The Relationship Between Special Snowflakes and Victim-Blaming

You’ve seen at least one before: the kid who thinks they’re weirder than they really are, or claims that nobody understands them, or who self-consciously begins a question with, “Am I the only one who…” about something so normal that you can only sigh and brace yourself against the second-hand embarrassment.

It can be genuinely annoying.

Knowing I’m not the only one who’s been bothered by this on occasion, I’ve decided to share some thoughts on how people begin to think that way in the first place, as well as some musings on how to shut this sort of thing down.

Part One: Origins

As a clarifying note, this post will not be discussing people or traits that are genuinely are rare/strange/abnormal or what have you.  We’re considering the case of someone who has a nature that is not all that unique, and whose supposed-unusual traits are more commonplace than they think.

What makes a person feel extremely different to begin with?  Not necessarily the absence of people who are the same, but the absence of visibility of people who are the same.  When you never hear anyone talk about having X trait, and when you’ve neither met nor heard of anyone who is X, and when you see next to no recognition of X anywhere you look, X begins to seem pretty outlandish.  Maybe it’s not really all that outlandish, but that doesn’t matter.  If an individual feels something that they rarely see discussed or brought to anyone’s attention, then it is natural for them to think they must have a rare trait, because it appears to be scarce.

Scarce, uncommon, few and far between.  Isolated from similarity.

Let’s get one thing straight: isolation is pain.  It’s bad for your spirits and it’s bad for your mental and physical health.  And it’s a necessary prerequisite to thinking of oneself as extremely different.

Saying someone wants to “feel special” is saying they want that pain.

People want to be memorable, to be accomplished, to be notable, to be worthy.  Not “special”.  Feeling extremely different originates from the pain of isolation, and so the best way to banish that feeling is to point out the others who are the same — as a gesture of comfort, not an attack on a claim.  Dismiss or challenge whether someone really is “different” enough to count themselves as such, and all you’re doing is questioning whether they’ve felt enough pain, which is itself an infliction of pain, and you can see where this is heading.  Circumvent that unproductive strategy by recognizing their suffering as too much, not too little — because your point, presumably, is that their perception of their own difference exceeds the actuality.

Part Two: Parasitism

The popular suspicion that arises in these situations is that an insatiable desire for attention is at play.  My theory is that actual attention hounds would move on to more effective strategies, but let’s consider the word “attention” for a moment.  What are the sources of attention for a person identifying as, say, demisexual?

First, there’s the attention from similar people, which I consider to be negligible — not just because they are small in number, but because you can’t feel special in relation to people who are the same.  Seeking a community just to act elitist toward them about what you have in common doesn’t work.  Wanting to engage in discussions about experiences you can’t actually relate to doesn’t make sense either, unless there are additional factors involved (like, say, crushing loneliness).  Whatever attention people gain from this audience of peers, it’s hard to imagine it being exploitative unless, again, there’s an additional dynamic at play.  Simply seeking each other out and decreasing the perception of each others’ rarity has no inherently negative effects as far as I can see.

Secondly, the other main source of attention is, unsurprisingly, people making the accusation that these other people are just looking for attention.  However, publishing such an accusation (say, on the internet) would presumably only done with the wish that it be seen and be granted some recognition or response, i.e., attention, so it’s implied that the word “attention” is being used to mean something more specific in these cases — a parasitic relationship of sorts, in which someone is granted unwarranted positive treatment for self-indulgent purposes.

However, a parasitic relationship requires both a parasite and a host.  A community of people who share their unusual identity in common can’t all be parasites to each other, and there doesn’t seem to be anything harmful about them coming together and recognizing each other.  The only other plausible “host” in this situation is the second group: the people complaining about the hypothetical parasitic relationship.  It would almost seem like a “chicken or the egg” scenario if it weren’t so obvious.

If you don’t want people to receive unnecessary attention, then stop giving it to them.

Another facet I’ve observed in this dynamic is how vitriolic and acerbic the complaints often are in attacking people for identifying as this, that, or the other, and if we operate on the assumption that these complaints, themselves, function as a significant share of the attention received (for the word “attention” is usually given no other modifiers), then the message is essentially, “You want us to mock you.  You want us to hate you.  You want us to tear you down.”

Arguing that people “want attention,” while granting it to them via attacking them for as much, is arguing that people want to be abused.  These claims appear to be based on the notion that experiencing pain in and of itself proves that you deserve that pain — an overzealous manifestation of the just world fallacy.

And that is why I consider the aggressive misapplication of the term “special snowflake” to be equivalent to victim-blaming.

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6 responses to “The Relationship Between Special Snowflakes and Victim-Blaming

  • captainglittertoes

    Super true!! Thanks for breaking down why this term sucks so much.

  • madcap86

    While I’ve never thought of it this way, I’m not sure if this is always applicable. Certainly it is for people of various demographics that others have deemed “special snowflakes.” Say, the sexuality that few have heard of, and whose meaning may not be easy to understand. That person is not necessarily looking for any sort of attention, they’ve merely found a term that identifies their life and they’re sharing it with others.

    But then you have people who are making an effort to be as different as possible, possibly because they see various minorities getting what they deem to be “special attention” on websites like tumblr. After all, tumblr society tends to vilify anyone who is in the majority (i.e. white, cis, hetero). So this person creates some specialness about themselves that mimics what they see. They see it as a way to say “See? I’m like you! I’m not “normal.” I’m not one of those people who put you down. I’m different too!” These are the sort of people I think of when I hear “special snowflake.”

    I do relate to a lot of what you said here. When I was young, I didn’t know that fandoms and fanfiction was a thing. I thought I was just this freak of nature who created stories with her favorite characters. I’d done this since I was a kid. Then I got to high school, someone introduced me to fanfiction.net, and I realized there was a whole world out there.

    It is isolating to feel you’re the only one who’s into something. I’m the only geek in my family. I didn’t really get asexuality until a year ago, and then I was like “wow, there’s a word for what I feel.”

    I think the people who say “you’re just looking for attention” are a mixture of those who want an excuse to bully people, and those who genuinely don’t understand why such status are necessary. They are people who don’t understand all sexual orientations, the ones who hear demisexuality and its definition and roll their eyes. They don’t understand, because they’re not in a position to need such an identity.

    I understand your point. I do think that there are some people who dismiss others as an excuse to blame the victim. But I think that there are also people who use it to dismiss, or to try and preserve their worldview. You just want to be special, so I don’t have to change or educate myself. I would almost say it’s a defensive thing. Doesn’t make it right, but I don’t think it’s intentionally malicious either.

    • Coyote

      “But then you have people who are making an effort to be as different as possible”

      This is literally what I wrote the post about.

      “After all, tumblr society tends to vilify anyone who is in the majority (i.e. white, cis, hetero).”

      Oh dear. You’ve come to the comment section to whine.

      “See? I’m like you! I’m not ‘normal.'”

      Did you just claim that this supposed demographic is making an effort at being included by emphasizing their similarity to fit in with a group and, essentially, trying to make themselves seem (that context’s version of) normal?

      That’s the complete opposite of trying to be special.

      “I would almost say it’s a defensive thing.”

      Almost?

      • madcap86

        For the record, I never make comments to “whine.” I’ve seen kids on tumblr apologizing for being cis, hetero, and white, because the SJWs send them the message that being these things is evil, based on the actions of the majority.

        The fact is, we can never have true equality by vilifying any group. That’s just me calling it as I see it.

        Yes, I do believe there’s a demographic of those labeled as “special snowflakes” who are trying to make themselves seem like something that they are not (or perhaps are emphasizing traits they have that are not truly changes to their identity) in an attempt to “fit in” with that group’s normal. These people are not choosing the label of “special” for themselves, other people are assigning that to them. I would say that these people are not so much trying to be special, as being included. Or maybe they just don’t want to appear to be on the side of the “bad guys.”

        It’s also possible this is a [bad] attempt at empathy, like when someone says that they have clinical depression, and the other person says “Oh, I know how that is. I’ve been in a funk lately too.” One person has a genuine mental illness, the other has been feeling sad.

        I hope that clarifies my original idea better.

        • Coyote

          “I’ve seen kids on tumblr apologizing for being cis, hetero, and white,”

          Well that’s completely useless.

          “because the SJWs”

          Oh no, you’re actually using that term unironically.

          “The fact is, we can never have true equality by vilifying any group.”

          That’s nice, but I don’t really prioritize “equality” as one of my goals anyway.

          “These people are not choosing the label of ‘special’ for themselves, other people are assigning that to them”

          Okay, hold on. I want to try and make sure I understand what you’re telling me. If they’re being assigned the sarcastic designation of “special” by other people (not themselves), and if they’re being assigned as much on the basis of their efforts to fit in with a given context’s norm, then isn’t that assignment as much an attack on that context’s norm/trait as a whole? You’re clearly not talking about people who think of themselves as different, at this point.

          “One person has a genuine mental illness, the other has been feeling sad.”

          Wait, so special snowflakes are the people who trivialize the impact of mental illness? If that’s the case, then just about everybody who mocks triggers must be a special snowflake.

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