Thursday, February 3, 2011

Trigger Warnings, Language Police, and Safe Spaces

I have tons of things I've been thinking about lately regarding the progressive blogosphere (this is the most appropriate umbrella term I can come up with to describe not only the feminist blogs, but any haven of lefty politics or online activism). I feel as though I waste more time and energy criticizing it than actively participating, and I think I'm finally figuring out why.

I don't have an academic background in feminism. Many of us don't, but coupled with being a painfully slow writer often at a loss for a suitable word, well, you have a recipe for disastrous blog commenting. Most of the time I simply don't have the vocabulary for what I want to say; ergo, I usually refrain from participating at all unless I'm 110% sure of it. I don't think this is a terrible thing, but there have been times when I've literally walked away from the computer so my fingers wouldn't write something they'd regret in the morning. Language policing makes me extremely uncomfortable, and although I have a fairly draconian commenting system here, I rarely call anyone out on their words.

There's an interesting discussion going on in the Tumblr universe that addresses many of my concerns. radicallyhottoff had this to say:
What happened to me was abelism. Just like the other time there I was in the middle of a conflict with language, it was racism (I said fuck feminism and about 2 thousand white women who were in the middle of attacking a woman of color and her very few supporters [in the form of a 700 comment thread pile on] said that i should have a trigger warning because my language was so horrible etc). In this case—*as the people who were involved in the situation noted*—they wound up recreating a scenario that plays out over and over and over again for people with ADD—which is taking away the person’s ability to name a situation as being ADD and renaming it with what they think is more appropriate of a term—and 99 percent of the time, the more appropriate term is 1. condescending (i.e. it’s not ADD, it’s *disorganization*) and that condescending renaming is then used to 2. sit negative judgement on (i.e. you’re so fucking stupid, why can’t you get your organization pulled together! it’s not that hard, *I* can do it easily).
She brings up another point: trigger warnings. I've toyed with using trigger warnings before, but I think assigning trigger warnings gives too much power to the things that are triggering. I don't doubt they're useful, and I respect any blogger's policy regarding triggering words or images, but I feel more proactive not using them on my own blog. The same thing goes for safe spaces, though I think my site is pretty "safe." But I'm not perfect, and I do make my share of mistakes, so calling this a "safe space," feels dishonest. Safe spaces aren't always safe for everyone. I've spotted thinly veiled racism, ableism, classism and homophobia in places purported to be safe.

Like most attempts at writing a "big serious post," I find I can't tie it up in a nice, pretty bow, or come to some kind of conclusion. Mostly, I've been using my site as a means to air my frustration and find out where I fit in the community. I haven't yet. And maybe that's not such a bad thing.

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