Trigger Warnings

[and I’m going to whack a big ol’ TRIGGER WARNING on this for rape threats and general assholery]

PZ Myers wrote about The not-so-Amazing Atheist and his gross display of general misogyny and horribleness. He responded, and PZ edited his post to respond to the response.

I have about zero desire to say anything about that nonsense, except that it is completely revolting, but I do want to say something about trigger warnings.

In his ‘apology’ the not-so-amazing atheist says:

The full context of the remark was nothing to do with rape and everything to do with this strange new internet phenomena of “triggers.” People now ask for “trigger warnings” if you post something the least bit incendiary, because your dangerous words may be detrimental to those with debilitating mental issues or emotional trauama. I’m as sympathetic towards those who’ve suffered trauama as anyone else, but if you have such issues, it’s your responsibility to avoid triggers, not my responsibility to protect you from them. My comment was meant to make a point about how silly the concept of triggers is, and I made that clear several times in the thread when I said: “That was a joke, by the way. Did it trigger you? I hope it did.”

Because jokes about rape and triggering are COMPLETELY HILARIOUS dontcha know? It is funny to me how he is using this as some sort of excuse, when actually he is actively trying to trigger people. That is a whole other level of assholery right there.

Okay, so the first thing here is, what is a trigger warning? I imagine most of you already are familiar with them, but if you aren’t I’d suggest checking out the Geek Feminism Wiki.

Trigger warnings are customary in some feminist and other spaces. They are designed to prevent people who have an extremely strong and damaging emotional response (for example, post-traumatic flashbacks or urges to harm themselves) to certain subjects from encountering them unaware. Having these responses is called “being triggered”.

Trigger warnings can cover a range of things, from physical and sexual abuse or violence, eating disorders, substance abuse, self-harm, depression or suicide, misogyny, racism, ableism, homophobia and transphobia. Responses to triggers can go beyond the psychological and can often include anxiety, uncontrollable crying, insomnia, nausea, shaking or nightmares.

So why use ’em? TJ says: “I’m as sympathetic towards those who’ve suffered trauama as anyone else, but if you have such issues, it’s your responsibility to avoid triggers, not my responsibility to protect you from them.”

Well, for one you’re blatantly not sympathetic toward people who have suffered trauma if that is your attitude. As for the other point, think of it this way: Being triggered is like having an allergic reaction. An allergic reaction is an involuntary reaction to a particular substance. Sometimes this reaction can be mild and only cause some discomfort, sometimes it can be dangerous and life threatening. Now replace ‘substance’ with ‘content’.

Most decent human beings wouldn’t tell sufferers of allergies to just ‘suck it up’ and deal with their exposure to an allergen. They wouldn’t tell the person they were overreacting if they requested that food be labelled so they can avoid their allergens. They would label the food as appropriate.

Ultimately it is still the responsibility of the allergic person to monitor what they eat, but labels on food help tell them what to avoid. In the same way, people who have suffered some trauma need labels to help them avoid their triggers.

If you don’t need a trigger warning and a trigger warning exists, is it really that much of a bother? If you are writing a post about what could potentially be a sensitive topic, is an extra sentence saying: “Trigger warning for….” really that difficult in the scheme of things? It takes about two seconds of your time, and it only helps to make some of your readership/viewership feel less alienated.

Putting in trigger warnings is a small act towards validating the experiences of people who have suffered trauma or intolerance of some kind, and making a safe space for them on the internet. It really isn’t that difficult.

Featured Image Credit: Google Images

Previous post

Teen Skepchick's Reality Checks 2.09

Next post

Where's the First Place You Go?



Lauren is a Maths and Physics student from somewhere in the southern hemisphere. She has an affinity for reality, and you can find her on twitter @lolrj, or Google+.


  1. February 10, 2012 at 12:10 pm —

    Your first link is identical to your second link.

  2. February 10, 2012 at 9:11 pm —

    Oh yeah, that guy, I used to watch his videos. Mostly, his political rants amused me. I mostly avoided his videos on feminism, so I wasn’t aware that he was a sexist douchebag. One video I do remember (I hope my memory in this case is reliable), though, had to do with this bullshit rape and evolution story. Yeah, let’s just say he made me quiet uncomfortable.

Leave a reply