Friday, February 20, 2015

Three essential points about trigger warnings, Neil Gaiman, and Kameron Hurley; or Trigger warning: Shetterly

I've been taking part in the discussion at Kameron Hurley on Trigger Warnings and Neil Gaiman. Hurley says,
Conflating “little triggers” with “Trigger Warnings” is, to put it mildly, irresponsible. I grew up in my online life in feminist science fiction circles. I encountered trigger warnings all the time, primarily on feminist academic blogs.
Hurley argues that Gaiman is belittling an important concept and failing to do the "easy, decent thing" of including trigger warnings. But the failure is hers: She has accepted her community's convention, the use of trigger warnings, and not bothered to research it. If she had, she would've found Deb Stone's Why Trigger Warnings Don’t Work, which includes this:
According to the National Center for Health, “Avoidance is a maladaptive control strategy… resulting in maintenance of perceived current threat. In line with this, trauma-focused treatments stress the role of avoidance in the maintenance of PTSD. Prolonged exposure to safe but anxiety-provoking trauma-related stimuli is considered a treatment of choice for PTSD.” Avoidance involves distancing oneself from cues, reminders, or situations that remind one of the event that can result in increased social withdrawal. Trigger warnings increase social withdrawal, which contributes to feelings of isolation. If a survivor who suffers from PTSD has had adequate clinical support, they could engage online with thoughts or ideas that previously had been avoided. The individual is in charge of each word he or she reads. At any time, one may close a book or click a screen shut on the computer. What is safer than that? Conversely, trigger warnings perpetuate avoidance. Because the intrusive memories and thoughts are internal, trigger warnings suggest, “Wait! Don’t go here. I need to protect you from yourself.”
Let me stress this: Not only do trigger warnings fail in their intent, they harm the healing process for people who do suffer from PTSD.

A second point is one that lovers of trigger warnings avoid: If trigger warnings could be shown to be useful, how should they be employed? Should all plot points involving violence or sex be acknowledged in warnings at the beginning of a story? Should every potentially disturbing metaphor be mentioned? In the discussion, Elizabeth Nitecki, who suffers from PTSD, asks,
how do you trigger warning the smell of wet paint? i'm still waiting for the answer to that question, because thats what triggers are.
Anyone who has researched PTSD knows triggers are specific, not general. If trigger warnings were effective, an effective list could not consist of a few general subjects; it would have to be long enough to include the smell of wet paint.

Which, according to feminist trigger theory, would mean that the trigger warning would be triggering, and should require a trigger warning.

A third point: Hurley failed to appreciate that Gaiman did exactly what she and her community asked: He put a trigger warning on a book that contains imagery that will disturb some people.