Young'uns Who Make Me Feel Insanely Jealous and Good About The World Simultaneously
Tavi Gevinson infuriates me.
No, don’t click away in a huff over the state of the girl-on-girl hate culture of the Internet. I have met Tavi Gevinson and she is a wonderful, intelligent, down-to-earth human being who frankly should probably run the country or at least her own horde of flower-crown-wearing feminist young people. Which is exactly why she is so infuriating.
My rage does not come from anything Tavi has done or probably ever will do in her life; it exists entirely within myself–somewhere around the gut, or maybe that as of yet discovered envy organ, I know is in there somewhere, and is mainly spurred on by the things I have not done. Jealousy is an ugly thing, but it can’t be quelled by silly things like logic.
You see, Tavi is doing something that very few people even get the chance to do in their entire lifetimes: she’s making a splash and she’s making a difference, and in her own way she’s making the world a better place. She’s also 17 years old, which at the age of 22 makes me feel like one of those hags from ancient folklore. And not just any old hag, but one who watches way too much Netflix and binges on tumblr reblogs.
For those who don’t know, Tavi Gevinson is a 17 year old from the Chicago area, who at the age of 12 became something of a fashion icon for her blog style Rookie. It got her national fame amongst the top fashion tier and seats next to Anna Wintour at fashion week. As she grew older her interests shifted more towards feminism and the state of the teenager in modern America, and so (with the support of people like NPR’s Ira Glass and Sassy/Jane founder Jane Pratt) founded her own teen-oriented site, Rookie Magazine. The site has since featured writings from big names such as Judd Apatow, Lena Dunham, Jon Hamm, Joss Whedon and many more.
First, it should be known that if you have talked to Joss Whedon in your lifetime, I have a predestined jealousy of you. It’s just how it is. I can’t help it, I’m not that evolved. If, on top of that, I happen to know that you are a well-rounded, incredibly smart, savvy, stylish, completely not-annoying person who is younger than me? Ugh, how dare you.
Professional jealousy is a thing that a lot of people grapple with, well, a lot of the time. I have literally nothing against Tavi. I met her at a meet-up for Rookie in Portland last year, and she was delightful, adorable, whip-smart and incredibly witty. I think we would get along, and I would very much like to be her friend. She’s also done practically everything I ever aspire to do and her very existence reminds me that when I was her age I spent most of my weeknights channel-surfing or re-reading Harry Potter. Meanwhile, Tavi’d given a TED Talk by the time she was 15 years old.
Tavi is not the only young person who is subject for my irrational infuriation. Shelby Fero, an up-and-coming comedian–who first made a splash when she acquired approximately a zillion twitter followers because of her joke-telling-skillz–is also on the list. Joss Whedon also talks to her on twitter, so make of that what you will. From what I’ve gathered from the Internet, the comedy world was so impressed with her that she got enough job offers to drop out of USC film school and actually start being successful in what she wants to do. She might not be on the cover of Bust or on the Colbert Report like Tavi yet, but she’s probably heading there.
My love of seeing awesome women take over the media worlds is a big fan of these rising stars; my insecurities are not.
Because really, I feel a strange pride when I see that these young ladies have taken another step in the life direction they seem to want. They’re huge badasses. I want them to succeed, both now and somewhere down the line when I can (hopefully) join them. They deserve it and they work their asses off for it.
The feminist (and just general good person) inside of me knows not to be jealous of a junior in high school, let alone a fellow hard-working young woman. But when a junior in high school has a steady income and all of your heroes fawning over her, while you’re scrolling through one un-promising job posting after another, hoping you can make the rent and still do something you actually enjoy, just months after graduating from college? Well, let’s just say there’s a gut instinct that bubbles to the surface.
Like I said before, Tavi is great. I really want her to be my friend, and I also kind of want to elect her as some sort of president to something really important, because I think she’d make the right calls. She has gotten to where she is based on pure talent, drive and healthy perspective. She deserves everything that she has gotten. The exact same could be said of someone like Shelby Fero, who has one of the most hilarious twitter feeds I’ve ever followed. Nothing about their success is hindering mine.
So why is that we do this? I know I’m not the only one who’s looked at a young person doing a job that I’d love to do and felt that gut pang. In fact, a friend of mine found out recently how young and already-successful Daily Show correspondent Jessica Williams (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jessica_Williams_(actress)) is and sent me a panicked email that let me know I’m not alone. I know multiple college students who freaked out when they found out that Donald Glover was hired as a writer for 30 Rock while he was still living in the NYU dorms.
I’m incredibly hesitant to describe this infuriation of mine as “female jealousy,” if only because men can experience these emotions just as thoroughly as women can. For the record, I also feel this way about Bo Burnham. I’m sure there are thousands of young guys out there who feel the same way. He’s so young and he’s living the dream; that’s bound to draw jealous eyes.
But I do sense a certain pattern when it comes to the way women look at more-successful women–one that makes me pretty uncomfortable. Lena Dunham drew ire for a lot of things in the wake of the premiere season of Girls, and one of the ones I saw written up most frequently was the idea that she somehow hadn’t earned it.
It’s a strange, nebulous argument, telling someone rising in the ranks that they haven’t earned their place there. There’s this sense that they haven’t paid their “dues” yet–that because they haven’t lived the life of a starving artist or spent eight years bussing tables that they don’t deserve to be there. Personally, I think it’s bull****. Talent is talent, and people get discovered in their own time. And sometimes they don’t get discovered at all.
Personally, none of my gut jealousy at these wunderkinds is based off that idea of dues. If I could get away with going where I want to go in life without having to work at Starbucks to be able to afford to eat, I would. For me, it probably has more to do with competition.
For some background: Behaviorally, I am an incredibly uncompetitive person. I will challenge myself to be the best that I can be, but when it comes to pushing myself I have very rarely (if ever at all) done so out of a need to prove myself better than other people. In the end, it’s just not who I am. We all do our work, you do yours and I’ll do mine.
But when it comes to that feeling in my gut, the one that tells me I’m not where I’m supposed to be, I think it’s competition. It doesn’t make me want to go out and be better than Tavi Gevinson (like that’s gonna happen). But it does wake me up to just how thoroughly my core emotions are tied to my lifelong ambitions. Jealousy done right doesn’t have to be destructive; I don’t want to tear her down. I wanna build me up.
Alanna Bennett is a writer, pop culture enthusiast, comedy fan, and television junkie. She’s also kind of hungry. She’s written for sites like The Mary Sue and Give Me My Remote. You can find her at her twitter, tumblr(s), and at this weird self-made site she made purely for self-promotion.