When trigger warnings become a feminist issue

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When a tutor starts blurting “trigger warning” at every possible interval, what are you supposed to think? A female account of a boorish use of trigger warnings which were callous and contextually sexist.

We all know the story of Lot’s daughters rather well; his angelic guests were threatened by a mob, so Lot offered them his two daughters instead, who were then “*trigger warning* raped” by the mob. My tutor told this story as such in our second tutorial, and not two minutes later followed it with a similar story from Judges, where instead a concubine was offered, and “*trigger warning* raped,” and “*trigger warning* killed and torn to pieces by the mob”. I was baffled by these strange interjections, and could not figure out the reason for her use of them.

Trigger warnings are, of course, incredibly important because they signify when sensitive topics arise which have the potential to provoke anxious responses. It is only their context of use in this case which I mean to criticise. Firstly, between each “trigger warning” and the mention of the subject at hand there was no pause, and no question of my comfortableness with the topic. Thus the utility of ‘warning’ was immediately undermined and left me to wonder why she was so enthusiastically blurting out these words before every individual mention of delicate topics up to three times in the same sentence.

Trigger warnings ought to be used with thoughtfulness and tact.

Secondly, my subject often contains discussion of sensitive matters: the Bible, particularly the Old Testament, is riddled with stories of mutilation, murder, and rape. I entered into Theology aware of the stories and comfortable with discussing them. Had I an issue with any particular aspect of these grim stories I might have mentioned them to my personal tutor, and also to other tutors before actually commencing Bible studies. To bring them up in the middle of tutorials, having already written the essays, would be counter-productive. Trigger warnings ought to be used with thoughtfulness and tact, both of which were evidently completely lacking.

Yet most crucially, when I brought my tutorial experience up to a male peer, he was surprised to hear my account. He reported to me that whilst he had been studying under the same tutor, she had not attested him with “trigger warnings” at thirty-second intervals. Was it, then, because I was a woman that she felt the need to declare every single instance of rape or murder that we discussed? Did my gender influence her opinion of me, making her think that I was more sensitive, and more easily ‘triggered’ than a man? I could think of no other explanation for the difference. She might have claimed to be highly feminist, but her manner suggested that she was not as enlightened as she thought. 

I might have dismissed her trigger warnings as poor practice by someone uneducated to the finer details of how to deal with mental health, if she had been consistent across the gender board. Since this was not the case, I was inclined to believe that she had made a judgement about my inclinations and sensitivities based upon my gender. Ultimately I reckon this tutor could have written a step-by-step manual on how not to use trigger warnings. I must assure readers that I am not angry, nor being judgemental on this matter; I am simply confused and saddened that it can still be found to be the case in society that people are not giving enough thought to their speech and their actions, both in relation to mental health and to gender issues. Perhaps I should be more hopeful that my tutor did not mean such offence, however I also hope that one day she may alter her tactics when providing trigger warnings for her students.