When you jump for joy, beware that no one moves the ground from beneath your feet.
Appropriately for a day when the contentious issue du jour was trigger warnings and whether or not they’re useful, I was triggered. I got about as triggered as I get, which is not very triggered at all really, compared to others’ experiences. What triggered me was nothing more than a glib remark by an acquaintance, but it summoned feelings of unusual intensity.
Which just goes to prove, life doesn’t come with a trigger warning. One really can be triggered by anything.
The subject of trigger warnings is not exclusive to feminism, which is why I feel like I have more of a right to talk about it than I would any purely feministic point. Even so, I’ve mainly seen TWs used on behalf of survivors of the kind of oppression which comes from living under a patriarchy; written in tags, or at the top articles and blog posts as forewarnings to readers who may be triggered by reading about experiences similar to their own.
But since the widely blogged about Suzanne Moore/Julie Burchill debacle, certain members of the left wing press, many of them self-identifying feminists, seem intent on analyzing trigger warnings into oblivion, along with a number of other points which, since I started reading about feminism, seemed to me either matters of common sense or common decency.
First, there was Suzanne Moore’s violent lampooning of the concept of intersectionality.
2)P Intersectionality my arse. Thats the polite word for the moral superiority of much of this discourse.—
suzanne moore (@suzanne_moore) January 08, 2013
This occurred at the very beginning of the twitter storm, from which the fallout is still raining. Anyway, Suzanne’s points here suggest she singularly fails to understand the meaning of the word ‘intersectionality’.
A few days after the storm, and Julie Burchill’s subsequent incendiary piece in The Observer (no effing way I’m linking to that here), we got this archly skeptical assessment of the concept of cissexism by Rod Little in The Spectator (which, again, I won’t link to, because it’s a piece of fluff of such little consequence that I’m fairly sure that your internet would give up before even bothering to connect you):
[Apparently] Moore was revealing an inner hatred of transsexual people. And she was cissexist. Now there’s a term. Have you heard it before? I hadn’t. It is a wonderful day when we can stumble across a new hate crime of which we might all one day be accused: cissexism is the suspicion that transsexual people’s ‘identified gender’ is somehow less genuine than that of people born to the gender in which they remain. Are you guilty of cissexism? You bastard.
Here, Rod, I’ve got a foolproof way of making sure you’re not accused of any new hate crimes: don’t fucking commit hate crimes. Don’t use your platform to whip up hatred for oppressed people using vile, inflammatory language. There, it really is that simple.
‘Minority Report’-style paranoia of his own future hate crimes aside, I’m really not quite sure what point Rod is trying to make. He doesn’t seem to dispute that cissexism exists. That’s not where his beef lies. He seems to take it for granted that cissexism might oppress people just like any other form of bigotry, but unlike any other form of bigotry, Rod belittles it (Rod BeLittle trololol), doubts at it, sneers at it, as if he thinks this form of oppression is of no consequence whatsoever.
Rod’s incredulous reaction to this term, as well as Suzanne’s apparent antipathy for the concept of intersectionality, seems to betray a reluctance to approach things with an open mind, which would certainly explain Suzanne’s eruptive reaction to being called out for her use of the term “Brazilian Transexual”. (By the way, it’s always worth reiterating that it was this reaction which caused outrage, and not her initial “Brazilian Transexual” comment. See here for a near-subjective timeline of events.) Taking things on board, ruminating, learning, is a key to being called out well.
It goes without saying that these days, a mainstream columnist would never talk in such a flippant way about sexism, or homophobia, or racism. In 2013, the so-called “trans cabal” are one of the few oppressed groups it’s still seen as acceptable to exercise your ‘Love Thy Neighbour’ style, outdated, vicious bigotry on without fear of reprisal (although times, hopefully, they are a-changin’). There was a well documented reprisal for Julie. No reprisal for Rod.
Today, almost a month after Moore’s original twitter meltdown, feminist webzine team The Vangenda have enthusiastically engaged in the scrutiny of fairly everyday feministic concepts (these are the people who complained that the notion of intersectionality is too academic).
Rhiannon Lucy Coslett of the Vagenda team wrote a wooly piece, published on the New Statesman website, attempting to dissect, and to an extent discredit, the concept of trigger warnings. Again, I’m not going to link to it here because it really is a confused, illogical, pointless bit of writing which comes to absolutely no conclusion on whether trigger warnings are useful or not.
That last one from Bindel really gets my goat.
Trigger warning. Unfollow me if my thoughts traumatise you. I will cry for ever but dont worry about my feelings.—
suzanne moore (@suzanne_moore) January 24, 2013
Trigger warning. Cant choose right colour for stair carpet and some people dont have stairs at all.—
suzanne moore (@suzanne_moore) January 24, 2013
And can I just bring your attention to this unmitigated arsehole? I don’t know him, I don’t know anything about him, but his tweet here typifies the smirking, back of the classroom attitude of so many Moore/Burchill/Bindel acolytes:
Aha… ha… ha… ahem.
Now Julie Bindel has taken it upon herself to lead the charge against trigger warnings (really, you might as well lead the charge against candy floss or bunting), changing her twitter avatar to a picture of a trigger (no wonder she went into journalism with a rapier wit like that) and adding “TRIGGER WARNING!” to her bio, thereby pricking the pomposity of anyone attempting to “silence” her own brand of transmisogynistic bile.
Here and here are a couple of very good blog posts which can explain why trigger warnings are good practice better than I ever could, being a person who doesn’t really get triggered much at all. They’re a good thing to practice if you’re a considerate human; they’re not a flawless mechanism for remaining un-triggered, but they’re undeniably useful.
And they’re surely benign enough so as not to warrant this leeriness. So why are they, and people who advocate their use, now the subjects of mockery from some quarters?
I believe it’s for exactly the same reason that the notions of cissexism and intersectionality are being clumsily picked apart: fear.
Fear of change, and the onset of your own irrelevance.
When it comes to commentary, the internet has leveled the playing field. I’m a commentator, I’m doing it right now. You, you’re most likely a commentator of some kind. No longer can commissioning-editor-ordained journalists claim the sole privilege of being able to rattle out their views into the greasy pages of left-leaning broadsheets, and the worst criticism they can expect to receive is no longer a single irate letter to the editor from ‘Yours, disgruntled of Sanderstead’.
The entire blow-up was, and continues to be, a result of someone dealing badly with being called out (and also having a huge media platform from which they can tell people to fuck off). Listening is the key, and the left wing commentariat have been writing for years without having to listen to anyone.
The blogs I’ve linked to in this post, as well as blogs I read during the events which spawned this current smug, jeering analysis, are clearer, cleverer, more compelling, and ten times more readable than anything I’ve seen from Moore, Burchill, Little et al. And the people who wrote them will talk to you on twitter without invalidating your gender identity or telling you to fuck off. How about that?
Being a bit of a sentimental old soul, I hope that print news will carry on forever. But I want a media that listens and learns, as well as broadcasts and educates. From where I’m standing, the liberal commentariat, downing their lobster and champagne smoothies, can’t hear us over the clatter of their Remington Rands or the hoot of their laughter.
But then again, if these people have given themselves the right to send up the very idea of culpability, then why the hell would they ever need to listen to the people they claim to represent?
Now that really is privilege.