Just when we thought we had enough to deal with – Trump, tuition fees and a Prosecco shortage – Generation Z gets slammed for being too sensitive. ‘Snowflake’ is a word which I used to associate with Christmas, snow and the beauty of nature; now it makes my jaw clench and my blood boil. But that’s just because I’m oversensitive, right?
As a derogatory term used most frequently against Gen Z and millennials, The Sun has previously defined ‘snowflake’ as “a soft, whiny and overly sensitive person who thinks the world revolves around them.” It also declares examples of snowflakes to include “today’s particularly wet crop of young people” like “hardcore remoaners” and “sensitive uni students”. How you doing over there, gang?
But is this a new idea, or a time-old tradition? There’s some evidence to suggest that the generations above have always been disapproving of the generations below. The University of New Hampshire calls it ‘juvenoia’, meaning: “an exaggerated fear of the effects of social change on youth.” This fear perhaps explains why the notion of Snowflake has arisen, but before we even get into discussing why the term is so devoid of imagination, let’s agree that this over-generalisation in principle is fundamentally wrong. Using a negative term to define an entire generation is senseless and unhelpful – which is why it would be just as foolish to call all our elders ignorant and narrow minded. However tempting.
And perhaps some might say that I’m exhibiting classic ‘snowflake’ behaviour: I’m offended by being called easily-offended. But if we are more sensitive, is that really so bad? Why should we let someone sing on in a racist, homophobic or sexist fashion when we find their words cruel, incorrect, or even just old fashioned? Take Katie Hopkins and her “migrants are like cockroaches” claim – the fact that many young people were offended by that was a big relief in my eyes. As “wet” youngsters, we’ve reflected on historic tragedies like racial segregation and sexism and learnt from the errors of our predecessors. We feel obliged to ensure that we, as humans, don’t make the same mistakes again. We’ve grown up more diversified and more accepting than ever, and we want to protect that. It’s about supporting the progression of society, instead of the regression.
As “wet” youngsters, we’ve reflected on historic tragedies like racial segregation and sexism and learnt from the errors of our predecessors. We feel obliged to ensure that we, as humans, don’t make the same mistakes again.
In Claire Fox’s book, 'I Find That Offensive!' she argues that everyone has become too thin-skinned. “When you hear that now ubiquitous but dreaded phrase, ‘I find that offensive’, you know you’re being told to shut up,” she writes. That’s the panic at the heart of the ‘snowflake’ phenomenon: the idea that oversensitivity is curbing free speech. But hasn’t the term ‘snowflake’ in turn been coined to shut young people up, the verbal equivalent to stuffing a sock in our mouths? How can we be accused of denying freedom of speech, when we’re damned for speaking up when we are offended
Besides, maybe it’s the idea of sensitivity that needs a rebrand. According to The Independent: “Rates of depression and anxiety have increased by 70% in the past 25 years” which could suggest that we’re more open with our emotions – but if that’s true, we must remain unashamed. Being sensitive connotes being caring, kind and emotional, all qualities which few would call negative. In the past men were viewed as pathetic if they were displayed sensitivity, branded ‘cowards’ if they didn’t want to fight in the war. Now, as we wise up to the dangers of pressuring men to be masculine, (suicide is the biggest killer of men under 45), we’ve learnt that for many, being more open and ‘sensitive’ could be the way to a healthier and happier life.
Not to mention aiding our acceptance and progression of gender equality. Before, women were branded the sensitive ones, labelled unfit for ‘serious’ jobs due to their unpredictable emotions. It seems that in either sense, being sensitive was perceived negatively. Now, as youngsters deemed ‘oversensitive’, we can reclaim the word and rule it out as an offence to any gender. Or as Emma Watson more eloquently puts it: “Both men and women should feel free to be sensitive. Both men and women should feel free to be strong.”
So I’d like to propose that just because we’re more sensitive, it doesn’t mean we’re oversensitive. We’re not snowflakes, we’re snowploughs – we just keep on pushing through those shit storms! I’m proud to be part of a generation that feels able to swallow their pride and talk about how they’re feeling, and compassionate enough to stand up on behalf of others. I can only hope the next generation of flakelets will continue to become yet more understanding, considerate and sensitive. And I hope that in the future, we will be open-minded enough not to damn them for doing so.
Image: Natalya Lobanova