new book: Girls and Sex: Navigating the Complicated New Landscape, ‘girls feel entitled to engage in sexual behaviour, but they don’t feel entitled to enjoy it’. In her research, she interviewed 70 girls and young women aged from 15 to 20 and found that, ‘half the girls had experienced something along the spectrum of coercion to rape’. One 17 year old girl said: “I’m proud of my body and I never feel more liberated than when I wear skimpy clothes.” In the next breath, however, she said that when she put on weight she didn’t wear suggestive clothes because she was worried that boys would call her, ‘the fat girl’.
Add to this the rising pension age and by the time my girls are 60, they could well have another 15 years to work their socks off.
So I asked my girls: when do you feel liberated?
What does that mean? they replied.
You know, I said, that feeling of freedom that makes you feel so good. After exams, when I will be able to drive, when I’m 18, came the replies, oh and when I have my phone, daughter 1 said definitively, because without that, I feel trapped.
What do I know about this generation…? I am still learning. Understanding Twitter and understanding my girls and their experiences, are both still very much work in progress.