This post is going to be a little different than the norm. While I was inspired to write this after reading a really bad piece of fanfiction, which pertains to geekdom as all our posts should, my research into the topic led me away from geekdom. And one of the first sites I found was an article attacking feminists and calling trigger warnings a “feminist online fad”. So in order to properly explain why I believe trigger warnings are important in fanfiction, blog articles, television programs, etc., I’m going to look at and try to debunk some of the numerous reasons why other people believe trigger warnings are counterproductive.
There seems to be a wide range of opinions on this topic, and some of these opinions are, quite frankly, rude and rather sexist.
Trigger Warning: rape, abuse, PTSD.
First of all, for those of you who do not know what a trigger warning is, Wikipedia describes it as such:
In some publications a “trigger warning” may appear at the beginning of certain articles. These are to warn that the articles contain disturbing themes which may trigger traumatic memories for trauma survivors. An example of a trigger warning is: “TRIGGER WARNING: This content deals with an account of sexual assault and may be triggering to some people.”
So you may have noticed that this post also contains a trigger warning. That means that I will be talking about issues such as rape sometime in this post. This might mean that I’ll mention it, or it might mean that I’ll give a detailed account of it. And it is your job as the reader to determine whether or not you can handle reading a post dealing with such subject matter. This is how trigger warnings work. They are a courtesy. But as I said earlier, some people don’t like trigger warnings.
Some people think that trigger warnings exist for emotionally immature people who need to grow up and learn how to better handle the situations life throws at them. Probably best encompassing this mindset is Encyclopedia Dramatica’s definition of trigger warnings:
Trigger warnings are what happens when a gaggle of sensitive snowflakes are dropped into an echo chamber and left to their own devices. Used to alert readerships to upcoming offensive and emotionally intense content, trigger warnings are like smelling salts for those too emotionally fragile to leave their basements and so much as look upon anything that may make their delicate little hearts uncomfortable.
It is from this same mindset that most of the reasons against trigger warnings come. This is not true of all the reasons. I have found a few that make legitimate arguments against the use of trigger warnings. But for the most part, there’s an idea that people who want trigger warnings are entitled brats who cannot handle life like a responsible adult. The one article that I linked to earlier has that exact same mindset.
The person who wrote that article goes onto say that trigger warnings are used as a means of advertisement, and that trigger warnings for rape apply only for women.
[Trigger warnings are] almost exclusively used in feminist blogs to indicate content related to sexual abuse or rape perpetrated against women (e.g, Trigger Warning: Rape) […]
I need to make this clear. When something says “Trigger Warning: Rape” it is not saying that a woman is going to be raped instead of a man. Oddly enough, the reason why I felt the need to write this article was because of a fanfic I read in which a male character from Legend of Korra gets sexually assaulted and there was no warning for it. And furthermore, trigger warnings are not “almost exclusively” used by feminists.
This is not the idea behind trigger warnings at all. I am a woman, and I have been subjected to attempted rape numerous times. This does not mean that I can only relate to female rape victims. And vice-versa. No one anywhere ever said that trigger warnings are meant for women, and as this blogger puts it, our “overly-feminine ears”. I’m still not sure how feminism was brought into this discussion, but please remember that simply being a feminist and asking for trigger warnings does not make a woman a sexist harpy with a vendetta against men. Feminism is about equal rights, not dominating our male counterparts.
On top of that, trigger warnings appear for a lot of things in everyday life already. The Walking Dead, for example, always begins each episode with a “Viewer Discretion Advised” warning for graphic content. I hardly think that that’s a feminist issue. The Walking Dead is graphic and bloody. Just because someone doesn’t like blood or cannot handle those scenes, or just doesn’t want to watch something like that, it doesn’t make that person a sensitive snowflake who cannot handle any matter of living life. Maybe that person experienced a trauma. Contrary to popular opinion, people cannot just “get over” PTSD. It doesn’t work like that.
Now, on a much more sane level, there is an argument that trigger warnings are pointless, because even if you have one in a post, someone who can be triggered by the content may still very well read it. This is true. I warned for rape at the beginning of this post. That does not mean that someone who is triggered by something involving rape will stop reading the moment he or she sees that warning. A lot of people will continue on reading regardless. That’s their prerogative. It is not my job to coddle any of my readers, nor am I responsible for their emotional state.
It is my job, however, to warn them.
Just because many people who may be triggered will continue on to read or watch the content anyway, doesn’t mean all of them will. And if there is one person who will be saved from an horrendous flashback due to a trigger warning, to me, that makes it all worth it.
Though I should note a commenter on the aforementioned blog post:
My question is, when do “victims” actually have to take some responsibility for what they read? Yeah, I know, responsibility is a bad word […]
The Walking Dead, again, has a sexual assault scene between the Governor and Maggie. The Walking Dead warned us at the beginning of the episode that there’s graphic content. Nothing stopped me from changing the channel when that scene happened. Just as nothing stopped me from switching back over once I was sure that it had finished. I knew that would be triggering, so I didn’t watch it.
This does not change anything. Yes, I will agree, as someone who can be triggered by rape scenes, it is my responsibility to avoid that. That’s on me, not the person who wrote the scene. But that does not make a trigger warning any less important. I cannot know to avoid a fanfiction featuring rape if the author doesn’t tell me a rape is going to happen. And for the most part, if there is a trigger warning, I might read it anyway. Normally, for me, just a warning that it’s going to happen is enough to prepare me to not freak out and have a panic attack. I do enjoy reading about characters who manage to overcome their rape and learn to move on with their lives. To me, there is something empowering about that. However, when an author throws a surprise rape scene on me, which is what happened in the LoK fic I read, it’s almost as though that author is saying that she doesn’t care that she may send me or anyone else reading her story into a flashback for one of the worst experiences of our lives, because she was too fucking lazy to tag her work properly.
So yes, when I’m reading a story and all of a sudden one character is being forced into a sexual act, while screaming phrases like “please stop!” and “you don’t have to do this!” I expect a bit more of a warning than “bondage and kink, lol”.
Please keep that in mind. Just because you may not be triggered by something or just because you haven’t experienced PTSD, or even just because you have a better time handling your trauma, that does not make everyone else you. Maybe some people haven’t had as long as a time to recover as you have. Maybe they haven’t received the same amount of support as you have. Or maybe they just have a harder time handling tough situations.
And please do not equate tiny trivial matters or little bad things in your life to the traumas that are capable of causing PTSD. You do not need to mock people who suffer it.
Whatever the reason, you are not doing that person a favor by purposely leaving out a trigger warning or calling that person a man-hating harpy victim who needs to get over herself. You are not doing that person a favor by mocking that person’s PTSD. It is not your job to desensitize that person. Trigger warnings are there for a reason, and it is not too much to ask for you to engage in some common courtesy.