The Observer certainly seems to think it is a thing. If it is, then goodbye slightly irksome sitcoms in which characters in low paid jobs come home to a spacious flat, Penny from the Big Bang Theory I am looking at you and I am not suspending my disbelief. A waitress could never live alone, especially not on the hours you work. Instead look out for grown women padding about their parents’ house and hilarious incidents resulting from parent/daughter misunderstandings.
The recent anxiety over boys doing badly at school has been linked to a lack of role models. It is usually only mildly amusing if a man or a show’s male protagonist lives at home with his parents, the many girls he brings home don’t seem to bat an eyelid at the ironed Thundercats* sheets. Unless of course he works in IT, science or maths, then it’s hilariously pathetic and no girls even see his ironed Thundercats sheets. This is odd, because those career choices are likely to lead to home-ownership. If you can’t be a rich footballer then unemployment and occupying your childhood bed is acceptable for a man.
For a woman, the idea she can’t find a job is one thing. But to not be able to find a man who can support her other than her father? What is wrong with her? In films and on TV this woman doesn’t exist. A long term slacker woman, it’s hard to think of any before Kristen Wiig’s character in Bridesmaids. Women have to be capable, sensible and maybe a little hardnosed on screen, especially in Rom-Coms. They tell our slacker protagonist to “get a job!” in slightly shrill tones so they can become the other Rom-Com woman, the truly happy one who stays at home baking, or deciding on a shade of gender neutral yellow for the nursery.
This new character, this female slacker, the perpetual girl-child is not quite fully formed yet. Slacker males have a posse of other low-achieving men to sit on the settee with. Lady low-achiever slouches solo and so her own language has yet to be developed, I for one look forward to discovering what the woman equivalent to ‘dude’ will be - that’s not ‘dudette’ I hastily add.
It’s interesting that the crop of female slackers the Observer provides us with are actually high achieving young women who are secretly rather accomplished. This makes you wonder if this trend really should be called female-slackerdom, or just English style false modesty. ‘Oh this much lauded film? That’s just something I put together between scratching myself and sleeping till noon every day.’
Female slacker 1, Leigh Stein has had her poetry published, worked at the New Yorker and at 26 is promoting her first novel The Fallback Plan. That is not slacking that is impressive grafting that should be properly praised. The Fallback plan is Stein’s "fantasy of what would happen if I gave up".
Slacker 2, film maker Lena Dunham, at 25, has made a film about being a graduate with so much to give, if only there was someone who wanted it. Her film Tiny Furniture tells the story of another female slacker, overqualified and underused, becoming increasingly disaffected in her mother’s home. Slacker Dunham has not just made a film but a show, produced by Judd Apatow on HBO called Girls. What a loafer.
A common theme these slacker women all have, besides huge drive, is an awareness of their sense of entitlement. As Stein puts it: “I get this sense of entitlement: we feel like we did everything we're supposed to, we went to college and got a degree and everyone told us that if we got a degree we'd get a good job and it's like, 'where is my good job, hello?'”
In Tiny Furniture Lena Dunham has her slacker protagonist’s friend rather cheerfully converse with the lead’s mother:
“Do you have the same sense of entitlement as my daughter?”
“Believe me, mine is much worse”
A sense of entitlement, as demonstrated in both Dunham and Stein’s work, can be the death of productivity. I deserve, I should be and everybody should notice. These women have managed to use that sense of entitlement to laugh at themselves and motivate themselves to create. The notion that this is an example of the female slacker is not quite right because I don’t think these women are embracing their inner slacker. They are facing their greatest fear.
Is this a new film trend or just a new angle for lost 20-somethings to navel gaze from? Is it really a sign of feminism that we now want to watch the odd ‘loser’ lady or a sign of a new génération perdue?
Squeamish Kate *who would like to make it clear, if there is such a thing as Thundercats sheets for a double bed she is there.