Of Fighting Back and Trigger Warnings

I never understood why feminists put “trigger warnings” on their posts. I mean, I understand the concept and it’s great that they are thinking about how what they post will be percieved by those reading them, but I find the use of images far more triggering than actual words. Take for instance this excellent post about blaming women for fighting back when raped over at Kate Harding’s Shapely Prose blog. It’s a great post about the mixed messages sent to women about keeping one’s mouth shut and not being angry or responsive, either in person or while blogging.

The same men who wonder why women don’t fight back more when raped to prove they actually have been raped are the same men who believe that women should keep their mouths shut on blogs or if not keep their mouths shut, at least “temper” their language to pass as respectable in polite society! In past relationships, I also could never understand why the same men, who didn’t like my ranting in blogs in public or personally in arguments about the merits of feminism, could admire the most vociferous and bitchy of women elsewhere in the blogosphere or in public. I mean what’s that about? It’s as if they were saying to me, “Personally, I’d like you to keep your mouth shut about feminism and how patriarchy kills the soul, but hey did you read that woman over there? She is so cool for voicing her opinion and in such a bitchy way!” What is one supposed to think of that? My brand of “bitching” wasn’t cool enough to merit admiration? It was unbecoming for me, but pretty cool when someone else does it? Makes no sense.

These mixed messages that we get on a daily basis is not merely annoying at best, but at worst is dangerous when it comes to real life situations in which life, limb, and happiness of soul are on the line.  As a woman who was forced most of her life to keep her mouth shut, I am finally taking the opportunity to make my thoughts known, loudly and sometimes obnoxiously, but as I get older the voices telling me to be quiet and more lady-like are getting more subtle but more insistent. I even find myself critical of other women when I wonder to myself why the women on feminist blogs have to use the word “fuck” all the time in their posts and podcasts and YouTubes. In my mind, men using it in everyday discourse is natural, but women…. that’s another story! I realized my hypocrisy of course, but sometimes I don’t catch myself in time. After all, it’s the same mindset that keeps us from speaking our minds at all, let alone using the words of the male world in a revolutionary way.

But back to triggering. I realized that images were more powerful triggering mechanisms than words for me when I was watching the new A & E program Obsessed last night, which chronicles the OCD symptoms of people seeking therapy to help them control their anxieties and hopefully rid them of their OCD. Most OCDs stem from some traumatic event that the person has not dealt with in a reasonable way.  I realized my propensity toward the same type of obsessive behavior when I watched last night’s episode. A woman who watched her father abuse their pet dog while she was a kid and her inability to protect the poor animal led her to visualize over and over scenes of animal abuse and such visualizing caused her to have horrible wrenching crying episodes. She couldn’t watch television or go anywhere that animals were living or being euthanized, like the animal shelter.

I can understand this completely. My step-father would put our poor kittens in abusive situations and in harm’s way in front of my sister and I just for the sheer fun of watching us be horrified at it! We too could do nothing for the poor things and all my life I can’t stand to see a cat or kitten in need or starving or abused. I too would have obsessive thoughts about kittens being put in a bag and drowned as some in our rural area would do when they didn’t want to take care of them (this rather than getting the cat spayed/neutered!) I would imagine cats being run over or hit by cars. I can’t even watch that commerical about preventing animal cruelty that Sarah McClachlen has done without crying like a baby! I also couldn’t get the thought of a kitten with pneumonia that I found outside my apartment years ago out of my head. The kitten was dying and wanted to sleep on me constantly but I wouldn’t let it for some strange reason and to this day I am haunted by that kitten, whom I didn’t help like I should have. It too had to be euthanized because it was obviously dying and all it wanted was a warm body.  Guilt, guilt, guilt.  It makes me tear up just thinking about it. So last night while this woman sobbed during her Cognitive Behavioral Therapy forcing her to face the animals at the pound, I too sobbed over that poor pneumonia-ridden kitten that I couldn’t help and all other helpless animals out there.  Trigger warning necessary for that???? You betcha!’ But there was none. Of course this still doesn’t explain to me why I can watch horror movies and cinematic violence perpetrated against humans, but can’t watch an animal cruelty advertisement! Warped? Yes.

However, I find the crying over it useful and therapeutic and perhaps the one reason why my obsessive thoughts don’t turn into OCD-like thoughts. I understand the trigger warnings and am grateful others think of them before posting. For me, however, the words aren’t triggering; images are. And in this visual culture, shouldn’t we at least be more careful what we put out there for everyone to see, especially if it’s billed as “reality?” Don’t we have enough of reality already?

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8 thoughts on “Of Fighting Back and Trigger Warnings

  1. There was a discussion about this in the feminist blogosphere a few weeks back. Amanda Marcotte at Pandagon said she thinks it’s underestimating women’s (and just generally, people’s) ability to discern when a post might be too much for them. She finds it mildly insulting and so doesn’t post trigger warnings. The Apostate (who’s since taken down her blog) wrote on the variety of triggers – like you, she doubts that we can ever predict the majority of triggers for seriously traumatic memories/reactions. At Shakesville, many things are deemed triggering, and I can’t keep tabs on all of them, which is one reason I’m disinclined to comment there. I’m not comfortable with what sometimes feels like a gotcha! game.

    Myself, I occasionally post a trigger warning. Earlier this week, I wrote on torture in Iraq. This is obviously an upsetting topic. I actually think the vast majority of people will realize this, and most potential readers have not experienced quite the same things as I described. I don’t precede every discussion of violence or violation with a warning. For a woman who’s had hard experiences with childbirth and felt she lost all of her autonomy in the situation, a couple of my recent post could very well trigger the trauma.

    I guess I reserve trigger warnings for material that is particularly brutal. I’m probably pretty inconsistent about it. While I intend it as a courtesy to readers, it’s more likely a barometer of my own discomfort with the topic.

    Thanks for the thought-provoking post!

  2. Yes, I’m not sure about posting a trigger warning on everything that may be triggering because the nature of trauma is to sometimes show up after the most innocuous event, as in the case of me and an occasional video on the internet and television. We can’t possibly predict it can we?

    I think I had my first encounter with this at university when I showed a clip of Fight Club in my American Spirituality seminar. I wanted to highlight the Dark Zen element. But someone took huge issue with the clip as it showed the car crash that Tyler Durden perpetrated on his occupant. Oops! I didn’t think about those who couldn’t stomach what I could and I’ve remembered it ever since. Of course that was a movie and I find words to be different. But again, that’s me.

    Thanks Sungold for the comment!

  3. Holy goodnight.

    I almost felt, I didn’t know how true it was until I saw it in print.

    Wow, I am silenced, and no pun intended, I mean silenced in the sense of reflection.

  4. Ever read, Dance of the Dissident Daughter?

    In the first few pages it reads as to the seeds/origins/everyday occurrences of what is supposed to be ok for women, and wow, does it ever turn into a long, crazy labyrinth. Then again, I should not insult the word labyrinth that way.

  5. Yes, I have. And you’re right. It does turn into a twisty, winding kind of spiritual journey. It does lose it’s focus somewhat. Labyrinth dos imply a destination and I’m not sure she ever makes it there. The most fascinating part is her sudden realization about her Southern Baptist affiliation.

  6. I did like her book. I found it compelling that she shifted when she heard the men in the store look at her daughter and make a comment. (Goes back to what we can consider normal as what we simply put up with as women.)

  7. Sometimes all it takes is a random comment that has very significant consequences for us. I could relate to that. You just start seeing things differently all of a sudden. Yes, that was quite interesting.

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