By Loraine Balita-Centeno
A snowflake is a label that has evolved into something meant to be an insult, thrown around a lot, especially online to describe someone who’s easily offended. The term has been so widely used that in January 2018 it was added in the Oxford English Dictionary (OED) along with mansplaining and hangry.
Many believe that the term snowflake to describe someone weak, entitled, fragile, or sensitive was made popular by Chuck Palahniuk in his 1996 novel Fight Club, which was later turned into a blockbuster Brad Pitt movie. In an interview with The Evening Standard, Palahniuk claimed that the term many use today come from his popular book. “There is a line , ‘You are not special. You are not a beautiful and unique snowflake. You’re the same decaying organic matter as everything else. We’re all part of the same compost heap,’” he says. Asked whether he agrees with how the term has evolved to describe the new generation, the author says “there is a kind of new Victorianism.” He then went on to explain how “Every generation gets offended by different things, but my friend who teaches in high school tell me that their students are very easily offended.”
While others argue that the term has been used as an insult long before Fight Club, many agree with Palahniuk’s claim and observation that we have in our midst a generation of young people who are so much more sensitive than their predecessors that we find the need to tiptoe around them so much. Some believe this culture is starting to kill comedy and free speech. Some have even gone as far as writing a book about it.
Claire Fox, director and founder of the British think tank Academy of Ideas, in her book I Find That Offensive blasts the young members of this “generation snowflake.” She calls the generation of young people “easily offended and thin-skinned.” This culture of censoring anything the young deems offensive promotes the closing down of free speech.
“People have given up trying to persuade other people, and trying to win the argument,” she says. She calls young Millennials “thin-skinned little emperors” who feel and genuinely believe that words can kill them. The members of the older generation who sneer at Generation Snowflake’s antics are the ones who created them, she says. Parents of these young Millennials overprotected them, shielding them from the realities of the world, eliminating all risks to their children’s lives. Children these days are ill-equipped to deal with the basic challenges of adult life. “When it comes to Generation Snowflake its apparent hypersensitivity is often combined with an almost belligerent sense of entitlement,” she laments.
Amanda Ruggeri in her article “What Everyone Gets Wrong About Millennial Snowflakes” explains how “older people have been criticizing younger people for all of recorded history—and many of these decades-old concerns exactly match the same raised today.” Many of the insults we throw at Millennials today—calling them entitled cry babies—were essentially the same criticisms Gen Xers (and previous generations) got from older generations. She also thinks most of these generalizations and opinions about millennial trends are based on very bad data. “The evidence aren’t as solid to begin with,” she says.
Professor of Counseling and Psychology Dr. Aime Guarino who’s also the director of the Office of Counselling in a university in Manila also believes young Millennials are not overly sensitive per se. “I think the issue here is generation gap,” she says. She believes the young generation of Millennials were raised to have certain values and beliefs which are different from older generations’. “Most young people today were raised to express their thoughts and feelings even to those older than them,” which she says many older people didn’t do in their youth.
And it also helps that this generation of young people are Internet natives who grew up expressing their thoughts (about anything and everything) online through social media.
Technology’s multiple platforms, something older generations didn’t have the luxury of using, have given voice to a generation. University students protesting (online or offline) something that they may have found objectionable isn’t their way of supressing free speech, this isn’t just them being overly sensitive, this is the new generation’s way of protest. There is a revolution, a rebellion that this generation can start with just 140 characters. And they are willing to be criticized, ridiculed, and bashed (called crybabies, and fragile snowflakes) if it means they get to fight back, change the discourse, and steer it to a whole new direction.