The Wednesday Weigh-In: Trigger Warning Edition

Everyone go read Roxane Gay’s piece about trigger warnings and the illusion of safety:

There are things that rip my skin open and reveal what lies beneath but I don’t believe in trigger warnings. I don’t believe people can be protected from their histories. I don’t believe it is at all possible to anticipate the histories of others in ways that would be satisfying for anyone.

There is no standard for trigger warnings, no universal guidelines. Once you start, where do you stop? Does the mention of the word rape require a trigger warning or is the threshold an account of a rape? How graphic does an account of abuse need to be before meriting a warning? Are trigger warnings required anytime matters of difference are broached? What is graphic? Who makes these determinations?

It all seems so futile, so impotent and, at times, belittling. When I see trigger warnings, I think, “How dare you presume what I need to be protected from?”

Although I use them here at Feministing, I don’t think I really believe in trigger warnings either. Mostly because, as Roxane says, “everything is a trigger for someone” and it feels arbitrary what gets the warning and what doesn’t. And on a blog like this, especially, I sort of expect that everything could be somewhat triggering. Indeed, Shakesville has moved towards providing “content notes,” which seems like a more useful kind of warning to me. But, again, what happens is that almost everything gets a warning, because we cover lots of fucked-up injustices in the feminist blogosphere.

On the other hand, despite their imperfections, trigger warnings seem to be appreciated by some people and that’s good enough for me. As Melissa wrote during the last dust-up on this topic, “We provide trigger warnings because it’s polite, because we don’t want to be the asshole who triggered a survivor of sexual assault because of carelessness or laziness or ignorance.”

But you tell me. What are your triggers? Have you been triggered by a post here or elsewhere on the interwebs? Do you think trigger warnings are useful? Do you appreciate that we use them at Feministing? Do you think we should use them more often?

St. Paul, MN

Maya Dusenbery is executive director in charge of editorial at Feministing. She is the author of the forthcoming book Doing Harm: The Truth About How Bad Medicine and Lazy Science Leave Women Dismissed, Misdiagnosed, and Sick (HarperOne, March 2018). She has been a fellow at Mother Jones magazine and a columnist at Pacific Standard magazine. Her work has appeared in publications like,, Bitch Magazine, as well as the anthology The Feminist Utopia Project. Before become a full-time journalist, she worked at the National Institute for Reproductive Health. A Minnesota native, she received her B.A. from Carleton College in 2008. After living in Brooklyn, Oakland, and Atlanta, she is currently based in the Twin Cities.

Maya Dusenbery is an executive director of Feministing and author of the forthcoming book Doing Harm on sexism in medicine.

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