Tuesday, March 3, 2015

In Favor of Trigger Warnings

Whether trigger warnings are necessary, helpful, or obnoxious seems to be a question that the internet can’t stop arguing about. I'm going to add my own two cents. At the risk of oversimplification there seems to be two thoughts. One champions freedom of expression and thinks that trigger warnings are curbing free speech and making us all sissies. The other is an idea of kinder thinking that wants to empathize with and protect victims by telling everyone else what to do.

I’ve read a lot of the arguments. I can’t say that I have the definitive word on the subject (who does?) but I do have a perspective.

I appreciate trigger warnings. Before you start arguing with me let me explain. A trigger warning is unlikely to make me not read an article/comic/tweet. I was a victim of sexual violence. Earlier in my recovery process I had to be careful about what I read. These days that’s less of the case. However a trigger warning allows me to get my mental armor into place.

The internet reaches everywhere. I may be reading your campus expose in the middle of my day when I’m prepared for just about anything, but I’m just as likely to be reading it over a bowl of cereal in my pajamas. I’m sure you can guess when I have the strongest mental defenses in place.

The worry for me is not that I’ll be offended, but that I’ll be blindsided by something that makes me remember my experiences in a moment when I think I’m safe. It’s not just that the remembering is painful, but that it leaves me in the mentality of a victim until I can shake it. It’s not a pleasant experience and it makes me less likely to try new things. A trigger warning in the front removes that risk for me. It gives me the time to prepare myself for what’s coming in a way that doesn’t instigate a relapse. It’s something that I’ve always seen as polite in this new age of internet sharing. More then that, it’s a kindness to those of us who have to live with something ugly from the past on a regular basis.

I can see how this could go wrong. How everyone would avoid things that make them uncomfortable and thus stunt themselves. On the other hand is it really our business to decide what people should or should not avoid? Some people only watch soap operas or Fox News. Trust me, they are already censoring themselves. For those of us still brave enough to explore the words of the internet a few warning signs are much appreciated.

P.S. What about other trigger warnings? I like them on book/movie reviews because it helps steer clear of novels with gratuitous rape, although if the book/movie sounds good enough I’ll read/watch it anyways. There’s a different problem with these, namely that I’ll empathize too strongly with the victims and be victimized myself when the book/movie fails to handle these events in a meaningful way.

1 comment:

  1. I always like trigger warnings. I don't like to be blindsided by those types of things!