Journalist Jill Filipovic uses writing to address social, intergenerational issues | The Triangle

Journalist Jill Filipovic uses writing to address social, intergenerational issues

Photograph courtesy of Gary He.

When the word millennial comes to mind, people jump to the stereotypes: avocado toast-eating, yoga-obsessed, self-centered adults. Author, journalist and attorney Jill Filipovic set out to prove that there are more to millennials than the stereotypes perpetuated by outlets like BuzzFeed and older generations. Through her book and her published journalism, she has managed to connect audiences with a deeper understanding of topics, ranging from politics and feminism to generational divides.

When she answered the phone for the Triangle’s interview, Filipovic was ready to get to business, yet she was laidback. Her voice was calm yet sharp as she shared her perspective on different issues, occasionally offering a quick laugh at what she was saying. Like her writing, she gave in-depth answers, acknowledging every part of the question before going silent, signaling she was ready to move on.

Filipovic’s journalistic writing has centered around feminism, a topic she stumbled into as a freshman in New York University.

“I registered for my freshman classes late,” Filipovic said, laughing. “I really chafed against it… I ended up really loving it and finding it totally fascinating. When I was writing for the student newspaper at NYU and later on a blog that I started, I just found myself repeatedly drawn to feminist issues and questions. This was in the early 2000s, feminism was not cool… but to me it felt like something that was interesting and radical and helped me to put disparate pieces of the world together.”

Writing a combination of op-eds and features for outlets like CNN, Cosmopolitan, The Guardian, and The New York Times, Filipovic has continued to report on women’s issues and topics throughout the pandemic, including the appointment of Amy Coney Barrett to the US Supreme Court. In September, the US dealt with the passing of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg and the rapid appointment of now-Justice Amy Coney Barrett to the Supreme Court. The focus became how different Justice Barrett seemed to be from Justice Ginsburg. Barrett’s views involving reproduction differed from that of Justice Ginsburg’s, and there are articles mentioning Justice Barrett could be the “polar opposite” to Justice Ginsburg. This opened up the discourse of what feminism really is: Is it meant as a movement, or is it just a word of inclusion?

For Filipovic, feminism is a movement for the political, social, and economic equality of women, rather than a movement focused on making women feel good about what they have done simply because they are a woman — something which she finds to be “a really shallow understanding.” In acknowledging that not every person on the planet is going to identify as a feminist, Filipovic also recognizes that feminism can appear differently based on a situation.

“But, it certainly does not look like trying to uphold patriarchal practices and traditions, even if a woman is the one working to uphold them. It has been an absolute truth that throughout the entirety of feminist history… women are not anymore than men, a united political group. We have different interests, we have different perspectives, factors of our identity: race, class, religion that shape our position in the world and what we see as beneficial,” Filipovic said.

Although she stumbled into feminism in college, Filipovic, now 37, did not stumble into writing. Rather, she began writing as a child. Before she could write, she would dictate stories and ask for them to be written down. Once she was able to write, she kept journals and claims to have been over-the-top with her school writing assignments.

“[I would] turn in twenty-five pages when we were only asked for one,” Filipovic said, reminiscing her on early memories of falling in love with the art of writing.

In high school, Filipovic was involved with her school’s paper and after high school she attended NYU in-part because of their journalism program. As she studied journalism in her undergraduate years, Filipovic decided to attend law school. The 9/11 attacks occurred two weeks into her freshman year; she witnessed George H.W. Bush become president and the wars taking place in the Middle-East.

“[I] felt quite disenchanted by the ways in which I felt like mainstream media sources had enabled those lies… that have led us down a path to where we are today,” Filipovic said. “With total disaster across many countries in the Middle-East and thousands upon thousands of Iraqis and other folks dead, just tremendous, tremendous bloodshed and devastation from that administration’s lies that were very much carried by the media outlets I had once aspired to work for.”

Being attracted to advocacy and now unsure of a career in reporting, Filipovic decided she wanted to be a human rights attorney, but it’s something that “clearly didn’t work out in that direction.” Yet, she finds the things she learned as a law student have helped her writing.

“Being somebody who is often writing opinion and analysis, law school very much trains you, I don’t think it trains you to be a very good writer to be honest, but it certainly trains you how to think in a particular linear and analytical fashion,” Filipovic said.

Taking her knowledge of journalism and her experience of writing opinions and analysis pieces, Filipovic decided to write “OK Boomer, Let’s Talk.” Her book is dedicated to addressing the generational divide between millennials and boomers, titled with the phrase that became a common rebuttal for younger generations who feel they have been dismissed. A millennial herself, Filipovic has experienced and witnessed the generational differences; the conclusion she reached is that millennials are the first generation that will not do better than their parents.

As millennials struggle to afford homes, the means to have a family and student loans, Filipovic has found that many “justifiably feel resentment toward [their] boomer parents.” She wanted to explore the resentment between boomers and millennials and determine what is actually justified, as well as find the path that led to the place they are currently.

“Millennials have achieved so many fewer markers of adulthood than boomers, what were the political choices that boomers and the politicians they elected made that put us here? And what does the future look like for younger folks?” Filipovic said.

In the 116th Congress, out of the 431 members, only 6 percent were millennials. In the 2020 election, the number of millennials running for congressional seats increased by 266 percent. However, similar to her views on feminism, Filipovic believes that being a millennial does not mean someone will create change that betters everyone or progresses society. This includes millennials like Republican Representative- Elect Madison Cawthorn, who is seen as a rising star amongst the party and gained attention for his “cry more lib” victory tweet. Cawthorn is a break in the trend of millennials being progressive.

Amongst millennial voters, 59 percent identify as Democrat or Democrat-leaning, whereas only 32 percent identify as Republican or Republican-leaning.

“It’s obviously not the justified virtue of being a member of a certain generation, you’re going to be representative of that generation’s interests and their politics…” Filipovic said. “I also do think representation is important, it’s not everything but it is fundamentally undemocratic to have a government run overwhelmingly by people over the age of 60, when millennials are the largest adult generation in America… I don’t think it’s the only crucial thing, I think having the politics and policy priorities that young people want is the most important thing, but I don’t think we can get there… until Congress starts to look a little more like America.”

But, amongst the calls for a government that represents that generations, ageism has been thrown in the mix. Young people have wanted boomers to leave jobs and have found them to be disposable simply because of age. Filipovic does find some of the anti-boomer arguments to be ageist, which she does not see as being productive. Rather, she sees evaluation of the intersection of power and age being of the most benefit, along with analyzing the impact gender and society can have on the arguments.

“I think the way that millennials and young people have been maligned, attacked, criticized in popular culture, media, by politicians, far outweighs rolling your eyes and saying ‘OK boomer,’” Filipovic said. “I do understand why boomers feel frustrated and dismissed. I think it’s particularly acute for boomer women. For women, aging means you are less and less interesting, less and less noticed, less and less heard. For a lot of boomer women, this conversation can feel different.”

Even with the saying “OK boomer” being thrown around by younger generations, Filipovic found while writing her book that some members of the boomer generation who do not want to be called a boomer or associated with the title. Many wanted to be called “Generation Jones,” but it never took off.

“I think there was a point in which being a baby boomer was very cool, and I do not think that is the landscape we are living in anymore,” Filipovic said.

As the dynamics between boomers and millennials changes, it shows no sign of stopping. For Gen-Z, which includes college age students, they will still feel the impact of the boomers. Although there is no collection of data due to Gen-Z still being young, Filipovic has found that trends show similar experiences to millennials.

“Things like out of control college costs, increasingly taking on huge amounts of student debt, obviously it’s going to take years to figure out the impact of the pandemic, but Gen-Zers are getting hit with the same problem millennials got hit with when we were leaving college; there aren’t many jobs, it’s hard to get hired and if you are hired you are the first people to get fired,” Filipovic said. “It’s pretty dire economic circumstances… Gen-Zers are going to be further behind than millennials and these are urgent questions we needed to sort out yesterday.”