Wednesday, March 05, 2014

So much for trigger warnings

Radical feminists and progressives, this is why you can't have nice things.

It's true: I've used "trigger warning" in the past to give people a heads up about potentially upsetting information. I did this because I know my audience, and I know people for whom the issues I'm flagging are potential triggers. But, as much as I understand (and will defend) its reasonable use, it really has gone too far, and I will avoid using it in the future.

When you apply a warning to everything, it becomes meaningless even when it's applied reasonably. The rationale for applying a trigger warning to everything that could potentially be upsetting to someone seems a lot like helping people avoid issues that upset them, not treating them like empowered individuals.
"Oberlin College recommends that its faculty “remove triggering material when it does not contribute directly to the course learning goals”. When material is simply too important to take out entirely, the college recommends trigger warnings."
And for what? Talk to someone who has (or has a friend who has) gone through exposure therapy and they will tell you that helping a trauma survivor avoid everything upsetting is not doing them any favours. If you care about education, you know that censorship doesn't do it any favours, either. I'm certain the people suggesting this have good intentions, but I wonder how well informed they are, and if they're aware of what's motivating them.

A personal story: I was in a non-abusive (don't worry, Mom and Dad!), but emotionally unhealthy friendship for years. It became unbearable, and I cut ties for the better part of a year to sort myself out. This meant taking a hard look at how I was reacting to things that set me off. That meant dealing with those things. It was, I'm certain, nothing compared to what an assault survivor has to go through, but I can tell you a few things that I learned: First, I was upset and angry all the time. It was easy to explain being upset and angry all the time with any example of injustice, pigheadedness, or anything else I normally find merely irritating. If I had wanted to avoid sorting myself, I could have asked my friends to avoid sending me all kinds of things.

I don't want to say that my experience is generalizable or comparable to what someone with PTSD has to put themselves through to heal. But I can see how this got out of hand. It's time to rein it in.

The person who got me through tackling my issues, by the way, is one of the people I'm giving a heads up to when I write "trigger warning." You guys, she can handle it. And the ones for whom it's more useful can get there. Anyone getting really indignant about slapping a trigger warning on everything has no idea how strong the people they're trying to protect have the potential to be.

I'm certain of one thing: they don't need, and they won't be helped by, a bubble-wrapped world.

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