Snowflake is a shitty insult used by some of the worst people on earth. Why have you adopted it?

Okay, I just saw the far-right described as “racist snowflakes”. I kind of get it? It’s an attempt to turn their own language against them. This is admirable to an extent, or at the very least, it’s not the biggest problem facing the world or even the discourse right now. But still, can we maybe not adopt and normalise right-wing insults that are rooted in toxic ideas and cult behaviours?

Here’s my understanding of the term’s lineage: the insult “snowflake” was adopted by MRAs because of their fixation with the movie Fight Club — as part of the hazing process that Tyler Durden constructs in his “space monkey” terrorist cult, he smugly intones “you are not special snowflakes” at his followers through a megaphone, while they are being disciplined through unpaid manual labour.

Of course, there’s a whole thing here about Fight Club being a cautionary tale that ought to teach people to maybe not join a dangerous cult of angry young men. I can only imagine that they don’t like to watch to the end of the movie — kind of like how I never watch to the end of The Little Mermaid, because I prefer to take Ursula at her word and imagine that she just continues to peacefully work as founder and CEO of Poor Unfortunate Souls, a social enterprise offering magical solutions for systemic problems. Bottom line is, the MRAs, PUAs etc. identify with the space monkeys, because they’re pathetic fuckboys who can’t imagine anything better for themselves. As such they, ironically, externalise this idea of the snowflake in order to articulate their own unique identity in opposition — “we’re not special snowflakes, unlike everybody else!”

At some point (I think around 2010?) this term came to be used to mock people for articulating their identities with new language. It was most often thrown at LGBTQ+ people, the suggestion being that our identities and experiences are not valid, but simply the result of being too inward-looking and self-absorbed. “Snowflake” in this context is a form of victim-blaming: if only we would give up the idea that we are special and unique, we’d be less trouble to everyone else, and therefore wouldn’t attract abuse.

The term has also come to be used in intra-left infighting by people who oppose “identity politics” — snowflakes are frivolous, only interested in their own sparkling uniqueness and not in the big picture. This is rarely the case in reality — typically, proponents of intersectional advocacy highlight specific identity markers in order to draw attention to how the large, complex system of oppression hurts some people more than others, and how easy it is for us to perpetuate that same oppression even among ourselves. The behaviour most often targeted with this insult is in fact the opposite of inward-looking: it’s challenging those with relative privilege to consider others. “Snowflake” is a straw feminist, constructed to assuage bruised egos, to deflect constructive critique, to misrepresent consciousness raising as a narcissistic hissy fit.

In the last couple of years, “snowflake” has lost some of its specific meaning (as is very common when new words become widely used) and is now more of a byword for “fragile” or “easily offended”. Despite the loss of specificity, the toxic space monkey masculinity is still there: “you’re so delicate and sensitive. If only you were tough and emotionless like me!” It’s a complaint commonly levelled against university students in a manner that directly repeats the logic of hazing that powers many of the manipulative tactics of Tyler Durden — “they want trigger warnings because they are snowflakes, but they need to learn that the world is a hard place!” Ironically, it is often the complainant who wants to continue to be sheltered from painful ideas, who would rather not be made aware that, for example, a sizeable minority of their students are probably in the process of recovering from sexual assault.

While this isn’t really my wheelhouse, it’s worth taking a moment to consider that a cult like Durden’s (or Roosh’s, or Milo’s) might thrive when people have had their ego broken down. Since people like Tyler Durden crave control, let’s consider that perhaps they don’t want you to advocate for yourself, and therefore it’s best for them if you don’t know too much about yourself. They might want you to be afraid of your own vulnerability, to lose yourself in their own greater strength, to forge a new identity as a tiny worker ant in their massive colony. Maybe this is why “snowflake” was such an evocative insult in the context of Fight Club — this is a manipulator telling you that identifying who you are and asking for what you need is a sign of weakness.

“Snowflake” as an insult was always absurd to me. Yes, I’m a special unique snowflake. So are you! Why is that so scary to you? Yes, I’m sensitive and emotional. That’s not a sign of weakness, but of strength! Maybe if you did more work on yourself, worked out who you really are, and decided to try to love all the things that currently make you feel afraid and uncomfortable, you wouldn’t feel the need to blame women and minorities for all of your sadness? If you call me a “snowflake”, it just gives me the impression that you’re only fighting with me because you hate yourself.

Calling the alt-right “racist snowflakes” can be appealing because of the reversal it implies. Ideally, it would bring to light the many layers of irony that turn this dogwhistle insult into a tragic self-own. But in fact, nothing is being reversed. It is reproducing the exact same logic all over again, implying that the problem with Nazis is that they care too much about something. Surely you don’t think their worst quality is their sensitivity?

I’m not suggesting that anybody waste their energy doing emotional labour for racists. But still, we don’t need to make it less likely that they’ll do the work themselves. If any of these people are going to recover from being red pilled, if they’re going to develop the resilience that’s needed to be able to comprehend another person’s perspective, then they’re going to need to spend some time looking inward. They’ll have to spend time facing the pain they’ve been running away from, and being more honest with themselves about who they are and why they feel the way they do about things. These are the very same self-involved behaviours that the term “snowflake” exists to discourage.