Last week I came across a fascinating piece at Salon.com… which, arguably, is made are all the more fascinating for its utter familiarity. The piece, by Rebecca Traister, is called “The new single womanhood: Young, urban and not necessarily looking for a man, a crop of memoirists are sketching out a brave new female world,” and, while it’s ostensibly a sort of genre-as-a-whole reading review, it feels like more of a mirror. Check it out:
Embedded in Crosley’s quirky yarns about travel, work and friendship is a fresh accounting of the mixture of exhilaration and ennui that marks many modern young women’s lives. In this, Crosley is a valuable contributor to what is becoming a new subset of the memoir genre; hers is the latest in a string of entries from professional young women anxious to reflect on the adventure of coming into their own on their own. Unlike the tales of trauma and addiction that studded the first wave of publishing’s autobiographical boom, Crosley and her compatriots are staking out stylistically understated but historically explosive territory by describing experiences that may not be especially unusual, but are unprecedented, because the kind of woman to whom they are happening is herself unprecedented. This crop of books is laying out what it feels like to be a young, professional, economically and sexually independent woman, unencumbered by children or excessive domestic responsibility, who earns, plays and worries her own way through her 20s and 30s, a stage of life that until very recently would have been unimaginable or scandalously radical, but which we now–miraculously–find somewhat ho-hum.
…The decade since [Meghan] Daum’s freshman entry has seen scads of books built along the same calm lines: telling what it’s like to be among the first generations of American women not expected to marry or reproduce in their early 20s, for whom advanced education and employment have not been politically freighted departures, but rather part of a charted path, and for whom romantic solitude is regarded as neither pitiable or revolutionary.
The literary records of this newly carved out period of female life approach it from different angles and vary in quality. But they serve as magnifying glasses for women eager to examine not only their navels but also the opportunities and anxieties presented to them as they embark on a road that sharply diverges from the one traveled by most of their mothers, and certainly by their grandmothers.
Sound familiar? The extended adolescence, the untraveled roads, the elusiveness of happiness, the lives lived featuring each and every one of us as the mistress of our own universe… and then, of course–wait for it dear reader–the choices.
As Helena Andrews has said about her memoir, and the women whose stories resonate with her own: “We got the undergrad degree, we’ve got the master’s degree, most of us, the great job, the closet we’ve always coveted, and we think that happiness should come immediately after that. And that’s not always the case… We know what we can do, which is anything. But we need to figure out what we want to do.”
That, too, is new. And that, too, is unremarkable, even in its newness, because that’s where history has landed us, and the one thing we all have in common is the time in which we’re living. And while we obviously don’t want to go backward, there are growing pains to be expected in the going forward. The freedom to do whatever we want without answering to anyone is both exhilarating and a little bit scary. We are in charge, we can do anything we want… and our work is to figure out exactly what that is.
It’s a tough job, but everybody’s gotta do it.