First, let's meet our panelists.
The Generation Z: Maeve Galea
Born between 1997 – 2012 (aged 9 – 24), their generational tropes include dancing on TikTok, saving the planet and hating millennials.
The Millennial: Kathryn Madden
Born between 1981 - 1996 (aged 25 – 40), their generational tropes include reading Harry Potter, buying houseplants and being snowflakes.
The Generation X: Dilvin Yasa
Born between 1965 – 1980 (aged 41 – 56), their generational tropes include growing up as grunge-loving slackers and minding their own business...unless they’re a Karen.
It seems there’s conflict brewing, so in the spirit of a good debate let’s start with an opening argument. What makes your generation superior?
Gen Z: We grew up on a diet of High School Musical, memes and (more recently) #MeToo. As the first generation of digital natives, we’re never far from our smartphones and while having all that information at the tip of your fingers can be overwhelming, it’s also empowering. That’s right, we know what you did last century and we’re here to fix the mess you made. Climate change, BLM: you name it, we’ve marched for it – and all in our school lunch break. As a generation, we’ve found a collective voice and we aren’t afraid to challenge the status quo and demand change.
Millennial: Look at you, so worthy and woke! We, on the other hand, are the generation everyone loves to hate: Boomers say we’re sensitive and entitled, you Zoomers call us basic. But in spite of the pummelling from all angles, we’ve achieved some pretty cool things. Our extreme anxiety has normalised conversations about mental health, our laziness has sparked the creation of an app for everything and we straddle the analogue/digital divide. Never mind having the world at your fingertips, we learnt patience from the shrill bleeps of dial-up internet. And those Y2K halter tops you’re sporting? We wore them the first time around.
Gen X: Do I have to debate? Gen X tends to stay out of these intergenerational arguments (to the point where we’re often forgotten). If I must, I will say we’re ardent feminists, responsible for smashing glass ceilings and paving the way forward for younger generations of women (you’re welcome). We were responsible for the #MeToo/ #TimesUp movements, we established many of the things you rely on today (Google, for a start) and we did it all as we rewound our cassettes with pencils. We’re change-makers, yes, but I think what really sets us apart is that we’ve never lost our ability to have a laugh: at you, the world around us or ourselves.
But didn’t this feud start over a pair of jeans? What’s your preferred style?
Gen Z: Loose fit with either a straight or wide leg, usually in baby blue. I don’t trust people who wear skinny jeans, major Karen energy.
Millennial: I’m a little confused that Generation Z has waged warfare on the cut of our jeans…aren’t you guys supposed to be all-inclusive and unjudgemental? For the record, I like a rigid high-rise with a straight and slightly tapered leg.
Gen X: Skinny, all the way. Take it from someone old enough to have done the whole ’80s stonewash, ripped and baggy grunge of the ’90s and the Britney-era bootcut; it doesn’t get any more flattering than a skinny.
Fashion aside, in 2021 we’re more obsessed with beauty than ever before. Why?
Gen Z: Are we really surprised that staring into a camera and seeing our own reflection looking back at us every single day – be it on Snapchat or Zoom – might be making us a bit obsessed with the way we look? It would be easy to buy into the moral panic that as a society we’re all becoming horribly vain, but I think it’s far simpler than that: we’re being photographed more than ever before (and in much better quality).
Millennial: And there’s a lot to love about beauty – you can’t deny the feel-good factor of a juicy sheet mask or a pop of lip colour. But I do think social media has a lot to answer for here. How can we not become fixated on our flaws when there are filters on Instagram that rid our skin of pores and shave a few inches off our waists?
Gen Z: I think the obsession with beauty is all about feeling a sense of control in a world that’s currently in freefall.
But we now have access to treatments that essentially change our faces. Do you find that liberating or stressful?
Gen X: It’s fundamentally liberating but I’m confused as to why so many young women are keen to look like they’d melt next to an open flame? Whenever I see someone walk past with a Cabbage Patch doll aesthetic, I want to grab them by the shoulders and shout, “Mate, things aren’t going to get any rosier by the time you reach my age. Pace yourself.”
Millennial: I believe individual women should be able to do whatever they want to their faces – no judgement. But broadly speaking, the mere existence of treatments and tweakments puts more pressure on women. If Botox didn’t exist we could all grow gloriously old and wrinkly together! Instead, it’s on women to decide if they’re going to partake in (and splash cash on) the offerings. More decisions, just what I need in my life …
Gen Z: That decision becomes slightly easier when you realise you can barely afford a decent moisturiser, let alone face surgery … The day it is more feasible, I’ll probably find it liberating. Hello Kybella, goodbye double chin.
And where do we stand on hot selfies?
Gen Z: Why not?
Millennial: True. But equally … why? At primary school in the ’90s, the very worst thing you could be was “up yourself”. It’s fascinating to me that this notion has been flipped on its head, and that flaunting our appearance and achievements has become completely normalised. It’s not a bad thing, I’m just stuck back here with my Janet Jackson CD and a deeply ingrained fear of being a “show off”.
Gen X: The only oxymoron funnier than “family holiday” must surely be “hot selfie”. There’s nothing sexy about trying to look sexy.
Speaking of sexy, let’s talk OnlyFans, the subscription-based online platform that lets creators monetise their explicit photos and videos. Is it empowering or exploitative?
Gen Z: I was 16 when hundreds of private photos of female celebrities were posted without their consent on the messaging board 4chan. At the time there was a lot of slut-shaming around taking nudes, but Jennifer Lawrence’s response really changed the narrative. She told reporters, “I started to write an apology, but I don’t have anything to say I’m sorry for.” With those words, she shifted the shame from the women themselves to the people who were trying to humiliate them or profit off their bodies. I think OnlyFans is an extension of that. It’s empowering that people (especially women) can profit off the objectification that they’ll probably be subjected to anyway.
Gen X: I understand what you’re saying about owning objectification, but why should we accept any kind of objectification? Call me old-fashioned, but I’m convinced it’s exploitative. At the beginning of my career, I worked as a writer for hardcore lads mags, so it’s with some experience that I can say getting your clothes off for an audience rarely ends well.
Millennial: Australia’s top-earning women on OnlyFans pocket $50,000+ a month, so I’m sure that feels pretty empowering for them, but the broader structures at play (patriarchal, capitalist structures – if we really want to go there!) are still exploitative. Sorry to be a downer.
We’ll move on to happier topics then. Do you believe in marriage?
Gen Z: Undecided.
Millennial: I do (no pun intended). But stats show that millennials are getting married later – if at all – and countless cancelled weddings amid COVID have perhaps deemed the piece of paper even less meaningful.
Gen X: I believe in good marriages. Younger generations are far more likely to call time on something that’s not working and I applaud that.
Is it better to have babies earlier or later in life?
Gen X: I tell my daughters, “Leave motherhood for your 30s but don’t leave it too late.” Your 20s should be about having fun, dating the wrong guys, building your career and travel. But what’s interesting about my generation is that many of us are now saying “if” when we speak to our kids about starting a family. You don’t want the younger generations thinking it’s an expectation like we did.
Gen Z: Based on advice like that, later.
Millennial: I’ll play devil’s advocate and say earlier. I’m in my mid-30s and in the last year I’ve had more friends freeze their eggs than order eggs Benedict at brunch. I also find this debate topic (and its pervasiveness) somewhat arbitrary. How many women truly have control over when they have babies?
Quickfire round: Britney or Billie?
Gen Z: Must we always pit women against each other?
Millennial: All right, hyper-sensitive Gen Z. I hear what you’re saying, but I’ll answer in the spirit of the game – our generations like to have fun, you see. Naturally my vote goes to Britney, although I hope her experience serves as a cautionary tale for how we treat the next generation of pop stars, like Billie Eilish.
Gen X: Stevie Nicks. As the great meme goes, Taylor Swift (or the likes thereof) writes whiny songs about her ex-boyfriends. Stevie Nicks made her ex play guitar on songs she wrote about him being an arsehole.
Bennifer 1.0 or Bennifer 2.0?
Gen X: Bennifer 1.0, but only because I’m too old and too busy to care about Bennifer 2.0.
Gen Z: 1.0 for sure. You can’t beat that Y2K couple style.
Millennial: Neither. Rare is a man who’s good enough for JLo. I wish them all the best, though.
You’re all being quite diplomatic. Are you scared of getting cancelled?
Millennial: I think everyone is, to some extent.
Gen Z: I’m torn. Part of me thinks you should only be scared of getting cancelled if you say and do things that are out of step in a culture that promotes inclusion and the respect of all people – no matter their race, gender, sexuality or size. But the other part of me knows the internet can be a vicious place.
Gen X: Cancel culture is just bullying on a large scale and I can’t condone that kind of behaviour. Yes, people make mistakes, but showing kindness to those who appear to deserve it the least can be a great vehicle for change.
Have we become too politically correct as a society?
Gen X: Yes, but I say this with the caveat that it’s the sensitivity surrounding the not-so-important topics that throws me. Honestly, there are days where l feel you can’t even cross the street without five people claiming to be triggered by the way you walked.
Gen Z: I would always prefer to live in a society that puts not offending people (especially groups who’ve historically been the brunt of the joke, or worse) over a cheap laugh. Those who are most offended by political correctness are generally those who have the privilege of not being offended. I can with certainty say that for a large majority of people, Blackface was never a funny joke – yet the generally accepted opinion of Blackface in the 1920s was positive. Political correctness is ever evolving … The benefits far outweigh any misgivings.
Millennial: Very true. As long as we don’t forget how and when to laugh.
Phones out, please. What’s your most-used emoji?
Millennial: Of all the reasons Gen Zs mock millennials, this is the one that gets me. Yes, I use the “crying with laughter face” emoji and apparently that makes me uncool. Or maybe we millennials use it because our friends are actually funny?
Gen Z: 😜
Gen X: I don’t use emojis. I write lengthy sentences (no abbreviations – ever) and then double-check spelling and grammar before I hit send. Nothing hurts my soul quite like reading ‘C U l8er!!!’ Is there a noose emoji? That might tempt me to use one in response.
Apologies for dragging up an old and tired trope, but it has to be asked: do you eat avocado on toast? Or do you invest in real estate?
Gen X: Don’t hate me for saying this, but I do both. I think Gen Xers everywhere are watching the housing market and breathing a sigh of relief that we bought our properties back when we did. The property issue many men and women of my age group are grappling with is how we’re going to help our children buy their own homes one day, and how much of a hand-up we should be giving them. It’s painfully obvious younger generations aren’t going to be able to become homeowners without help from the bank of mum and dad and I really feel for you guys.
Millennial: My generation has been dubbed Generation Rent and Generation Exit. Home ownership is no longer the great Australian dream but the great Australian nightmare, and many of us are swapping big cities for a quieter, more affordable rural life. It’s tough, but we look for silver linings. Have you heard of Cottagecore?
Gen Z: Um, yes, my generation invented it. But with home ownership basically off the cards I see no point in saving for something that will probably never happen. With that said, more avocado toast, please!
So what are the biggest worries for women of your generation?
Gen X: We’re trying to raise kids in a world we no longer understand (think selfies and sexting), and many of us are also dealing with the stresses of caring for our ageing parents.
Millennial: We graduated in the midst of a recession and have been on unsteady financial footing ever since. Couple the consequent need to succeed with a comparison culture born of social media, and it’s not surprising everyone’s starting up side hustles and striving for promotions and perfection.
Gen Z: Apart from this whole global pandemic thing and the ever-increasing threat of climate change, I think as young women we have a lot less to worry about thanks to you ladies.
This is all getting a bit too warm and fuzzy. Any final words for your intergenerational counterparts?
Gen Z: TBH Gen X, I think it’s pretty funny that you pride yourselves on having a laugh and not taking life too seriously. What a luxury! We’ll have to try that when we eventually resettle on Mars after Earth has become uninhabitable. And millennials, let’s get one thing straight: we don’t hate you! If we make fun of you, it’s because we admire and love you. I’ve been very lucky to receive mentorship and advice from millennials, and I’ve found them to be just like us, but a bit older and wiser.
Gen X: I would say to both of you, for the most part, you’ve got this. You’re smart, you have empathy and you stand up for what you believe in. I would suggest focusing less on how you look rather than what you can do to improve the lives of others. The narcissism and constant need for attention and validation is unnecessary. You’re special, but no more and no less than any of the other 7.9 billion people on this planet.
Millennial: What? You’re saying I’m not more special than the rest of the human race? But my parents always told me … Only joking. To be honest, these generational brackets are just cultural constructs dreamt up by savvy marketers, and in some ways I feel more like an unassuming Gen X than a needy millennial. As for Gen Z, I’m in awe of your passion to bring about change – just don’t forget to enjoy being young! Cross-generational friendships will make the world a better place, so I say we lay down our weapons, come together in our disparate denim and bond over avocado toast.
This story originally appeared in the September issue of marie claire Australia, out now.