You’re Not A Girlboss, You’re A Trust-Fund Baby
Selling a success story fantasy, one article at a time.
Written by Kristina Markluin
You see them pop up from time to time, whether it be on news sites, your Facebook feed, the Twitter trending page, or maybe even your TikTok For You page. Young 20-somethings living a life of independence and luxury, reaping the rewards of the endless college grind and hustling on the side to save enough money to afford their now successful lifestyle. It’s meant to inspire you, to grab your boots and strap them tight, and work until you can afford it.
Then you read the fine print.
At some point, these articles, think pieces, blogs and vlogs, etc., confirm what is probably inferred. These young 20-somethings can afford their own home or a high-tech apartment with no college debt because their family helped them in some way — usually financially. It’s such a common occurrence that memes even circulate on Twitter whenever one of these articles is dropped.
But these articles are written with a “by your bootstraps” mentality, ignoring the privilege of the people whose stories are being told in favor of a meritocracy fantasy.
To be clear, there is nothing wrong with getting help from your family. If your parents or grandparents are well-off or have something saved for your college fund, there is no shame in that, and you should accept their help. College is incredibly expensive, and in general, if there’s any assistance you could take to help you graduate with as little debt as possible, then you should take it.
However, what irks me about these articles the most isn’t necessarily the events told within the margins, but the tone and language used to describe them. If you’re privileged enough to afford a home fresh out of college, then good for you — I’m glad you’re one of the lucky few who avoided debt and have ample savings. But these articles are written with a “by your bootstraps” mentality, ignoring the privilege of the people whose stories are being told in favor of a meritocracy fantasy.
So many times when these articles are written, it’s framed as if the subject of the piece got there by their own grit and determination. But the heel-turn comes with the inevitable reveal of an affluent family. And again, that’s great for them. However, the fact of the matter is this is not the norm, but an exception.
College is so expensive and rent is so high that for many people, full financial freedom is more of a pipe dream than a reality.
Some college students are lucky enough to have no debt, but most aren’t. Very few people can become a homeowner. Some can rent an apartment, most can’t. College is so expensive and rent is so high that for many people, full financial freedom is more of a pipe dream than a reality. For most millennials, college meant taking on mountains and mountains of debt that keeps growing over time due to ridiculously high interest rates. It’s working long hours at a minimum wage job to pay for college while still living at home to save money on necessities, but sacrificing independence. But for the lucky few whose families have enough saved up, they can avoid this entirely. It rings hollow when these articles preach hard work, but know that hard work alone didn’t get their subjects to financial independence.
And for full disclosure, as of yet I don’t have any college debt (although I probably won’t be living in The Lumen anytime soon). However, I still feel inclined to speak on this issue. Graduating debt-free should not be determined by how much income your parents made, or how your grandparents invested, or knowing high-ranking people at high-ranking places. It should be a universal experience felt by everyone, regardless of socioeconomic class. The idea that “poor people just need to work harder to pay for everything” is asinine, not to mention classist. It assumes the barrier to higher education is fixed and cannot be changed, but that isn’t true. There are real, tangible changes we as a society can make to alleviate the stress of higher education on younger people.
There are real, tangible changes we as a society can make to alleviate the stress of higher education on younger people.
Loan forgiveness is floating around as a solution. As of writing this article, student loan payments are still frozen as a pandemic relief measure, and the higher education infrastructure hasn’t collapsed. I’m nowhere near an economist or a politician, but there has to be something there that we can do as a nation. There is an entire generation crushed by the weight of college debt, living in a country where wages are low and the cost of housing keeps increasing. Forgiving student debt (or at least federal loans) would work in alleviating this financial burden and giving more people a higher quality of life.
However, this issue, like many, is systemic. To truly fix this, the country would need to make huge leaps to make college more affordable. Whether that be increasing wages, putting caps on college tuition, regulating college loans, making community colleges free, or something else entirely, something has to be done. It’s bad enough that one generation was financially neutered by college. To have this become standard for all generations would be downright cruel.
It’s bad enough that one generation was financially neutered by college. To have this become standard for all generations would be downright cruel.
All this is to say, don’t feel ashamed for having student loans or for being financially dependent on your parents or caretakers. And don’t feel ashamed for not being financially independent at 23. Having no college debt isn’t a guaranteed road to freedom. Even some of us with no college debt are still financially dependent on our parents, and with how the cost of living is rising, we don’t know when we’ll be able to break away. And as sad as it is, this is the new societal norm, and we’re all living in it.
However, it is irresponsible and possibly dangerous for the rich, the well-off and the blue bloods to outright deny or ignore this issue and insist their lifestyle is achieved through the “sigma grindset” or whatever. Make your think pieces, write your blogs, make your self-help TikToks. But the least you can do for your audience is be honest with the source of your wealth.
And remember, the next time you see one of those articles, keep in mind that you’re not reading about a girlboss — you’re reading about a trust fund baby.