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Op Ed: The Definition of a ‘Snowflake’

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Lauren Brumfield | The Blue & Gray Press


“Snowflake” is a term I’ve noticed gaining traction in recent years. Not referring to the crystallized raindrops which remain ever elusive in Virginia, the phrase has made ground as an insult directed towards millennials. “Snowflake generation” made Collins Dictionary’s 10 words of the year which in their words are “the young adults of the 2010s, viewed as being less resilient and more prone to taking offence than previous generations.” It’s gained usage from Members of the European Parliament to Brent Easton Ellis and since it is dominantly used to refer to young adults of the 2010s, meaning me, I suppose I might as well have an opinion on the matter.

The use of “snowflake” as an insult originates from Chuck Palahniuk’s 1996 novel, Fight Club. The character Tyler Durden states: “You are not special. You are not a beautiful and unique snowflake. You are the same organic and decaying matter as everyone else.” For its context within the book, and I suppose spoilers, Durden’s character is revealed to be the fictional hyper-sexual id of the novel’s unnamed narrator. Over the course of the book, Tyler drives the narrator to self-inflict himself with chemical burns, nearly commit suicide, and create a terrorist organization called Project Mayhem. This phrase is used when Durden addresses members of Project Mayhem and is part of the indoctrination process for breaking down of members’ senses of self-worth and individuality. Needless to say, I find the origins of the phrase questionable at best; however, let’s see the phrase in the wild.

According to The Guardian, the phrase was popularized within the United Kingdom by Claire Fox, director of the Institute of Ideas think tank. Fox uses the term when referring to thin-skinned and easily offended young people, typically college students who block controversial figures from speaking on campuses and demand “safe spaces” to not expose themselves to harmful ideas. Extrapolating from Fox’s definition, I feel it’s safe to say this form of snowflake is also politically centered around issues of social justice and civil rights.

This definition of snowflake falls in line with what sociologist Michael Kimmel describes as the “Goldilocks Dilemma.” In his book, Angry White Men, Kimmel defines the Goldilocks Dilemma as gendered grounds of exclusion wherein “the other [is] simply not appropriately masculine…The masculinity of the other is like porridge-either “too hot” or “too cold,” but never “just right.”” As such, Fox’s definition of the snowflake is both hypo-masculine (too weak) due to their perceived sensitivity and thin-skin while also hyper-masculine (too strong) in their ability to effectively shut out differing opinions. The double standard of Kimmel’s Goldilocks Dilemma is highlighted in the case of snowflakes where the action of protest is seen as excessive and intimidating while the motivations for doing so are pathetic and feminizing. Alt-Right commentator Tomi Lahren summarizes this best with “I don’t protest, because I’m not a victim.”

In my opinion, I find the term snowflake to be horribly misrepresentative. It summarizes the expressed grievances of young millennials as little more than pampered whining. It is used to dismiss the anxieties of young people and expect them to accept the status quo regardless of how harmful it may be. This phenomenon isn’t even new. The talking down to the youngest generation is an American tradition often best summarized with “Well, back in my day…” Naturally this sentiment fails to account for a changing social landscape wherein the issues millennials speak about either did not exist or more commonly were failed to be addressed by older generations with the same vigor. Snowflake is a weak and tactless phrase, like many buzzwords, used to dismiss and undermine important social causes and the people who support them.

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