Today's A to Z Challenge post brought to you by the letter...
Trigger warnings have a bad reputation that is completely unjustified. They’re called stifling of free speech, the special snowflakes controlling what people can say by making “safe spaces”.
Except…that’s not what they’re about. At all. Even close.
A trigger warning, or content warning, is simply that, a warning. Like, say, a movie or a television show having a PG rating and a warning that “viewer discretion is advised”. It’s simply a courtesy that people ask for. For example, a man who suffered abuse growing up now suffers from severe PTSD. He takes a required sociology class at a college when he sees a warning for a certain day that they’re going to discuss child abuse. He can prepare beforehand or, if he’s feeling particularly unwell that day, skip the class entirely so as not to aggravate his condition. The rest of the class he’s fine over, he just can’t handle discussing abuse, especially of children.
Why is that a bad thing? There are people out there who say he should just not take the class. But what if it’s the only one open? What if he’s really interested in sociology and the class is a requirement? He’s not asking the teacher not to talk about it. Again, he’s not asking the teacher not to talk about it. He just wants to be able to brace himself for it. Trigger warnings should not and generally are not used to stop topics from being conversed. They’re simply a warning that something is coming, like, say, “This trailer has not been approved for all audiences.” “Rated R, not suitable for children.” “Warning, graphic content, viewer discretion is advised.”
Similarly, safe spaces are not made for locking certain people out, they’re just places for people who feel threatened by their everyday existence. Imagine a transgender woman in North Carolina, basically told that she might be assaulted for trying to use the bathroom. A safe space for her would be a place that says no transphobia will be allowed. But for some reason, that’s too much to ask for. As Junot Diaz said, “The problem isn’t that students are demanding safe spaces and trigger warnings. The problem is that these students have very little power, and these institutions would rather argue about why they make so many demands than why they feel so unsafe.”
People don’t expect everything not to be triggering. People don’t expect everyone to tag everything. It’s a courtesy. Holding a door for someone carrying a heavier load than you. You don’t have to help them. You don’t need to yell at them for asking, either.