Trigger Warnings Perpetuate Victimhood

Trigger Warnings Perpetuate Victimhood

The online discussion went something like this: women who are sexual assault victims need these trigger warnings so as not to become a “mess” and to allow them the choice to participate in the theatre or not. In his article on this subject, Harry Chu wrote earlier this year, “A distinction ought to be made between best practices for trigger warnings and trigger warnings as best practice. These are lifetimes of trauma and yet, amazingly, these men and women are able to live their lives without trigger warnings of possible images of sexual violence, narratives that focus on the elite, and so forth. We can’t cushion ourselves against all the potentialities of the world, on or off-stage. I mean where’s my trigger warning? I can’t even fathom living in a world where we must be warned about violence or potential distressing subjects. And media brings the most violent and immediate of images to us all the time—not uniquely limited to television sets, but pretty much everywhere from mobile phones, watches, and pretty much every device possible. By cushioning ourselves from our past and certain codified themes, we are not actually helping ourselves work through trauma but instead are creating a neo-politburo of “topics not to be discussed” or shown. During one class, the teacher narrated through the post stating, “Think of this pose as how little newborn babies lie down, but imagine a lifeless child.” I have no idea why my yogi chose this image, but the end result was my being a bit jolted by it. At the end of the day, if a specific theme is so potentially damaging to the individual, the real struggle should not be in forcing society to coddle this person, but rather we ought to be working together to address the underlying political and social structures which created the traumatic moment of violence in the first place.

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I thought trigger warnings were old news until earlier today when I became aware of a discussion on social media about the proposition of trigger warnings in theaters as prompted by a recent New York Times article on the subject. The online discussion went something like this: women who are sexual assault victims need these trigger warnings so as not to become a “mess” and to allow them the choice to participate in the theatre or not. In response to this onslaught of support for trigger warnings, one woman came onto the thread and critiqued this position, writing, “In some instances chronic avoidance of anything that one suspects will be upsetting or triggering can become a pathology of its own.” The response to this: “That’s almost as bad as Trump saying veterans with PTSD are weak.”

Hold on a minute! Aside from the bizarre upgrade to reductio ad Hitlerium, I completely agreed with this critique of trigger warnings. Indeed, that speaker was correct about there being no proof that they actually function positively and that triggers become their own pathology. I would take this much further and state that trigger warnings are hurting us all.

First to the nitty gritty. In his article on this subject, Harry Chu wrote earlier this year, “A distinction ought to be made between best practices for trigger warnings and trigger warnings as best practice. Although these are not mutually exclusive concepts, empirical evidence has yet to be presented in support of trigger warnings as best practice when it comes to mental health.” And given the paucity of evidence, we have to ask ourselves as a society why we are expending so much energy cushioning the blow of reality for those individuals who have been victims of violence. Lastly, I have to ask why so many of the women in this discussion uniquely view trauma as that of rape and sexual assault. My head reeled from the comments because as someone who has lived around the world, the most common experience of the majority of the planet is dire poverty. And that alone is extremely traumatizing. Yet, not a word was made of this sort of trauma. Not one reference of male victims of trauma from PTSD in military conflicts, to the staggering numbers of men who are victims of male violence, to the many men who are victims of political rape around the world, where in some countries, men are raped in equal measure to the women.

Sexual assault aside, trauma takes on many, many forms and I reject categorically the Oppression Olympics of who suffers more. What I can say, is that westerners need to pull out their passports and travel to witness the incredibly poverty of majority of the world’s population. Women and men in Bolivia’s Altiplano are living in barren deserts, total lack of dehydration and diets limited to what might grow at 3,700 meters and the marks of malnutrition are readily visible on their cheeks. Go outside any train station in India and you will see people living on the streets, too poor in most cases to have any kind of tent or makeshift shelter, children begging with their families…

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