Are Millennial ‘snowflakes’ so aggravating because they’re pretentious, or because they’re right?

Zoya Patel 5 November 2020 78
Climate protest 2019

Snowflakes or agents for change? Photo: Region Media.

It’ll come as no surprise to my regular readers here that I’m often called a ‘snowflake’.

In fact, some of you have probably called me a whiny millennial snowflake who’s too sensitive and pretentious on this very site. But lately I’ve been contemplating why it is that the character traits that typify being a ‘snowflake’ are considered so aggravating when they’re actually a product of social and political progress?

According to Wikipedia, “Snowflake is a 2010s derogatory slang term for a person, implying that they have an inflated sense of uniqueness, an unwarranted sense of entitlement, or are overly-emotional, easily offended, and unable to deal with opposing opinions”.

But in the more common usage, the term is rolled out whenever a young person calls out an issue of inequality, prejudice or identity, and is used to dismiss their views. In general, the constant pressure from young people to do better – to rid our vocabulary of derogatory and prejudiced language, to pay closer attention to privilege and taking up space from marginalised communities to being more conscious of the consequences of our actions – is often met with frustration and cries of ‘snowflakes’ to millennials who lack resilience and are too disconnected from the ‘real world’.

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Presumably, the ‘real world’ in this scenario is the world where power and privilege remain with rich white men without question, where gender inequality is considered the natural order of things, and where racism and homophobia are bad, but ultimately part of reality.

The resistance to the expectation from young people that we both can and should do better suggests a dissonance between the world that we think we’re creating and the one we actually are living in.

Look at it this way: when early feminists began pointing out the inequality in western democracies between men and women, they were labelled as hysterical, unnatural women and told to shut up. In ridiculing them, the patriarchal systems of power were able to discredit feminists and make it harder for their message to reach the women they were seeking to mobilise.

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Similarly, labelling every person who calls out cultural appropriation or racism, transphobia, homophobia or ableism as a too-sensitive ‘snowflake’ seeks to discredit what is actually a pretty simple message – that our actions and attitudes have consequences, and that we should all try and do better to question ourselves and be accountable.

Of course, there are elements of call-out culture and millennial social progressive politics that are more confronting and less productive than others. Cancel culture is a fundamentally unworkable approach to managing conflicts and negative behaviour from prominent individuals or brands. There has to be an end to the privilege stakes at some point, and I personally struggle with the notion of some people being ‘allowed’ to speak on issues according to their identity traits over others, feeling this toes the line of censorship a bit too closely.

Screaming snowflake

The scream heard around the world on the inauguration of Donald Trump became a global symbol of snowflakery. Photo: Screenshot.

But the core values that drive millennial snowflakes the world over are a quest for a more equal, just and fair society where individual characteristics are celebrated and acknowledged, and where diversity is a driving force in social and political change.

I’ve spoken in public previously about the ‘woke Olympics’, where everyone tries to demonstrate how much more ‘woke’ they are than others, in the decisions they make about what to eat, drink, wear, buy, watch or read, and how much they understand what they should or shouldn’t do depending on their privilege and level of diversity. I’m not a fan of this approach to political discourse, but I also have to admit that part of the reason why I don’t like it is because I’ve been called out before on my own problematic attitudes.

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Once, over a decade ago, a friend emailed me after reading an article where I used the word ‘retard’ flippantly, and pointed out that it was ableist language that really wasn’t OK for me to use. I felt defensive and annoyed and frustrated because I know I’m not an ableist person, and that I respect and care about experiences of disability. But then I thought about it, and acknowledged that whilst it’s uncomfortable to be called out, she was right and I apologised and rewrote the article.

I’ve had numerous versions of this experience over time, and each time I feel defensive at first, before realising that it’s an opportunity for growth, and that I should examine my discomfort and use it as a chance to change. Sometimes I disagree with what I’m being called out for, and then it’s about having the conversation and unpicking the issue with patience and respect.

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For many people, watching these dialogues unfold can feel frustrating and trivial. It can seem like unnecessary navel-gazing, or over-complicating things that have never been seen as problems before. Many of the fiercest critics of ‘snowflakes’ are people who grew up in a generation where these conversations were happening way outside the mainstream, and watching them unfold on the evening news and inside major broadsheets feels ridiculous and personally affronting.

But if you’re one of these people, I would recommend pondering why snowflakes incite such rage in you? What is it about seeking a better, more equal society that winds you up? Why is the sensitivity many millennials have towards other people’s unique experiences so offensive to you? Does striving to be a better person, who is more aware of diversity and inequality, a bad thing?

I’m prepared for the fact that Gen Z will be even more progressive than Gen Y has been, and that there are definitely going to be evolutions of woke culture that will make me feel disgruntled and annoyed when I’m confronted with them. But I hope I can take a step back and look at the bigger picture then, as so many people have done so now – and realise that people becoming more sensitive to injustice can only be a good thing.

I guess that makes me a snowflake.

What's Your Opinion?

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78 Responses to Are Millennial ‘snowflakes’ so aggravating because they’re pretentious, or because they’re right?
Jack Hogan Jack Hogan 6:28 pm 07 Nov 20

Well said.

Heavs Heavs 3:09 pm 06 Nov 20

The first millennials are turning 40 this year. The youngest millennials are 25. If we are going with gross catch all descriptions wouldn’t you mean Zoomers?

Kerryn Peisley Kerryn Peisley 7:36 am 06 Nov 20

Che, and another millennial post!

Darron Marks Darron Marks 5:01 am 06 Nov 20

It isn't if they are right or not the point is what are you going to do about it aye ?

Try cleaning your own room before you take on the problems of the entire world.

dolphin dolphin 12:00 am 06 Nov 20

in my experience the biggest ‘snowflakes’ generally reside on the right of politics. think of the perpetual outrage and vitriol of people like Pauline Hanson, mark Latham, Andrew Bolt, Alan Jones and the like at anything they find offensive or disagree with. every time someone challenges Clive Palmer he threatens to sue them and bully them into submission.

Can you imagine any of the above writing a self reflective piece like the above, where they might think about their own views and the language they use and how it might impact on other people?

    Annie Mills Annie Mills 11:22 am 06 Nov 20

    Their pointy little heads would explode. That lot doesn’t do introspection because they wouldn’t cope with what they find.

    chewy14 chewy14 12:25 pm 06 Nov 20

    do you honestly believe that the people you mention are representative of “the Right”?

    Regardless, you could also easily give multiple examples of left wing media pundits whose behaviour is at least as shrill. Your examples would simply seem to be more a reflection of your own media tastes and biases rather than an objective assessment.

    “Can you imagine any of the above writing a self reflective piece like the above, where they might think about their own views and the language they use and how it might impact on other people?”

    Why would they? They believe that individuals are free to believe in and express their opinions. The fact that someone believes something you don’t shouldn’t affect or impact you and you shouldn’t try to control them if they don’t.

    The problems only occur when you try to control other people’s freedoms to live their own lives as they see fit. And all sides of politics are guilty of failing in this area. But you can’t deny the type of people this article references are guilty of this type of behaviour and actively promote it.

    Li Macnaughton Li Macnaughton 2:18 pm 06 Nov 20

    Which left wing pundits are you referring to?
    My major issue with the right wing pundits is that they carry on about the “PC brigade” when all they are being asked for is politeness.
    Keep your mind out of other people’s bedrooms, call people by the name they want to be called (I know plenty of people who don’t use their legal name for no other reason than they don’t like it), have a civil discussion based on facts, don’t assume someone is saying something they aren’t… Stop making outrageous comments about other people’s lives (like comparing homosexality to pedophilia or bestiality)
    All the sorts of thing that would have been seen as polite and normal 50 years ago.

    Annie Mills Annie Mills 10:31 am 09 Nov 20

    It always amuses me that people insist on manners and the ‘back in my day’ trope of being respectful, but they don’t extend that to people who ask that of them.

Zayne Luck Zayne Luck 9:21 pm 05 Nov 20

“We redistribute de facto the world’s wealth through climate policy ….” “One has to free oneself from the illusion that international climate policy is environmental policy. This has almost nothing to do with environmental policy anymore.” Dr. Ottmar Endenhofer IPCC Nov 10, 2013

Illyria Tyers Illyria Tyers 6:19 pm 05 Nov 20

Well they're not right .. so I think we have our answer.

Capital Retro Capital Retro 6:15 pm 05 Nov 20

They will all be ecstatic tomorrow when China confirms that they are stopping all imports of coal from Australia. What a leg up for climate change action that will be.

I hope they remember the day in the future when they are fighting for a cup of soup to exist on.

Capital Retro Capital Retro 6:08 pm 05 Nov 20

The first thing to disappear when global warming, climate change etc. takes hold will be that the snowflakes will melt and there will be none to replace them.

Bring it on!

HiddenDragon HiddenDragon 5:52 pm 05 Nov 20

Probably no more pretentious than every previous generation which thought it was going to change the world, and every bit as likely as those earlier generations to have its idealism manipulated and exploited by self-serving groups and individuals.

Tim South Tim South 5:44 pm 05 Nov 20

For 50 bucks I’ll agree with you

David Gillmer David Gillmer 5:42 pm 05 Nov 20

I certainly would not go that far, I mean, claiming a generational group are always right? That'd be like saying all boomers are right...

And then we see the connecting lines, melenials are the boomers of the future!

-Refuses to negotiate, relate, or compromise.

-Is (believes they are) ALWAYS right! (them and my ex wife).

-Entitlement combined with self perceived wisdom.

There are so many things in common, but i am Gen X and have other stuff to do besides complain etc.

Jaye Patrick Jaye Patrick 4:33 pm 05 Nov 20

Pretentious and entitled.

Garth Jensen Garth Jensen 4:20 pm 05 Nov 20

I think you should really read what you wrote. And take in-depth look at your own thoughts. I gave up reading after the first 3 paragraphs. And your wrong in all 3. Actually stop writing. Did you even talk to people. Especially the older generation, or did you just generalise all of us.

Ill book the flight for you.

Henry Kivimaki Henry Kivimaki 3:18 pm 05 Nov 20

Another ideologically laced article. So, them that have embraced the ideology that is responsible for 100s of millions of death over the century ... no not right but deceived.

Nadia Rebeca Nadia Rebeca 2:33 pm 05 Nov 20

Because they are right. Time for drastic change, I welcome the young generation and their new ways of thinking..... couldnt be any worse than my generation and older lol

petunia petal petunia petal 2:08 pm 05 Nov 20

Really impressed by the nuanced analyses from the social scientists below. Well done Riot Act. People who think bravery is being compelled to be cannon fodder in senseless wars, but who but also incidentally cried the most because “Dictator Dan” stopped them getting a haircut.

    chewy14 chewy14 3:49 pm 05 Nov 20

    I can’t remember The Riotact becoming a Victorian website and discussing Dan Andrews performance.

    What were you saying about “social scientists”?

Mark Bergild Mark Bergild 1:53 pm 05 Nov 20


    Chris Johnson Chris Johnson 2:20 pm 05 Nov 20

    Mark Bergild Read the article, champ.

    Mark Bergild Mark Bergild 3:14 pm 05 Nov 20

    Chris Johnson Meet some of them and form your own opinion like I did.

    Chris Johnson Chris Johnson 3:22 pm 05 Nov 20

    Read the article, mate. Don't comment further until you've taken the full 2-3 minutes to read it rather than making sloppy drive-by comments.

    Mark Bergild Mark Bergild 3:30 pm 05 Nov 20

    Chris Johnson Get over yourself you pretentious snowflake

    Chris Johnson Chris Johnson 3:38 pm 05 Nov 20

    Mark Bergild Ahhh, insults rather than comprehension.

    I assume you're just tired, it's hard being old, poorly educated and irrelevant, huh?

    Storm Oshyer Storm Oshyer 3:47 pm 05 Nov 20

    But Mark is still correct without even having read the article hahaha

    Julie Macklin Julie Macklin 4:23 pm 05 Nov 20

    People are individual; some are pretentious whether young or old, as witnessed here. Age is not a guide to this.

Acton Acton 1:40 pm 05 Nov 20

Imagine if the snowflakes of 2020 were ever called upon to defend their country like those aged 18-35 had to do in 1939 against German and Japanese invasions. Would they?
Most Australians would rise to the challenge, except those who hide their cowardice and unwillingness to defend liberties and privileges they have inherited behind bleated self-serving feminist slogans.
A snowflake is something that just falls to the ground and melts.

    Capital Retro Capital Retro 8:38 am 08 Nov 20

    As soon as their supplies of noodles were exhausted they would surrender. I am referring to the millennials, not the invaders.

Matt Duncan Matt Duncan 12:23 pm 05 Nov 20

I'm going to go with pretentious.

Depending on who's using the expression.

When they're "fighting" racism by insisting on segregation through "safe spaces"... do you think racial segregation is "right"?

When they insist that old cultures like Indigenous Australians should have their languages preserved, while at the same time English words with latin or greek origins must never be spoken again...

When they're insisting on more plastics going to recycling instead of going back to the days when we re-used glass bottles...

When they're outraged about plastic straws, but insist on single-use straws and masks to protect them from corona...

Or when they ban thin plastic bags and claim a victory when everyone starts using far thicker plastic bags to do the same thing...

How about when they call people nazis while destroying art & history because of content they object to...

I don't think they're "right". I don't think they're clever. I think they're idiots jumping on a bandwagon.

But of course just like the words "racist" and "nazi" have lost all meaning from being over-used by some people, the way we use "snowflake" has also been diluted by people who use it without understanding the meaning properly.

    Sharon McDonell Sharon McDonell 8:39 pm 05 Nov 20

    Matt Duncan I don't really know what you're getting at here. What you've described here would represent a small proportion of people, and some of what you've described I haven't seen or heard of (or maybe that's just the circles I frequent). It's also worth considering the issue of how so much modern conversation is limited to two-hundred-and-something characters, so we don't always get to see the detail and analysis, all we get is loud, apparently opposing statements. But then, it's quite possible that I don't really get what this article is about, and I have no idea what a "snowflake" is, even after reading the article.

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