Considering I still have a few years to go before I complete my third decade, this may seem a little premature. But I saw a film premiere last week and it got me thinking.
The film in question was Alles was wir wollen (Everything we want), a documentary on show as part of this month’s Achtung Berlin independent film festival. Directed by Beatrice Möller, it follows the lives of three women living in Berlin as they turn 30, and the questions and issues their situation entails in modern German society.
Trailer for Alles was wir wollen
At 26 and as a member of the less fair sex, I may not be part of the obvious target audience for such a film, but something about it spoke to me. Many of the problems facing the protagonists stem from the glut of lifestyle options available to them in terms of careers, relationships and health. Whereas their mothers (who also appear in the film) were raised in a world where it was taken as read that their main goal in life should be to find a husband, settle down and have children, these women no longer have the benefit of such simplicity.
That is not to say that they would have been better off thirty years ago – the improvements thus far in how women are seen and treated in society are obviously a good thing – but the resulting independence brings with it problems of its own. The societal transformation is not yet complete; although young women (in Germany at least) are now welcomed into almost all areas of society with open arms, the framework to support their arrival is not fully in place.
The old, traditional model – marriage, kids, career as an afterthought, if at all – has been largely done away with, but a new one has yet to take its place. As the first generation facing this situation, these women are lacking in role models to guide them. At the same age, their mothers had already begun to start a family. thoughts of a career far from their minds. In contrast, the protagonists can live where they want and how they want, doing whatever they want. The world is their oyster.
As a result, the protagonists begin the film largely unsure of what it is they want at all. Approaching their fourth decade of life, they all enjoy some degree of fulfilment in their careers and lifestyles, but still feel to some extent under pressure from society to follow in their mothers’ footsteps and begin a “normal” life based on the traditional model. They are free to explore as many different approaches to life as they want, but this freedom brings with it an uncertainty. Is the path they are following the right one? Are they missing out by diverging from the route taken by their parents? Will they ever truly “find themselves”?
This constant wondering is something that I – and, I expect, many others of my generation – can relate to. While men have traditionally enjoyed greater freedom of choice than women anyway, we also benefited from a sense of security offered by the old model. Despite the enlightenment of the sixties and seventies, it was still the fathers who played the role of the main breadwinner in many of our families, and the fact that building a family was a given meant that, more often than not, financial security was their foremost priority. They didn’t fritter money and time on gap years or trying out a variety of different careers – they saved, got married, found a stable job and signed up for a mortgage.
Take away that impending certainty, and any of us can end up feeling a little lost. I have been lucky enough to find somewhere I love living and a job I enjoy doing, but each time I return to the UK I find myself in danger of being reminded by my more elderly relatives of my deficiencies in the getting-married-and-settling-down department. Sometimes even my friends can unwittingly unsettle my enjoyment of my independent Berlin lifestyle – English culture still tends more towards the traditional than in Germany, and last year I attended no fewer than three weddings.
Such reminders of what many still regard as a “normal” lifestyle only serve to emphasise the questions that face us all as we seek an alternative. We can have anything we want, but what does that actually mean? Where does one begin with such a challenge? These are the questions tackled by the protagonists of Alles was wir wollen, and their journey is one we can all learn from.