I’m turning 30 in a few days. I haven’t really planned a lot but I’m having a little party and have calculated to book in a Bloody Mary the following day, and a massage two days afterwards to assist with recovery.
On a more serious note, I suppose turning 30 can be viewed as the new age for initiation into adulthood, given that youth, according to many sociologists, is now a much more prolonged stage of life when stable employment is harder to get. At the moment, I feel much like a child in some ways. Having once worked as a lawyer, a profession that is connoted with some level of professionalism and authority, sometimes it feels like going back to full-time study and being a PhD student means I’ve opted out of ‘adulthood’, or rather, how it is imagined. I have incredibly flexible hours. I walk around in casual clothes all the time, carrying a backpack rather than a briefcase (okay tbh I never carried a briefcase, but you get the idea). Because I research digital media and identity-making by young women, I feel it makes sense that I’m abreast of pop culture. So as a result, I’m always on Buzzfeed, Jezebel and Tumblr, stuff that would have been a huge no-no when I was working full time. At the moment, I don’t have to get up to arrive at work at 9am (or earlier). I don’t go to professional networking breakfasts at which I am sure, given I’m not really a morning person, I was fairly useless. And I no longer have a professional ‘phone voice’ where I attempt to imitate a newsreader. I am really grateful for the experience of having worked in a visibly ‘professional’ capacity before undertaking the PhD, because I can really appreciate the (current) freedom and flexibility I have and I really love doing what I do.
One thing I have noticed in the past few years or so is the plethora of internet articles about turning 30. There are ones about being how they are often written to an imagined female audience, or by women about their own experiences. These internet articles about turning 30 are almost always written in a conciliatory or sometimes, defiantly confident tone. 30 is cast as a psychological state that may be achieved, with articles proclaiming the traits you have ‘when you’re ready to turn 30’ or listing the numerous things one should do before then. While some, particularly business-oriented pieces relating to career milestones may be directed at men, most of the personal, feel-good pieces are directed towards women. They list ‘good’ things about turning 30: such as having wisdom, being less insecure, discarding ‘toxic besties’ and so on.
There is something distinctly feminine about such close attention to one’s life cycle and anxiety relating to the personal milestones in it. As Diane Negra, one of my favourite media scholars has pointed out, in Western popular culture, the successful woman’s life cycle is always imagined as under extreme time pressure. Time is associated with fighting a losing battle and the years around the 30 mark are a period of particular time crisis. Middle class norms dictate that career success must be had before children as they must grow up in perfect economic stability. Having kids too early is seen as a type of failure for young women. The right partner must be found, usually before or just after the 30 mark. People seek to enter the property market. Then, when children are had, the question is of how women juggle the double shift, in a time when women’s labour at home is still not matched by men, even when both do paid work. In the words of the Sarah Jessica Parker movie, ‘I don’t know how she does it’. After 30, time must be frozen; the changing body must be fought; waning metabolisms must be combated. You’re allowed to be 30, or even 40, if your body still measures up.
These articles are almost always written in such a way to combat the presumed bias against getting older, for women. But I’m ambivalent as to whether it’s a positive move or if it still draws attention to the life cycle in a way that generates anxiety for women. Sometimes the tenor of the article is such that women ought to be happy about turning 30. But in a culture which doesn’t value aging women, is that additional emotional labour which women are meant to take on for themselves? I don’t have a ready answer. I do think we need to have more respect and visibility for older women; otherwise, why should women feel positive about their progression through life (though it is wonderful if they are)?
I don’t ‘feel’ 30, but maybe that casts too negative a shadow on what 30 is ‘meant’ to feel like. I’m happy to turn 30 because I personally think this next decade will be a really exciting one for me. On a more pragmatic note, I doubt it feels that different to being 29. But it’s okay if other women, with their own personal circumstances, do feel more ambivalent or stressed – they have legitimate reasons if they are dissatisfied with entering this decade. I’m not a fan of the race against time and arbitrary measures as to what people are meant to achieve and when they are meant to achieve it. I think that there is enough pressure on us to do things rapidly and efficiently, according to others’ deadlines. Personally, I want to take my time.