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Posted by on Jan 4, 2013 in Drama, Feminism | 47 comments

Trigger Warning: Trigger Warnings

Trigger warnings are a new post-modern feminist online fad. They’re almost exclusively used in feminist blogs to indicate content related to sexual abuse or rape perpetrated against women (e.g, Trigger Warning: Rape), but go as far as to include disappointing marriage proposals. As such, they’re obviously needless, since the same information can easily be conveyed with an accurate title (e.g, Violent Gang Rape And Murder On Delhi Bus). Further, apparently male victims of suffering or abuse are not worthy of such warnings and didn’t need them until women stormed the internet. After all they’re strong, they’re men, they can cope, right? How incredibly sexist. It’s even more interesting that many of those who say they benefit from trigger warnings readily admit to having suffered no sexual abuse or trauma whatsoever. But, you know, apparently some things just sound too disturbing to certain overly-feminine ears. How do such people function in society and serve as professionals, doctors, nurses, attorneys, jurors, judges, victim’s rights advocates, role models, artists, journalists, parents, peers? For these people I’d like to present a trigger warning that should cover everything they’re likely to see online: Trigger Warning — Internet and offline: Trigger Warning — Life.

To make this short, I agree with everything said about trigger warnings here. Further, I don’t understand how anyone laying a claim to rationality can even assert that there is some utility to a generalized warning intended to keep someone from feeling what they do because of a set of unique external and/or internal circumstances. One must be completely unfamiliar with PTSD, anxiety, or panic disorder to imagine that trigger warnings can ever be anything other than advertising. File this one away with Patriarchy “theory,” male privilege, mansplainin’, and a torrent of other logically-untenable, self-serving feminist nonsense that I want no part of. I’d rather join a sewing club. Seriously. At least those girls (and boys?) can teach me something useful.

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  • Thinka Roo

    Thank you for this post! Needed to be said. (But seriously, I do love sewing!!)

    • bluharmony

      Teach me how? Knitting, too. The judge I used to clerk for tried to teach me, but failed.

      • An Ardent Skeptic

        Country Bumpkin publishers (based in Australia) publishes the best needle arts magazine I have ever seen called “Inspirations”. They also publish a how-to series of books called “A to Z of …”. Try their A-Z of Knitting. It has great photos of the knitting process with simple instructions under each photo.

        BTW, there is a fabulous needlecrafts store in Issaquah, WA. They specialize in embroidery and such, but they can probably put you in touch with some knitters who will be willing to give instruction. Here’s the link:

      • Stephan Brun

        If you have the patience in this brave, new world, there is also Youtube. Found this one about the basics of knitting. More complicated stuff can likely be found too.

    • An Ardent Skeptic

      I love sewing as well. (I used to work as a dressmaker. I also worked as a stitcher in shoe and clothing factories.) Bluharmony would probably love attending a sewing circle – nice people who enjoy sharing tips and ideas. It’s a drama free zone.

  • Good post. It seems to me most of the people writing these things have no idea what a trauma trigger is. Trauma triggers are unique to each victim. And if you’re triggered by discussions of sexual violence, then what the hell are you doing hanging out on subreddits or blogs that frequently contain discussions about sexual violence, and are well known to? I also agree with Breslin, it seems this is a fad, not a sincere desire to protect victims. They could be using it to gain attention for their posts, or they could just be doing it now because it’s “in right now” among the cyber-feminism. It’s the lingo that marks them as part of the group that “gets it”. Gotta use trigger warnings and throw the word privilege all over the place to prove you have street cred.

    • bluharmony

      It’s all so 101, ya know.

    • jjramsey

      it seems this is a fad, not a sincere desire to protect victims.

      And how would you judge a blogger’s sincerity? Is, for example, Libby Anne being insincere when she puts a trigger warning on a post about an ad on rape awareness? Bear in mind that her blog is usually about non-violent forms of sexism, so it’s not well-described as one that is well-known to “frequently contain discussions about sexual violence.”

      I can understand getting up in arms when bloggers spread outright BS or malicious falsehoods, but trigger warnings? For the most part, they are at worst an unnecessary courtesy.

      • bluharmony

        I think Libby Anne is great and don’t doubt her sincerity for a second. I do think, however, that adding a rape trigger warning to a post about an ad on *rape* awareness is redundant. It’s already clear from the title.

    • Right. “If you happen to have crippling disabilities then you should just stay off the Internet because no one here wants you around.” Glad to see you’re so compassionate.

  • My question is, when do “victims” actually have to take some responsibility for what they read? Yeah, I know, responsibility is a bad word, but it seems like so many of these radical feminists are trying to mother-hen anyone who has had anything bad ever happen to them, how are they ever supposed to get better and learn to deal with it again?

    I just don’t see it happening.

    • Ronlawhouston

      You’re so right. The self aware person knows their triggers. Even if they start to read something that they sense is “triggering” them, they stop.

      There is power in being a victim. The few voices that tell them to take responsibility and stop trying to be a victim are often shouted down as being insensitive, bullies or worse.

      • That is a great point about power and victimhood. Of course, I should note that I have not encountered many real victims who go around flaunting their victimhood like some people do. This behavior seems more common among those who seem to be professional victims.

    • bluharmony

      Moreover, what do they do when they’re in a space that’s run by adults and they have to fend for themselves? It’s funny that the feminists think themselves qualified to “treat” PTSD in this manner, rather than teaching victims practical coping skills or helping them get professional help, as needed.

      • That’s the thing, they don’t want to “treat” anyone, if any of their professional victims ever get over their “victimization”, the feminists lose their poster children. They only have a case so long as they can point at lots of women who have been “victimized”.

        It’s a scam.

        • Vic

          An interesting line of thought. Two things:

          Any organisation or movement which addresses specific issues ultimately aims to make itself unnecessary.

          Could it be that an existing organisation or movement would try to a) redefine its inital goals b) invent new goals or c) actively forestall the achievement of its goals, in order to validate its own existence continuosly, especially if its members can hope to gain monetary or other advantages by the existance of the organisation?

          Secondly, if a movement or organisation is honestly trying to pursue noble and desirable goals, yet its methods do not yield the intended effect or cause unintended side effects, at what point does it cease to be desirable to support it and try another approach in its stead?


          • bluharmony

            I think that’s part of the problem here — no organization or movement likes becoming obsolete. So at some point, drama and BACKLASH become profitable.

          • If you look at an organization like the American Diabetes Association, they are demonstrably trying to become obsolete, they are working hard to cure diabetes and inform diabetics, they don’t hand-hold anyone, they tell people what to do to improve their situation. Feminist groups, however, don’t do that. They don’t want anyone to get better. They thrive on keeping women victims and hiding solutions that might actually keep them safe and informed. If sexism magically went away tomorrow, even the ridiculous, irrational version of sexism that they tout, they would all have to get actual jobs!

            Can’t have that.

    • MosesZD

      I had PTSD. Adult living told me to be responsible for myself and face the situations that caused the PTSD and work through them through a combination of medicine, cognitive behavioral therapy and exposure therapy.

      What I didn’t try to do was censor the Internet, society and the universe because I want to be a professional victim.

      I’m not exactly the same as I was… But I’m no longer symptomatic and living a diminished life.

      And, as far as I know, what I did is the only thing that really works for PTSD. All else fails because it fails to address the reality of the situation — your head is more fucked up than society at large. And until you fix your head, you’re going to be jumping at shadows.

      • bluharmony

        Right, at least as far as I know, desensitization (through exposure therapy and behavioral therapy) is actually the most common treatment for PTSD.

  • Ronlawhouston

    Sob. Sob. When I was young there was this incredibly cute kitten. All I wanted to do was pet it and show some love to an adorable young kitten. However that apparently beautiful kitty, turned violent and horribly scratched me and bit me. Now every time I read a cute kitten post, I have intense fear and break out in shakes and cold sweats. Can you insensitive people please start giving me cute kitten trigger warnings? If you don’t then what’s the hell the matter with you ignorant people?

    • Clare45

      Oh, I’m terribly sorry! Maybe I should change my avatar again.

      • bluharmony

        Bad kitty.

  • Karmakin

    I suffer from an anxiety disorder. (Somewhere between Social and General) The biggest way in which it manifests itself by far, is that I tend to overly obsess and worry that the things that I say and can do will directly hurt other people.

    To put it simply, Trigger Warnings Trigger ME. They’re a “reminder” that sometimes even the most innocent of remarks can hurt someone greatly. That’s not a reminder I particularly want or need, as generally speaking that’s something I try my best to not dwell upon. I actually don’t really mind when people put them when they’re obviously necessary. But when they’re there, and seem quite arbitrary, it’s a reminder about all the (to me) arbitrary rules for social contact and how I’m always going to mess them up.

    • bluharmony

      For what it’s worth, you strike me as extremely sensitive, empathetic, and kind. I don’t think you’re going to cause offense to anyone whose goal isn’t to be offended.

      • Karmakin

        That’s the thing about my particular anxiety. I know that, on a rational level. I’m actually pretty well liked in my local community. Shouldn’t have any fear. But it’s still there.

        I think it was Hank Fox over at FTB during the whole harassment policy thing who had the best idea. That generally speaking the people who were worried about being creepy were, by and large not the people you had to worry about. The problem people are generally extremely socially confident, and it’s that social confidence that leads them to cross the line.

        • You make an interesting point that being too concerned about triggers actually can become its own trigger. In the past I’ve dealt with panic attacks and even a bout of agoraphobia for several months. At one point I had to learn to manage the triggers to help me cope better. But, the very process that increases the likelihood of a panic attack is becoming too focused on little details that one ultimately doesn’t have a lot of control over. Being too concerned on these details – including triggers – can actually reinforce the possibility of panicky feelings. Well, that’s been my experience.

          I view the trigger warnings as an effort to try and be empathetic to someone who is recently dealing with these sorts of difficult issues. I think there is a lot of individual variation as to how sensitive someone is and the length of time it takes to become less sensitive or vulnerable to said “triggers. My guess is that there can be some people who are very sensitive over a long period of time while others appear substantially less sensitive over a shorter period of time and yet still have the similar histories/experiences/diagnoses.

          For my part I reframe trigger warnings as a sort of “Parental Guidance” message that one might see before a TV program, for example. My doing so helps to diminish any “triggering” a trigger warning could cause. If that makes sense…:)

          • bluharmony

            I think that’s right, the initial intent was to help people in recovery, but it still doesn’t really work because the “trigger warning” itself can be as triggering as anything else.

  • openlyatheist

    Regarding the “disappointing proposal” thread:

    Firstly, how was the OP “piled on?” She just received a lot of responses, mostly supportive and somewhat reasonable. If she has received hundreds of messages telling her to fuck herself, I can imagine being upset by that.

    Secondly, when she returns to comment herself, she simply admits that the discussion brought up her issues of insecurity and neediness. Congrats lady; you just answered your own question as to what was really bothering you – your own insecurity and neediness.

    She’s lucky I wasn’t on that site. I definitely would have told her to fuck herself.

    On another note: I think if I start a blog I’ll label every post with the words TRIGGER WARNING. That should keep the radfems away.

    • bluharmony

      Actually no, that’s how to attract them. šŸ™‚

  • I think that “trigger warnings” are just another sign of growing entitlement culture.

    To conduct research using human subjects, social scientists need to consider every possible potential harm and weigh that against potential benefits. We must consider every question we ask as potentially harmful, including questions such as, “How old were your parents when they met?” What if one of the subjects saw his parents murdered? ANY question asked has the potential to harm someone, so how is research conducted at all?

    The key here is weighing the probability of such a situation, the probability that pain would be induced in that situation (which is not very high, despite current popular belief), the number of people this is likely to affect, and the benefits of asking such a question (which include the number of people who may benefit from the findings). In other words: nuance.

    Our culture has shifted to one of entitlement and narcissism in addition to one of growing anti-intellectualism and shallow thinking. The idea that every individual should be protected from potential harm and has no responsibility for their own well-being is an extreme viewpoint and, as with other extreme viewpoints, anything short of that is written off as the opposite. Anyone who suggests that “trigger warnings” are silly or that people are overly sensitive is accused of “privilege” and victim-blaming. Well, the truth is somewhere in between.

    In my opinion, the whole concept of “triggers” serves a few purposes, but none of them are good. It serves to attract attention to the “victim” in the form of sympathy and I am likely to see a person who claims to be victimized by such a thing as immature, narcissistic, or both. Case in point, the poster in your first link above described passive-aggressiveness and immaturity. I didn’t catch her age, but I have little hope for that marriage, assuming they make it to the alter. It also serves as a means of criticizing a blogger (or derailing conversation about a post) that is similar to an ad hominem attack.

    I mean, how did people who have suffered traumas (i.e., ALL of us) get through our days before “trigger warnings” were invented?

    • bluharmony

      It’s so nice to hear your rational and intelligent voice. Being to the left of things, I don’t mind entitlements as long as they’re helpful to individuals and benefit society as a whole, but I just can’t see how trigger warnings could ever accomplish that. For myriad reasons, they’re counterproductive and easily exploited. Adults need to take personal responsibility for what they’re reading and what part of the web they’re browsing. It really is that simple.

    • You’re making the argument that we shouldn’t attempt to improve things because we were able to get through our days before?

  • DRC

    Where does the phrase “trigger warning” come from? Is it saying that people are loose canons which can be “triggered” off at any second by unpleasant content?

  • alephsquared

    EDIT: Everything I wanted to say has been said better in this article

    • bluharmony

      Good post, thanks for the link. I agree with your comment before the edit, too.

  • DrewHardies

    I think the True Slant article you linked to is dead-on.

    Maybe there are times when trigger warnings are legitimately intended to prevent a PTSD sufferer from running into content that will cause them pain.

    But, most of the time, they seem like marketing, as in, “Warning: This Post Contains X-Treme content. Only For Grownups.”

  • I just had a long discourse with a group of feminist over the banning and censorship of an individual. It was the first time I was told about “triggering survivors” but the term pretty much explains itself. It was used throughout the discussion and at no point did anyone validate that it was in fact true. I’ve tried to research and see if there’s any legitimacy to online discussion triggering events and this is the page I found. I haven’t compelled to see it as anything else but a tool they could use to censor any dissension. Very quickly the discussion turned to insults and claims that I wasn’t capable of discussing in this matter because I’m man. I wasn’t even accused of “mansplainin'” as well, which was a first too.

  • I really don’t see the problem with trying to be courteous towards people less fortunate than us. Is it your opinion that PTSD symptoms don’t have triggers? This article seems bizarre and contradictory. You say it is irrational to think that trigger warnings might help, and that we must be unfamiliar with PTSD to think otherwise. Yet it is precisely because of my familiarity with PTSD that I try to avoid triggering symptoms of people who are unfortunate enough to have it.

    • bluharmony

      Why are you assuming that I haven’t/don’t have personal experience with PTSD? Trigger warnings are either so vague as to serve as their own triggers or the content of a disturbing article can be described in an accurate, yet cautiously-worded title. For all intents and purposes this should be sufficient. But it’s worth noting that the point of treating PTSD is to help people function normally and without being “triggered” by certain images/incidents/text. In other words, the point of treatment is to become healthy and capable of functioning in society. Also, PTSD varies in severity, and to act as if all humans are cripples because of their traumatic experiences takes away time and effort from working with those who truly need help. It’s the sort of victim mentality that’s prevalent in many modern feminist efforts, and it doesn’t help people cope with the reality of life. Life is pretty damned awful for some of us. We have to work very hard on seeing the bright side. And no silly trigger warning is going to fix that.

      • Wait, what? Where did I assume you don’t have personal experience with PTSD? Are we looking at the same comment?

        I don’t think trigger warnings imply that anyone is a cripple. And you know what else takes away time and effort from working with those who truly need help? Going out of your way to try and stop people from deciding to provide a personal courtesy out of their own free will.

        • There’s a difference between trying to stop someone from doing something and expressing an opinion.

  • Melanie Victoria

    I must say that the more I learn about feminism, the more disturbed I have become with what I see as a culture of victimhood. Although I initially adopted the label of feminist, I question this label now for fear that I may have resigned myself to a culture of victimhood. I find it incredibly disturbing that the notion of personal responsibility is often mocked and the pervasiveness of institutionalized sexism (racism and other isms included) is proposed to be a blight on the life of “oppressed” individuals. In addition, it is often claimed in feminist circles and women’s studies classes that no amount of personal ambition is sufficient to overcome barriers to success and that we must always be vigilant of “institutionalized” isms. This is incredibly condescending and foolish. There are women (and others from disadvantaged groups) who have risen to the top without caring a rat’s piss about any of this stuff. Perhaps that is why they have risen so far. Yes, institutionalized sexism and other isms are a societal blight, but to tell people that their own personal initiative will amount to little is destructive and foolhardy. But of course this kind of objection is shunned in feminist circles and I am beginning to understand why some women consider feminism to be off-putting and irrelevant when such non-sense is spouted as wisdom.

    • bluharmony

      Yes, that’s exactly right.

  • Melanie Victoria

    I must say that the more I learn about feminism, the more disturbed I have become with what I see as a culture of victimhood. Although I initially adopted the label of feminist, I question this label now for fear that I may becoming enmeshed in a culture of victimhood. I find it incredibly disturbing that the notion of personal responsibility is often mocked and the pervasiveness of institutionalized sexism (racism and other isms included) is proposed to be a blight on the life of individuals. In addition, it is often claimed in these classes that no amount of personal ambition is sufficient to overcome barriers to success and that we must always be vigilant of “institutionalized” isms. This is incredibly condescending and foolish. There are women (and others from disadvantaged groups) who have risen to the top without caring a rat’s piss about any of this stuff. Perhaps that is why they have risen so far. Yes, institutionalized sexism and other isms are a societal blight, but to tell people that their own personal initiative will amount to little is destructive and foolhardy. But of course we are not allowed to raise any of these objections in feminist circles.

  • Pingback: Sexualized Saturdays: Why Trigger Warnings are Important | Lady Geek Girl and Friends()

  • Aoi Warai

    I called myself a feminist for most of my life, thinking of it as a subset of my greater humanist values. I studied some radical feminism, but mostly dismissed it as “outliers”, random loonies who were “doing it wrong”. I later sat through an uber awkward quarter of being the only male in a Woman’s Studies course. It was there that I realized there were some profoundly bigoted concepts and philosophies underlying the broader movement.

    Once I got into the lesbian separatism, and realized how many of its ideas were being mainstreamed into concepts like “rape culture” (essentially Susan Brownmiller’s thesis, with additions from Andrea Dworkin), and the way gay men were once considered the worst misogynists for denying relations with women (the Redstockings), “compulsory heterosexuality for gays”, and the works of Marilyn Frye — not to mention Julie Bindel and the modern hatred spewed at Trans-people — I realized that I was seeing all the ontological structures of any other hate movement, just applied to sex and gender.

    I felt beyond betrayed, then later, terrified, that so much of my society had adopted as dogma, the concepts and themes of this movement. Years later I discovered Ernest Belfort Bax, Wendy McElroy, Lindsey German and Sandra Bloodworth, and finally realized just to what extent Feminism was a classist, reactionary, conservative puritanical movement. Like Scientology, it’s a cult. Women’s “liberation” had come and gone. What’s left is an undead version of that movement, cannibalizing everything around it. Women’s “equality” had been achieved, under the law, and in all the most meaningful ways it can be at the societal level, long ago — everything else was up to the individuals to do the fighting for their own fortunes that life requires of us all.

    But there was Feminism, eager to remind women that they were powerless victims of everything and everyone but themselves. What a cancer.

    • bluharmony

      Great comment. I agree.