Trigger warnings don’t work. Here’s why
Yesterday, I wrote a post about trigger warnings, “Trigger Warning: This Blog Post May Freak You the F*** Out.” Trigger warnings, if you are not aware, are a cousin to “spoiler alerts,” a blog post label used to let readers know upcoming content may or may not be something they want to read.
As of late, I’d noticed heavy use of it on feminist blogs in particular, including Feministing, a popular feminist blog, where, it seemed, every other post had a trigger warning at its outset. I suspected this excessive use of trigger warnings was about something else. Judging by the widespread, negative response my post received, I believe I was correct.
Not long after my post went live, counterattacks were launched by Feministing, which proclaimed me a “certifiable asshole,” Feministe, Shakespeare’s Sister, and elsewhere. As I wrote on my personal blog:
Since, I’ve been proclaimed a certifiable asshole, willfully ignorant, an invalidator, a non-friendly in the “cold, uncaring place” that is cyberspace, cruel, mocking, Glenn Beck-esque, an “Internet tough guy,” “Teabaggerian,” basely ignorant and lacking in empathy, simple, “a fucking tool,” “an unsophisticated thinker,” worse than moronic, “dangerous,” a crappy journalist, a poor googler, lacking in analytical skills, someone who can use my “melon as a hat rack,” a troll, “disgusting,” a “supercilious asshole,” “warped,” incapable of empathy, intellectually dishonest, a “Sister F***er,” “purposely obtuse and beyond help,” and “the kind of person who’d take [my] Vietnam-veteran granddad to see The Deer Hunter without warning him that it’s not actually about hunting deer.”
These responses were culled from the comments section at True/Slant. They don’t include the comment sections on the feminist blogs, where, among other things, I was declared a “cunt.” Then there was the hate mail.
I had included a trigger warning in the title of my post, yet feminist readers noted it and read on anyway, which, I believe, is primarily how trigger warnings function: by heightening the shock factor of the content, thereby increasing the likelihood the post will be read. In other words, “Or what if we could just be honest, and admit that when the topic of the blog is feminism, the TRIGGER WARNING on every other post is like a flashing neon sign, attracting *more* attention to a particularly explicit post, even as it purports to deflect the attention of those to whom it might actually be relevant.”
The vitriol of the comments suggested feminists had been “triggered” by my post, that they had read it indicated that they had seen my trigger warning and ignored it, that they had weighed in to attack the post in the comments section suggested that this was entirely the point of a trigger warning: to fetishize the trigger itself.
Contrary to what much of the blowback claims, I am intimately familiar with trauma, triggers, and post-traumatic stress disorder. That is precisely why the overuse of trigger warnings was of interest to me. In reality, trigger warnings are unrealistic. They are the dream-child of a fantasy in which the unknown can be labeled, anticipated, and controlled. What trigger warnings promise — protection — does not exist. The world is simply too chaotic, too out-of-control for every trigger to be anticipated, avoided, and defused. Even if every single potentially trigger-inducing blog post could be demarcated as such — a categorical impossibility — what would be the point? As one emailer put it: “To me, there is no better way to make someone think of the [trauma] than putting up a TRIGGER WARNING that will tell a person to avoid the post because it might make them think of what the TRIGGER WARNING invariably causes them to think about.”
Ergo, the trigger warning is its own trigger. Trigger warnings are a falsehood, a contrivance that pretends if triggers can be controlled, the trauma never happened, a National Enquirer-esque headline that screams in all-caps and big red block letters, but, in the end, signifies nothing but a preoccupation with its own salaciousness.
Perhaps most significantly, trigger warnings crystallize everything that is wrong with the current state of the feminist movement, if it can be called that. These days, feminism isn’t a movement at all, really, but a collection of blogs obsessed with the pop culture it claims to be victimized by, a forum for women who promote themselves as victims of a patriarchy that no longer exists, a pretend movement that contains within it no forward movement at all, only a fetal-like desire to curl up on itself, muttering Women’s Studies jargon, and handing out trigger warnings like party favors at a girl’s-only slumber party.
The so-called feminist movement and trigger warnings are a great deal alike. They no longer exist in reality. They are the stuff of make-believe.