Kicking the “Liberal Snowflake” Myth to the Curb
By Laurel Dammann | Feature photograph by Rebecca Cohen, Sign by Sarah Lerner for the Women’s March on Washington
“It’s that victim mentality,” she says in a loud and breathy whisper. “It’s saturating the nation.”
A brief disclaimer: I don’t spend my life with my ear pressed to doors, but in public spaces all the doors are wide open. So during the commute to work, the rest of the bus quietly lost in their phones, it’s nigh impossible not to eavesdrop on the conversation between the man and woman sitting behind me.
“No one knows how to just buckle down anymore,” the man whispers loudly back. “It’s all a blame game. No personal responsibility. You know, people forget that it’s not easy for anyone. We’ve all got problems, it’s just some people don’t have time to complain about theirs.”
“What’s that thing Tomi Lahren says— you know Tomi Lahren— what’s that thing she says?”
“Well, honey, we live in a country of snowflakes.” They sound defeated, as if there is nothing more to do but hunker down and shame the storm behind closed doors.
Of a long list of stereotypes and slurs, there’s one insult that the conservative media enjoys that truly gets to me: “liberal snowflake.” The phrase is deceptively cute, slyly silly, and it’s valid to insist it isn’t worth wasting emotion on. Nevertheless, it still irks me because it is a product of two things that never fail to raise my proverbial hackles: lies and willful misunderstanding. Funny (or not) that the couple should mention Tomi Lahren— her brand is the embodiment of both.
It annoys me to talk about someone as full of manufactured vitriol as Tomi Lahren, but for the sake of example and context, I’ll touch on my (very) short history with her. I was first hit over the head with Ms. Lahren when she appeared on The Daily Show opposite Trevor Noah. By the end of their debate, I saw— in much the way someone witnesses a horror movie— how old-world ignorance survives parasitically on in younger generations. Like any curious individual in this technological age, I googled her name and began the descent through her anti-liberal blockade and into the realm of the right-wing spin zone. They speak a unique dialect there, but one that didn’t take me long to crack: “tantrum”= anger, “feelings”= weak, “victims/snowflakes”= anyone who refuses to take it lying down.
Conservative pundits— Ms. Lahren very much included— like to play cards: the race card, the woman card, the welfare card, and the all-purpose victim card. They deal to those that the Republican Party deems to be too sensitive, too whiny, and who will “melt” at any idea that contradicts their worldview, hence that clever snowflake metaphor. Believed to have originated from Chuck Palahniuk’s 1996 novel Fight Club as a descriptor for those of emotional fragility, snowflake has become the GOP’s snark of choice, used as an equally demeaning synonym for “playing the victim.” It’s an insult directed at liberals and progressives, particularly millennials, and underlines a deep misunderstanding within conservative circles that pumps the heart of their ire for the left.
“I recently had a conversation with someone who said they were frustrated by people ‘choosing to be the victim,’” says Mary Foley, a medical advocate with Rape Victims Advocates (RVA) in Chicago. “I told them that, by definition, I didn’t think people could ‘choose’ to be the victim. Perhaps the phrase that better summarizes what they were alluding to is people choosing to identify as victims.” There is a subtle, but essential, difference between the fact of being a victim and identifying as a victim a.k.a. playing the victim, which essentially means making up or embellishing upon one’s victimization for personal benefit. It’s a distinction Mary is keen to make, as she sees victimhood play out in heartbreaking clarity in emergency rooms for women, men, and children who have been sexually assaulted. At its base definition, the concept does not imply agency; you don’t get to choose whether or not you are a victim. The hard truth of being a victim is that your power of self-determination is stripped from you by another. Advocates who work with those who have been sexually assaulted are trained to say “survivor” instead of victim in order to help restore some of that stolen power. As Gwendolyn Wu wrote for the women’s health site HelloFlo:
“‘Surviving’ conveys that the person is still fighting, whether through the judicial system in order to bring justice to the perpetrator, to gain awareness for the cause, or to learn to live after experiencing an assault. A ‘survivor’ thrives in their environment. There’s also a sense of mobility with the word “survivor.” Historically, people associate the term ‘victim’ with being trapped, sometimes in reference to the cycle of domestic abuse. Using ‘survivor’ implies progression over stagnancy, and many choose it because it serves as a term of empowerment. ‘Victim’-izing someone morphs their identity into simply being a victim.”
Terms like snowflake become misused when being a victim is convoluted with playing the victim. From what I can surmise through scouring the internet and leaning in on more conversations than may be polite, people and groups run the risk of being labeled snowflakes when they do one thing: fight back. Fighting back takes many forms, including standing against language that is dehumanizing (the ever-controversial politically incorrect falls into this category), working against institutions that oppress, and in protest. The moment those with equality as the goal resist inequality, they’re ridiculed by many from the political Right for starting trouble. When they act against injustice it is labeled as “complaining.” When they refuse to assume their role as victim, they are told that they are playing the victim. Most recently, this derisive language came out in force against high profile targets like the Black Lives Matter movement, the Women’s March on Washington, and those demonstrating against President Trump’s sloppy executive order to withhold immigration from seven majority-Muslim countries. As long as there is resistance to inequality and injustice, I know we’ll hear it again.
There is no power in being a victim; the power exists in being a survivor. The protests, the individual acts of kindness, and the larger-scale social justice work being done amidst Trump’s alarming presidency are not acts of playing the victim. They are the actions of fighters, of activists, of a citizenry that will not be gaslighted into believing that their rights are wrong. While a certain level of cynicism and apathy narrates much of mainstream Republicanism (this has worked well for the conservative political elite), the progressive movement cannot be the same. Apathy is akin to complicity and demonstrates a narrow-minded sense of compassion; there is no room for it in the march forward. Progressivism’s origin stories are ones of passion and its evolution has been guided by people’s perseverance through humanity’s worst. The success of liberal ideals has always depended on those who arm themselves with a powerful stubbornness for truth and an unwillingness to passively take a beating. Activists today come from a long line of resistance— the United States was built on it— and they envision the consequences of their actions as reaching far beyond themselves and into the lives of generations they will never meet. They resist their status as victim, refusing to be anything but survivors not only for themselves, but for millions of others. For those who see the angry masses as merely “playing victim,” frankly, I have no clue what you’re talking about. The progressive individuals and communities I see are far from snowflakes. They’ve got snow-balls though.