Triggers and Survivors

Over at Balloon Juice, there is currently a food fight over the use of “trigger warnings.”

http://www.balloon-juice.com/2014/05/23/trigger-not-just-a-horse/#comments

One commenter, who, apparently did not get the memo that the claim being made is that the overuse of “trigger warnings” has devalued their meanings, and while they might be appropriate in terms of folks who have suffered sexual assault and the like, they should not exfoliate into every single topic or term which might, somewhere and somehow, set somebody off, had this to say:

“As a partner to a rape survivor I have to tell you you are way fucking out of line.”

Well, frankly, I think trigger warnings are just stupid, and not merely because they are oh so PC and are designed more to call attention to the delicate sensibilities of the warner, and have much less to do with the warnee. But because I really don’t care all that much about the warnee, either. If you read material intended for adults on the internet, or anywhere else, then, in my view, you are implicitly agreeing that you are big boy or big girl, and that, while sticks and stones may break your bones, names will never hurt you. That big boy and girl topics MIGHT be discussed, and discussed without euphemisms, regardless of your personal experiences of trauma or your inclusion in various non “privileged” groups. If you don’t want to read about war and rape and violence and domestic abuse and racism and gender discrimination and anti gay bias and so on, well then, confine yourself to Sesame Street and Winnie the Pooh. Otherwise, put on your big boy or big girl underwear, and stop contributing, in Ed Rendell’s memorable phrase, to the “wussification of America.”

But I find the comment to be objectionable on a more basic level….There can be Holocaust “survivors,” Hiroshima and Nagasaki “survivors,” Hindenburg and Titanic “survivors,” and cancer and AIDS “survivors,” but not “rape survivors.” Why not? Because in every instance of proper usage the thing being survived is a killer. Most, or at least many, as a proportion, of those who experience the thing in question actually, ‘ya know, DIE! To “survive” something implies that usually, or pretty damn often, folks don’t survive it.

Well, rape, as bad as it is, rarely kills. It almost never kills directly, and the proportion of rapes that also involve murder is quite low. Even if we include subsequent suicides, which might be said to be deaths caused indirectly by rape, the number and, more importantly, the proportion, of deaths is very, very low. So, the notion of “survivorship” is misplaced. We don’t talk about armed robbery “survivors,” nor even, usually, assault “survivors.” We use the term survivor, if at all, when it comes to crimes, to things like assault with a deadly weapon and attempted murder, which involve acts (gun shot woundings, stabbings, clubbings, etc) that often do kill.

The only other accepted use of the term is ironic. As in “I survived freshman calculus” or “The Schuylkill Expressway Construction Project Survival Guide.” And I’m pretty sure that is not intended here.

No, the problem is that there is no other word that will meet PC criteria. The correct word, of course, is “victim.” People against whom crimes have been committed are victims. Robbery victims, assault victims, victim of theft, etc. But that is not allowed here. Because women (and women, that is to say feminists, are driving this bus….male rape victims have nothing to do with the nomenclature, and are invisible in any case) cannot be mere “victims,” when it comes to rape. Somehow, that term, when applied here, and only here (ie in connection with a woman who has been raped), means that the woman who suffered the crime has no “agency,” is “defined” by the crime, etc. A man can be a victim of burglary, and so can a woman, but a woman CANNOT be a victim of rape. No, she must be a “rape survivor.”

And that is bullshit. So, I would say to the commenter, if I did not want to get involved in another food fight, that not only is he wrong on trigger warnings (both in the sense of missing the point about preserving them precisely for stuff like sexual assault and also because they are not only pretentious but ridiculous in any case) but is wrong to use the fake term “rape survivor” as well. His partner, assuming he is being truthful and accurate, was raped. His partner is a victim of rape, or a rape victim, or, if you just can’t stomach that term, is a person who was raped, or a person against whom a rape was committed. But not a rape “survivor.”

We can’t write about what we want to write about, even in what is clearly an adult setting, unless we warn people that they might find it to be a “trigger;” we can’t use the correct word for rape victims because that is just too honest, and we are required to dishonestly valorize these folks instead. I think a lot of what is wrong with the PC Left is exemplified by these two cases. Phony concerns about terminology and language take precedence over real issues, and the urge to censor is never far from the surface. Discourse is to be controlled by an absurd group of self appointed, fuss budget PC language police man and (mostly) women. And woe be to anyone who flouts their rules and thereby flaunts his or her “privilege!”

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11 thoughts on “Triggers and Survivors

  1. As an abuse survivor myself I have come to really appreciate trigger warnings. Previously I would read an article about various subjects that would eventually nonetheless end up about something else that would trigger panic, anxiety, fear, and all manner of flashbacks in my brain and those topics would often pop up out of nowhere, but somehow be intertwined into the story/news article/whatever. Now at least with trigger warnings I know that I can skip past.

    They are useful and helpful to us.

  2. Thank you for your comment, Sid.

    I am sorry that you were abused. I am sorry that reading about certain things causes you various negative reactions.

    Nevertheless, I am going to stick to my guns and my opinion. Even without the fake, PC, moral preening dimension, the “look at me, aren’t I Mr. (or Ms.) Sensitive” aspect, I still think they are uncalled for. The world is not pain free, and if reading about other topics sometimes leads you, unintentionally, to discussion of things that you find painful, well, that is just the price you have to pay for reading adult material in an adult setting. No doubt, almost any topic might be a “trigger” to someone. Indeed, one of the latest controversies is transgendered folks claiming that discussion of periods, pregnancies, and so on is a “trigger” for them. Well, under that theory, we might as well label every single article, no matter what its topic or content, as “triggering.” In which case, it would mean nothing at all (if everything caries a warning label, then the label becomes useless). I recognize, of course, that some topics are more legitimately labeled as “triggers” than others, nevertheless, I believe it is not a road that should be gone down, at all.

    Once again, though, I thank you for your comment, and for your reasoned tone.

    • Well I don’t agree. Of course everything is subject to being overused or misconstrued, as in the examples you gave of topics of periods or pregnancy triggering transgendered persons. Does that mean that topics of abuse should not come with a trigger warning? I think not. You say that that’s the price to pay in an adult world reading adult material, but data and information is not divided into adult and minor, particularly on the internet. While parents who can afford it have the option of purchasing software that does its best to block “adult sites” on family computers, there is enough pornographic material on the “regular” internet, heck, on youtube alone, that kids can easily and accidentally come across while merely doing homework or school research. Sure its the price kids pay for living in a world that has sex and money as part of its components. Nonetheless parents seem to be all riled up about it.

      This open space and fluidity of the internet also makes it possible, nay likely, that kids who are abuse survivors can come across severely triggering topics as well. Its hard enough for adults who have even undergone therapy to deal with such incidences, what to speak of kids who’s brains are not fully developed and who are still in the throes of processing such experiences.

      There are many things on the internet that we have to filter out. I have followed links that disguised themselves as leading to written articles only to be assaulted with visual pornography of a graphic and disturbing nature. I would have appreciated a porn warning rather than a misleading link.

      We self censor all the time in “the real world” of interacting with people. There are things I don’t say at work because its not the appropriate environment. There are things I do not say in mixed age company because it is not the appropriate environment. There are things don’t say in front of people who I know have experienced abuse. That is civilization. The trigger warning is just an extension of that. Far better for those who will not be triggered to read a 2 second phrase before an article than for an abuse survivor to unexpectantly be triggered when it could just be avoided from the same innocuous 2 second, 4 syllable phrase.

      We can say this is the price the non-triggered pay for living in a world full of abuse and all manner of cruelty, as well as a world where certain article writers are thoughtful and considerate enough to account for that.

  3. Sid:

    “You say that that’s the price to pay in an adult world reading adult material, but data and information is not divided into adult and minor, particularly on the internet. While parents who can afford it have the option of purchasing software that does its best to block ‘adult sites’ on family computers, there is enough pornographic material on the ‘regular’ internet, heck, on youtube alone, that kids can easily and accidentally come across while merely doing homework or school research. Sure its the price kids pay for living in a world that has sex and money as part of its components. Nonetheless parents seem to be all riled up about it.”

    Kinda disproving your own point, no? Yes, some parents are all riled up, yet the porn and so forth continues. And without warnings, in many cases too. Just as you say.

    “This open space and fluidity of the internet also makes it possible, nay likely, that kids who are abuse survivors can come across severely triggering topics as well. Its hard enough for adults who have even undergone therapy to deal with such incidences, what to speak of kids who’s brains are not fully developed and who are still in the throes of processing such experiences.”

    First of all, I find the term “abuse survivor” to be PC, sensationalist and overly valorizing. The vast majority of abused persons “survive” that abuse, and so the term “survivor” is inappropriate. I wrote about that in this very post.

    Secondly, bit of a ground shift, eh? Last time, it was about you. Now, its all about the children. Well, we can’t and shouldn’t try to censor the world to make it kid friendly.

    “There are many things on the internet that we have to filter out. I have followed links that disguised themselves as leading to written articles only to be assaulted with visual pornography of a graphic and disturbing nature. I would have appreciated a porn warning rather than a misleading link.”

    Sure you would. So what? I know you want a warning for this and a warning for that and a warning for the other. That’s you desire. But merely stating your desires is not a valid argument for their implementation. I want a pony, are you going to give me one?

    “We self censor all the time in ‘the real world’ of interacting with people. There are things I don’t say at work because its not the appropriate environment. There are things I do not say in mixed age company because it is not the appropriate environment.”

    Well, we are not at your work place here. And I give no signal that this is a place for children. Yes, we censor in certain environments. Does that mean we must censor in all of them? One of the joys of the internet is the lack of censorship. I fail to see why I should abide by the rules of your workplace or of, say, a school. This is my web site, not either of those things.

    “That is civilization. The trigger warning is just an extension of that. Far better for those who will not be triggered to read a 2 second phrase before an article than for an abuse survivor to unexpectantly be triggered….”

    Please. “Civilization” has existed for thousands of years. “Trigger” warnings for ten minutes. I dare say we can have the former without the latter. As for what is “far better,” you are simply concluding, without much in the way of proof, you own assertion.

    And again with the “survivor” BS!

    “We can say this is the price the non-triggered pay for living in a world full of abuse and all manner of cruelty, as well as a world where certain article writers are thoughtful and considerate enough to account for that.”

    Who’s “we?” You can say any damn thing you like, but I don’t have to go along with it, and neither does anyone else. Perhaps “certain” authors are PC and chickenshit enough to bow to your BS, but that hardly means that I have to, or that it should be the norm.

    And your logic is flawed anyway. The abuse and cruelty exist, with or without the trigger warnings. The abuse and cruelty don’t, by themselves, cause the trigger warnings. Folks like you do. You are the one demanding that a price be paid. You should at least own up to that and not pretend that anonymous forces are the real culprit.

    Anyway, I thank you for responding again. I must say, however, that your latest post was not as good as your first. You are falling into logical misstatements, PC terminology, conclusory assertions, back pedals, and so on. If you are going to respond a third time, please consider trying to be more logical and persuasive and less emotional and declaratory.

  4. I don’t entirely agree with this woman but you might.

    “The Trouble With Trigger Warnings”

    I learned something about traumatic experience last year in Afghanistan. I was in Jalalabad while conducting research for a movie script on drones. As the car I was in drove toward a soccer stadium, we heard a loud bang about 50 meters ahead of us, followed by a puff of smoke. Everyone jumped slightly, and, without a word, traffic swiftly rerouted. A few moments later a truck sped past urgently with a few bloody, crumpled torsos in the back. “Was that a bomb?” I asked my friend Habib in the front seat. “Yes. That was a bomb,” he said. Then, by way of explanation, without a trace of self-pity, he said: “We are used to it.”

    There was a sense of fatality in Afghanistan, an elegiac understanding that we could only protect our lives so much. I found Afghans fostered an almost disturbing sense of calm in dealing with both the tragic and the absurd.

    The American way of thinking might assume that Afghans, trapped in a country riven by war, were all deeply traumatized and suffering from PTSD, which could then be triggered years later by something utterly innocuous. But after a month in Kabul, I don’t think that most Afghans — subjected to the daily threat of bombings, suicide attacks, improvised explosive devices, airstrikes and more — were actually suffering from this affliction. Some were, certainly. But I think many residents had learned that in order to live, not just to survive, they simply had to get on with things, even when their senses were sharpened by an acute and urgent sense of mortality.

    Read more here;

    http://america.aljazeera.com/opinions/2014/6/trigger-warningsbooksptsdhighereducation.html

  5. Sid. Very interesting article. I do agree. Perhaps, as I said originally, we need to listen to Ed Rendell, and stop “wussifying” our country. If Afghanis can deal with bombs in a calm, everyday manner, adult Americans should be able to deal with adult material, without “trigger” warnings, and without other PC, sugar coating, pussy footing, nonsense, like being flattered as a “survivor” when their life was not actually in much jeopardy.

    I trashed your other comment because I found (1) you were just repeating yourself, (2) you were being argumentative, (3) you were either deliberately not “getting” what I was saying, or, if not, then you will never be able to understand my POV, and (4) because, basically, you simply disagree with me on what is a matter of opinion, and I have no desire to get into a contentless, back and forth, “t’is so/t’ain’t so” with you.

    If you read my very first post, I explain my commenting policy. This is my blog, not an open ended discussion forum. I am interested in comments, including negative ones, that help me to hone my arguments. I am not interested in comments that more or less just say, “Well, I think you’re wrong.” And, it seems to me, that is what you have descended to.

    Still, I do thank your for your interest, and for having the integrity to present a link that disagrees with your POV. I look forward to future comments from you.

    • “Sid. Very interesting article. I do agree. Perhaps, as I said originally, we need to listen to Ed Rendell, and stop “wussifying” our country. If Afghanis can deal with bombs in a calm, everyday manner, adult Americans should be able to deal with adult material, without “trigger” warnings, and without other PC, sugar coating, pussy footing, nonsense, like being flattered as a “survivor” when their life was not actually in much jeopardy.”

      – Survivor because many abused persons do not survive it. Its not supposed flatter us. Rather it makes us grateful that we survived it all.

      “I trashed your other comment because I found (1) you were just repeating yourself, (2) you were being argumentative, (3) you were either deliberately not “getting” what I was saying, or, if not, then you will never be able to understand my POV, and (4) because, basically, you simply disagree with me on what is a matter of opinion, and I have no desire to get into a contentless, back and forth, “t’is so/t’ain’t so” with you.”

      – OK I respect your rules at your blog. But consider this; what are movie ratings; G, PG, PG13, R, and etc, if not trigger warnings of sorts?

      • “Survivor because many abused persons do not survive it.”

        The overwhelming majority do, which makes the term inappropriate as a matter of linguistics. Yes, some people die of abuse, but some people die on roller coasters, but we don’t talk about “roller coaster survivors.”

        “Its not supposed flatter us.”

        Non sense. It WAS designed, specifically, to flatter victims. It was originally coined by feminists to valorize (female) rape victims. That is its purpose. Because “victim” is NOT valorizing, another term, one that is, had to be found. “Victim” was seen as, somehow, “defining” the person by the crime committed against her, although why that should not be equally true of rape, and, not, say, robbery or assault and battery victims is not clear. Sorry, but you are just flat out wrong here as a matter of historical fact, not opinion.

        “Rather it makes us grateful that we survived it all.”

        Meaningless drivel. The term makes you “grateful?” Would the “survivor” of a broken leg feel “grateful” for being called that? Almost all victims of abuse live, very, very few die. Thus, you yourself are now valorizing the experience with your “that we survived at all.” Your survival is no miracle, it is not even statistically unlikely. Perhaps, just a little bit, victims such as yourself need to get over yourselves.

        “OK I respect your rules at your blog. But consider this; what are movie ratings; G, PG, PG13, R, and etc, if not trigger warnings of sorts?”

        Thank you for respecting my blog rules.

        Movie ratings are designed for children. They are not trigger warnings for adults. (As an aside, I don’t much like them at all, even for children.)

        But, even if movie ratings were trigger warnings, I would not see that as a mark in their favor, nor that fact as an effective argument on your behalf. The mere existence of things akin to trigger warnings in the world is not an argument for more of them. Indeed, it kinda begs the question. If I were to say, “I don’t like war, so the US should stay out of Iraq,” it would not be much of a counterargument to say, “Oh yeah, but what about Gaza! Isn’t that war too!” Um, yeah, I guess it is, and I don’t much like it, either.

  6. i had to google trigger warning not knowing the terminology. can’t say as i ever recall seeing one other that “warning graphic” generally in the context of war photos. and in the internet crowd i hang out with i know that means a severed head or something. and i don’t open them. i don’t hang out on those pages.

    i came to the comment section wrt your survivor argument. rape survivor vs victim is not a conversation i am accustomed to either. but when i read it i recalled the scariest part. it was when he hung me, by holding onto my backpack from behind and dangling me over a cliff way above the ocean before he raped me. so hell yeah i survived that. having a knife pressed up against my neck while he raped me wasn’t anywhere near as scary as getting dangled over that cliff staring down at the rocks crashing against the cliff wall. maybe he wasn’t going to kill me but i had no way of knowing that. when i’m watching movies i just close my eyes when people are near a cliff or on a ledge of a highrise, no one has to warn me. but i always did that before the guy dangled me over a cliff anyway.

    i never thought about it before, the term. but if someone truly thinks they could die, you telling them a statistic won’t make much difference. maybe if someone twice your size overpowered you and threatened your life unless you let them rape you you’d have a different opinion.

    • Thank you for your response.

      As to trigger warnings, you don’t actually make any arguments for them, and are/were not even familiar with the term, so there is little for me to respond to in that regard.

      On the issue of the term “rape survivor,” I will first say that, if you are telling the truth (and don’t be offended by that, as I have no way of knowing if you are or not), I am sorry that you were raped and threatened with murder.

      But, as with “trigger warning,” I notice that you are/were not familiar with the term “rape survivor.” Well then, it seems to me, that your lack of knowledge of that term, the fact that you have not been labeled as such, and so forth, has not made all that much difference in your case. Of course, the experience you describe is quite horrific, but not being called a “rape survivor” really has nothing to do with that.

      And, of course (again, if your account is accurate and truthful), as you were threatened with death and, all the more so, because you were held at knifepoint and dangled over a cliff, the term “survivor” would, perhaps, not be inappropriate, IN YOUR PARTICULAR CASE.

      But, no matter how much you pooh pooh the notion, statistics and the average case do matter. “Rape,” as currently defined, means sex to which the woman has not consented in a legally competent manner. Force is not necessary. Nor is even the threat of force. Much less being held at knifepoint, dangled over a cliff, etc. And yet the term “rape survivor” is applied, willy-nilly, by the feminists, and by the unthinking media which parrots their line and terminology, to every alleged rape victim. And that includes so called “date rapes,” and alleged rapes in which consent (or even female initiation) was present, but the woman now claims that she was too drunk or stoned to consent legally (even if she voluntarily ingested the alcohol or drugs, and even if she was not so inebriated that she would be held to be unable to sign a contract, form the mens rea to commit a crime, etc). Thus, for the vast majority of rapes, there is no reason to assume or believe that anything like your experience was replicated. Nor that death was ever a likely outcome.

      Which, to repeat my main argument, makes the term “survivor” inappropriate as used as a catch all term for all rape victims. That the term might fit your individual case does not invalidate that argument.

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