Trigger warnings demean feminism. Here’s why. | FACTUAL FEMINIST

Trigger warnings demean feminism. Here’s why. | FACTUAL FEMINIST

October 28, 2019 100 By Stanley Isaacs


At a recent feminist conference in London,
the attendees were advised NOT to clap their hands. Clapping, it seems, could trigger anxiety
in the speakers and the participants. So instead, the audience was urged to express approval
with something called “feminist jazz hands.” So far, Jazz Hands have not caught on in the
United States, but trigger warnings have become de rigueur on many college campuses. Well,
what exactly are trigger warnings and are they something we should welcome? That’s
coming up next on the Factual Feminist. Trigger warnings developed in the feminist blogosphere,
and typically they appeared at the beginning of articles to alert readers to potentially
upsetting content about sexual assault or other violence. These were thought that could
trigger traumatic memories in survivors. Well in recent years these warnings have moved
from blogs to newspapers to classrooms. Professors at schools like Oberlin, Rutgers, and UCSB
have been urged to place “trigger warnings” on reading lists with books like The Great
Gatsby or Things Fall Apart—these need warnings because they include upsetting descriptions
of misogyny, sexual violence, racism, colonialism. As a UCSB lit major, Bailey Loverin, explained
in the New York Times, “without a trigger warning, a survivor might black out, become
hysterical or feel forced to leave the room.” There has been a lot of pushback against the
culture of trigger warnings. But to no avail. And the list of triggering events and materials
it just keeps growing. In its summary of potential triggers, Geek Feminism Wiki mentions topics
body shaming and eating disorders. It notes that members of a fertility support group
might require warnings for pregnancy announcements. And it turns out a trigger warning itself
can be triggering. The Factual Feminist is concerned. I don’t view trigger warnings as
a wholesome development–for so many reasons. I’ll mention three: First, trigger warnings
have no basis in the scientific literature. Richard McNally, a Harvard psychologist and
expert on anxiety disorders, recently published a review of the relevant research which suggests
that these warnings do more harm than good. It turns out that most trauma victims are
resilient, they don’t need therapy and certainly don’t need trigger warnings. For the small
percentage who suffer from Post-traumatic Stress Disorder, trigger warnings appear to
be counter-productive. “Avoidance,” says McNally, “reinforces PTSD. Conversely, systematic
exposure to triggers and the memories they provoke is the most effective means of overcoming
the disorder.” Now second objection, trigger warnings are creating a hostile environment
for critical thinking and free expression. Professors at leading colleges and universities
have to carefully scan their classroom materials for anything that might conceivably make a
student uncomfortable. A Harvard Law School professor, Jeannie Suk, recently published
an article in The New Yorker about how law school students are now demanding trigger
warnings for any discussion of sexual violence, and some are saying that this shouldn’t
be taught at all. Too upsetting. Too disturbing. Another professor wrote about his fear of
accidentally saying something insensitive and unleashing a mob of aggrieved students
“carrying mattresses to your office hours” or “starting a twitter petition demanding
you chop off your hand in repentance.” It’s the custom on some campuses for traumatized
students to gather in “survival circles” where they give each other shoulder massages
and share feelings and offer mutual support. But the classroom is not massage therapy,
it’s not a feelings circle—it is supposed to prepare students for life and its inevitable
challenges. Finally—I want to say this—Trigger warnings are embarrassing to women and to
feminism. They convey the idea that women are helpless children –delicate little injured
birds who cannot cope with clapping. When Brown University hosted a debate about statistics
on sexual assault, activists provided a safe room for students who were triggered by the
presence of a speaker who would “invalidate their experience.” As Judith Shulevitz described
it in the New York Times, these safe rooms come equipped with cookies, coloring books,
bubbles, Play-Doh, calming music, pillows, blankets, even a video of frolicking puppies.
This is what women’s liberation has come to? Well what do you agree that it’s time
to pull the trigger on trigger warnings. Or am I missing something? Would you like to
see clapping replaced with Jazz Hands. Would that make you feel safer? Let me know in the
comments. And please follow me on Facebook and Twitter. Thank you for watching the Factual
Feminist.