‘Stop calling us snowflakes’, say millennials

A dictionary for our time: many have said that young people are ‘out of control’.

‘Generation snowflake’ — the supposedly thin-skinned millennials — has been a ubiquitous insult in 2016. But many are saying the term trivialises young people’s concerns. Are they right?

Two weeks ago a London university voted to ban newspapers The Sun, Daily Mail and Daily Express from its campus on the grounds that they promote ‘fascism and social divisiveness’. Last week an arts college in Massachusetts removed the American flag ‘to acknowledge the grief experienced by many’ following the election of Donald Trump.

In recent years stories like these have hit the news almost every day. A ban here, a protest there. Sometimes a famous person is ‘no-platformed’, or a university introduces a new ‘safe space’.

To many older people, the new language of ‘micro-aggressions’ and ‘trigger-warnings’ seems strange and foreign. In the Western world, where free speech has been the most fundamental right of all, anger has been heaped on a younger generation that is seen as over-sensitive and incapable of coping with conflicting views.

Thus the term ‘generation snowflake’ came into being. Snowflakes are delicate and unique, like the caricature of the young Westerner in 2016. The insult’s message is simple: ‘stop complaining, stop being offended by everything and grow up’.

But many young people say that they have much to complain about. As Rebecca Nicholson puts it in The Guardian, ‘Millennials are living in a time of economic uncertainty, without guaranteed access to affordable housing, free education and decent jobs.’

This view is shared by many students. Writing in The Telegraph, Richard Brookes says that ‘to imply young people are oversensitive for wanting to do something about racism and sexism is baffling’. Students have long been at the forefront of fighting for minorities: in 1973, the National Union of Students was the first national body to pass policy on gay rights.

The two political earthquakes of the year, Brexit and Trump, both pitted the generations against each other, with the young strongly in favour of remaining in the EU, and rejecting Donald Trump. Has the castigating of young people gone too far? Do the snowflakes have a point?

Agree to disagree

Absolutely, say many young people sick of being criticised for vocally expressing their opinions. In a world that is showing dangerous signs of becoming less tolerant, it is up to millennials to uphold standards. There is nothing wrong with calling out racism, sexism and other forms of prejudice.

That is true, but there is a lot of difference between calling out prejudice and wanting to ban it outright. The irony is that, while fighting for ‘tolerance’, generation snowflake are furiously intolerant of those who dare to disagree with them. This is dreadful preparation for later life. Society should ignore the pleas of these sensitive youngsters for censorship and tell them to stop moaning.

You Decide

  1. Do you consider yourself to be a ‘snowflake’?
  2. Should there be any limits on free speech?

Activities

  1. Compare the millennial generation to a past generation, such as ‘Generation X’ or the ‘baby boomers’. List three differences.
  2. Research one instance of young people banning something over the last few years, and decide for yourself whether they were right or not.

Some People Say...

“You cannot give offence; you can only take it.”

What do you think?

Q & A

Why does this matter to me?
You may not be a millennial, but the culture of safe-spaces and trigger-warnings is what you will inherit if and when you go to university. Freedom of speech and the idea of giving offence have become huge topics in recent years, especially among young people. You will have to decide where you stand on it.
Are young people really worse off than their parents?
This is a very interesting debate. On the one hand there are obvious advantages young people have: they are tech-savvy, they have inherited a high standard of living and they are more free. But they also face tough challenges, such as a rise in house prices and the growing difficulty of getting a secure job.

Word Watch

Massachusetts
A state in the north-east of the United States. Its largest city is Boston.
No-platformed
The National Union of Students has six proscribed organisations, meaning that NUS officers, committee members or trustees may not share a platform with them. They are three far-right groups: the British National Party, the English Defence League and National Action, and three Islamist groups: Al-Muhajiroun, Hizb-ut-Tahrir and the Muslim Public Affairs Committee.
Snowflakes
Yes, snowflakes really are unique. They are made of 10 quintillion (1 and 19 zeros) water molecules which grow at different rates and in different patterns, making it almost impossible for two snowflakes to be identical.
Millennials
The generation born between the mid-1980s and the late 1990s. They were preceded by Generation X, who themselves came after the baby boomers. Social scientists frequently try and ascribe certain characteristics to each generation.

Subjects