In defence of snowflakes

Young students protested the education system on June 11, 2009 in Istanbul,Turkey

‘Snowflake’ is a term I’ve often heard (usually directed at me) but never quite understood.

Anytime I heard or read it, I knew it was an insult – typically hurled by right wingers. So where better to look for a definition than The Sun, who describe it as an ‘overly sensitive person who thinks the world revolves around them.’

Once I had recovered from the sobbing tears of hurt indignation, I went on to read that the term is mostly directed at university students who have decided that they aren’t a big fan of racist, sexist or homophobic narratives, as evidenced by the recent story involving a comedian and the SOAS UNICEF society.

The facts were misrepresented in the wider media, and students involved with the incident have reiterated that it was a guideline that they issued, not a contract. Yet the opportunity to paint SOAS students with the same over-sensitive leftie trope was gleefully seized upon by a number of commentators, commenters and biased news outlets.

A ‘whinging mob of leftie snowflakes’ and ‘mewling, over privileged babies’ are some of the most poetic choices; a trend amongst mainstream media that undermines and dismisses often valid criticisms that SOASians make. Besides the fact that SOASians are only doing what every political student body does, in virtually every country where freedom of organisation and expression exists, the history of SOAS itself is rooted in challenging long-held beliefs and the status quo.

Many students come to SOAS for that very reason, and use the expertise and criticism that SOAS provides to make their own, unique contribution to the world. If that makes us snowflakes, then so be it.

Frustratingly, ‘snowflake’ has become the go-to insult against any (young) person that challenges problematic beliefs. It is used to discredit and silence important voices and its feeding into the current trend of blaming millennials for just about everything. From enjoying avocado toast to not being good at investing. Although it is important to recognise that the left is equally culpable of lobbying insults at those it deems to be morally inferior, the fact that this term appears to target the younger generation is perhaps symptomatic of the great divide between conservative and liberal dichotomies, and a fear of one’s views being left behind.

In the past sixty or so years, the combination of a surge in technology, health care, new methods of communication, expansive education and globalisation have pushed ideas that once seemed completely radical into mainstream discourse. Yet attitudes embedded into societies all across the globe – about the nuclear family to gender roles to divisionary identities – have not caught up, and are in a process of being heavily scrutinised under a youthful microscope. In many ways, this is not new – there have always been, and will continue to be – generational differences that make both sides feel completely unrelatable to each other.

This sense of alienation, coupled with a fear of being rendered obsolete by having core values rejected by a younger, seemingly oblivious generation, could be one of the reasons why the insult is mostly attacking the individualist notion of ‘hurt feelings’ and ‘being offended’. Ironically, I feel that this has given us snowflakes an extra experience to bond over, so perhaps the term is more of a catalyst to the younger generation than a divisive label.

Personally, I don’t see anything offensive about the term, aside from its dismissive undertones. I would prefer to be labelled a snowflake than fail to challenge oppressive or dangerous narratives, but perhaps that’s just me! However, please be careful with your critiques, as this sensitive snowflake may be unable to handle them.


Share this post