A dick thing to do

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A Guest Post by Sweet Maggie Jane

***Trigger Warning for discussion of ableism, mental health, disordered eating and sexual violence***

I wrote this a few weeks back, shaking with anger but decided not to do anything with it assuming that it was just a misunderstanding and that everyone involved was probably basically decent. However, today I saw a blog post which proves me 100% wrong so here it is. I genuinely hope that this is educational cause some folk just don’t seem to get it and they need to.

Earlier in the year, I had a bit of a rough time. That’s probably putting it lightly but I’m not really willing to go into great detail here. Suffice to say that my Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) worsened and I’ve had to deal with some serious mental health shit. However, I’m doing much, much better now (thanks for asking) and graduated therapy this week. I am feeling proud of myself and like I’ve regained a lot of the motivation and drive I thought I might never feel again. One big moment for me this week came upon my first foray back into any kind of feminist organising. I attended the Glasgow Uni International Woman’s Week (IWW) organising meeting. I was really impressed by the IWW last year and was excited to see how much it has grown.  I was checking over the list of suggested events, amazed and excited to see how much cool shit would be going down this year until I noticed an event planned by the Dialectic Society. The event was a debate about trigger warnings and whether or not they were a good idea in social media. Seriously.

Trigger warnings are little notes, like the one’s at the top of this, which give the reader a warning of anything that could potentially trigger someone with PTSD, such as discussion or descriptions of things like sexual violence, slurs, eating disorders or suicide to name but a few of many. What this does is allow someone who has been really affected by any of these issues to make up their mind about whether or not they feel able to read on. Believe me I’ve been caught out before when something just takes me by surprise and suddenly I can’t control my mind and I spiral and that can be me for the afternoon, or day, or longer. Trigger warnings can do literally no harm, and take very little effort, those who don’t want to pay attention to them don’t have to, those that find them necessary can save themselves from what can honestly become a terrible ordeal. Being triggered isn’t a choice, or something you can just shake off. It’s kind of like having a mental allergic reaction and, as with food allergies, the only way to avoid accidentally consuming something bad for you is by clear labelling.

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If you still want to stuff your cyber face, at least you know what to expect

But I don’t want to give a big talk on the importance of trigger warnings, you can find a lot of really good information online. I do want to give a rundown of exactly what about this proposed debate on them was so problematic. But really, for me, problematic isn’t the word. I’d go with painful, or silencing, or callous. Since my brain still hasn’t quite managed to get round the inclusion of this event on an IWW schedule this post might be shorter than it should be or miss out a very obvious point which either my rage or privilege has lead me to ignore.

Firstly and very importantly, this minimises the seriousness of PTSD. Presumably those arguing the side that TW’s are unnecessary believe that triggering isn’t a big deal, that we should just get over it. Well, let me tell you something. I WISH. I wish that triggering wasn’t a big deal. I wish I could go anywhere, read anything , listen to whatever I want without anxiety, without knowing that just one little thing, maybe unnoticed by others, could mean a panic attack, or nights spent lying awake crying, or crippling depression or any mix of the three.  But that’s not the case for me and for many others who have survived terrible ordeals. By questioning the experiences and suffering of those with PTSD you are making the world as a whole but specifically social media (and social media can be particularly important to someone with an anxiety disorder, sometimes I can’t leave the house for days) unsafe for survivors. And that’s a dick thing to do. If you do that, you’re a dick.

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And not a clever one either

Secondly, the very topic itself excludes the people it is discussing. There is no way I’d feel safe going into a space where my experiences were going to be loudly questioned and one side of the room (who I’m presuming aren’t dealing with PTSD since they obviously don’t get triggering.) are going to tell me to just get over it. I am not the only survivor to feel this. When I brought it up at the meeting other women spoke up saying the exact same thing.  It’s sadly not that surprising but still completely shameful that a feminist space needs reminded of “Nothing  About Us Without Us.” If you want to discuss a marginalised group, such as survivors of sexual violence and those with mental health disorders in such a way that actively excludes them then that’s a dick thing to do.  If you do that, you’re a dick.

This  is straight up misogyny and ableism; refusing to believe the voices of women and others with PTSD (and women are more likely to develop PTSD within their life times, by the way) telling you what they need in order to survive (and yes I do mean survive as in KEEP LIVING) is just another example in a long history of knowing better than we do. It is another case of mental health issues being dismissed as not particularly serious, of survivors being silenced and of those who are not affected knowing best.

I get that it can be difficult to understand something that you have never been through but when people affected by an issue are loudly saying one thing (Trigger Warnings are so necessary) and you decide that you really need to question that and hear out both sides you’re actively making folks lives shitter. I am amazed at who ever thought this debate was a good idea even wants to be involved in International Woman’s Week because this is NOT good feminism, it’s not even good personing.  I’m sure no one intended to silence survivors or question the validity of a serious disorder but that is what this event did.

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This Dick listened to the people involved to find stuff out

I’m very glad that this meeting happened on a good day, when I felt strong enough to speak up for myself and the other people affected by the issues, on another day I might have just not been able too. But it’s really not good enough that I had to do that. It’s not good enough that it is put on the vulnerable to protect themselves, by discussing some pretty personal shit in public. What is the point of feminism if not to try and get us to be considerate of other people’s experiences and how our actions affect them?

Once the IWW committee had heard what I and other survivors in the room had to say about it they seemed to understand exactly why it was so awful. I assumed that it was only ignorance that had led to the oversight but after trying to engage the president of the Dialectics with my views on it, all that has come back is a blog post stating that until someone official (and not one of the people who’s, you know, actually living it) say TW’s are a good idea they won’t be bothering with them. I’m glad to hear that the voices and opinions of survivors on campus are being taken so seriously…

So basically, this event quite rightly won’t be happening and I’m glad of that but I think it’s still important that I share this experience as a reminder that often actions speak louder than words and even if you got up in that debate and argued your little heart out for trigger warnings, you’d still be part of the problem, cause I, and others like me couldn’t be there.  And if you still think the debate was a good idea, then you pal…are a dick.

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Further Reading:

GUUdbye ya pricks
Sisters are doin it to themselves, apparently
Spotted Dicks: The Creeps at Glasgow Uni
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Follow us on Twitter @unsavourycabal

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One response to “A dick thing to do

  1. Obviously a bit late on this one, but I just wanted to say I think this is a brilliant article. Like yourself, I also live with the effects of PTSD, and like you I’ve had it with all the people who think I should just ‘get over it’, or some equally annoying version of the same sentiment, or who when they find out that years on I’m still affected, come out with ‘what, still?!’, with the implicit, unsaid criticism being that I shouldn’t still have these issues and have no right to bring them up. You’ve put it a lot better than I could, so thanks!

    Catriona

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