Thursday, 6 March 2014

No, you don't get to decide when we've gone too far:

 TW: Discussion of disabilism/Celiac, assault and trigger warnings.

Recently Jill Filipovic wrote this piece for the Guardian.  We've gone too far with 'trigger warnings'

Proving once again that relatively privileged people are going to splash said privilege all over the place if given a media platform.

Jill is soooooooooo concerned about students with PTSD, she's going to save us all from the awful terrible trigger warnings, just like she wanted to save people with Celiac by legitimising demanding our medical details just in case we had an Eating Disorder instead of actual Celiac.

The entire thing is purely patronizing, based around the idea that if Students with PTSD aren't randomly slapped in the face with horrible triggering shit, then we won't learn to cope with it. It's utter drivel since trigger warnings are actually directly responsible for helping people learn to cope

The thing is in a very real way a trigger is like a phobia, it's a fear reaction prompted by something that perhaps cannot harm us, ie a description of an assault. We do not randomly and without permission force exposure to phobia inducing items on phobic people because we know that makes the phobia worse, instead we use controlled exposure to tackle it. The function of a trigger warning is roughly the same, it works to allow a person who may be triggered to choose when, and how to engage with triggering material, it also allows people to brace themselves for a trigger rather than be surprised.

One of Jill's comments is that college is different, ie not a safe space. No, Jill, it is not. There is no real reason why a college cannot be an inclusive safe space based on consideration and social care for others. There is no real reason why the wider world cannot be that either. I'm going to quote some of the most ridiculous portions and respond to them.

"There is real harm in utilizing general trigger warnings in the classroom. Oberlin College recommends that its faculty "remove triggering material when it does not contribute directly to the course learning goals". When material is simply too important to take out entirely, the college recommends trigger warnings. For example, Oberlin says, Chinua Achebe's Things Fall Apart is a great and important book, but:
… it may trigger readers who have experienced racism, colonialism, religious persecution, violence, suicide, and more.
Students should be duly warned by the professor writing, for example, "Trigger warning: This book contains a scene of suicide."
On its face, that sounds fine (except for students who hate literary spoilers). But a trigger warning for what Oberlin identified as the book's common triggers – racism, colonialism, religious persecution, violence, suicide (and more!) – sets the tone for reading and understanding the book. It skews students' perceptions. It highlights particular issues as necessarily more upsetting than others, and directs students to focus on particular themes that have been singled out by the professor as traumatic"

No, there is no real harm in trigger warnings, except for the self righteous crusades of the world Jill's against consideration for people. Racism, colonialism and the other examples given here are traumatic and it's important that we talk about them as trauma, it's important for the shaping of a world that tackles the inequalities created by isms and other oppressions. We need our next generations to understand that these are ugly hurtful things, to engage with texts not just as texts but also with sensitivity to what those texts say to other people. In short we need our students to have a depth of social understanding beyond their own group especially if they're privileged and the subject being warned for is the oppression of another group. There is nothing restrictive about awareness of issues.

"Students should be pushed to defend their ideas and to see the world from a variety of perspectives. Trigger warnings don't just warn students of potentially triggering material; they effectively shut down particular lines of discussion with "that's triggering". Students should – and do – have the right to walk out of any classroom. But students should also accept the challenge of exploring their own beliefs and responding to disagreement. Trigger warnings, of course, don't always shut down that kind of interrogation, but if feminist blogs are any example, they quickly become a way to short-circuit uncomfortable, unpopular or offensive arguments"

This particular paragraph is just utter nonsense. Yes, students should be pushed to defend their ideas, but nothing about trigger warnings prevents that. Jill is basically arguing here for the right of folks to push harmful ideas without being confronted with the fact that the idea is harmful to others, which is the exact opposite of being able to see the world from a variety of perspectives. Also it dangerously conflates being triggered with mere disagreement, as if a trigger was merely as minor a thing as not liking Marmite.

"That should concern those of us who love literature, but it should particularly trouble the feminist and anti-racist bookworms among us. Trigger warnings are largely perceived as protecting young women and, to a lesser extent, other marginalized groups – people of color, LGBT people, people with mental illnesses. That the warnings hinge on topics that are more likely to affect the lives of marginalized groups contributes to the general perception of members of those groups as weak, vulnerable and "other"."

The implication here is that those of us who support trigger warnings being used don't really love literature, it is followed by yet another patronising nonsensical argument that trigger warnings portray us as weak for wanting or needing them. Jill's paternalistic belief that people with PTSD are weak and in need of rescue has basically resulted in her generalising from self, she thinks we're weak for using them, so she believes others believe we're weak.

Fact is? Trigger warnings are a symbol of strength, the use of them is a symbol of social understanding and caring about one's fellow people. There's nothing weak about anyone needing social support, after all Jill herself would be hard pressed to live without a home, money or shops, those are also needs and nobody presumes she is weak for needing them.

"Traumas that impact women, people of color, LGBT people, the mentally ill and other groups whose collective lives far outnumber those most often canonized in the American or European classroom are set apart as different, as particularly traumatizing. Trigger warnings imply that our experiences are so unusual the pages detailing our lives can only be turned while wearing kid gloves."

Jill really needs to stop counting herself in with folks she repeatedly throws under the bus whenever it suits her. There is no "our" experiences, especially when it comes to a relatively privileged white cis feminist patronising the fuck out of other minorities on a regular basis.

In short, this is some patronising bullshit and I invite Jill to roll up the Guardian, sit on it and swivel until such time as she has exorcised that patronising bullshit and stopped being such a prime example of a clueless white feminist.

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