May 20, 2014

JAMES TARANTO: Parental Guidance Requested: College students want warning labels on literature.

Students have demanded trigger warnings at Oberlin College, Rutgers University, the University of Michigan and George Washington University as well as UCSB. The Times reproduces an excerpt from an Oberlin “draft guide,” which reads: “Triggers are not only relevant to sexual misconduct, but also to anything that might cause trauma. Be aware of racism, classism, sexism, heterosexism, cissexism, ableism, and other Issues of privilege and oppression. Realize that all forms of violence are traumatic, and that your students have lives before and outside your classroom, experiences you may not expect or understand.” (“Cissexism” refers to prejudice in favor of men and women who identify themselves, respectively, as men and women.)

In a recent piece for The New Republic, Jenny Jarvie writes that “some consider [trigger warnings] an irksome tic of the blogosphere’s most hypersensitive fringes.” They started “in self-help and feminist forums to help readers who might have post traumatic stress disorder to avoid graphic content that might cause painful memories, flashbacks, or panic attacks.” They’ve “been applied to topics as diverse as sex, pregnancy, addiction, bullying, suicide, sizeism, ableism, homophobia, transphobia, slut shaming, victim-blaming, alcohol, blood, insects, small holes, and animals in wigs. . . . Even The New Republic”–actually a TNR writer named Molly Redden–“has suggested the satirical news site, The Onion, carry trigger warnings.”

But trigger warnings have come in for criticism and mockery even on the left. Jarvie concludes her piece with this sensible observation: “Bending the world to accommodate our personal frailties does not help us overcome them.” She reports that the feminist website Jezebel, “which does not issue trigger warnings, raised hackles in August by using the term as a headline joke: ‘It’s Time To Talk About Bug Infestations [TRIGGER WARNING].’ ” And Susannah Breslin provoked outrage in 2010 when she “wrote in True/Slant that feminists were applying the term ‘like a Southern cook applies Pam cooking spray to an overused nonstick frying pan.’ “

It’s just another I’m-more-sensitive-than-thou ploy. Another positional good for the pampered overclass.