In a revolution-eats-its-own irony, some online feminists have even deemed the word “vagina” problematic. In January, the actress and activist Martha Plimpton tweeted about a benefit for Texas abortion funds called “A Night of a Thousand Vaginas,” sponsored by A Is For, a reproductive rights organization she’s involved with. Plimpton was surprised when some offended Internet feminists urged people to stay away, arguing that emphasizing “vaginas” hurts trans men who don’t want their reproductive organs coded as female. “Given the constant genital policing, you can’t expect trans folks to feel included by an event title focused on a policed, binary genital,” tweeted @DrJaneChi, an abortion and transgender health provider. (She mentioned “internal genitals” as an alternative.) When Plimpton insisted that she would continue to say “vagina,” her feed filled up with indignation. “So you’re really committed to doubling down on using a term that you’ve been told many times is exclusionary & harmful?” asked one self-described intersectional feminist blogger."Intersectionality" is not some new topological property, not what happens in the state basketball tournament, not even a new concept in the description of Marshallian crosses. Rather, it is a shorter way of expressing "multiple oppressions" including, apparently, as part of this month's study of the sexual underground, the additional burden of being fat. I can't wait until the latest performance by Eve Ensler's talkative cooch becomes a micro-aggression, or until "trans-fat" comes with a trigger warning.
Last week, student leaders at the University of California, Santa Barbara, passed a resolution urging officials to institute mandatory trigger warnings on class syllabi. Professors who present "content that may trigger the onset of symptoms of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder" would be required to issue advance alerts and allow students to skip those classes.This weekend there was a riot in Santa Barbara, unrelated to any wins or losses in the basketball tournament, that some locals blame on outsiders crashing a party, perhaps outsiders not enlightened by trigger warnings at their campuses.
Oberlin College, of course, doubles down on coddling the freakazoids.
Oberlin College has published an official document on triggers, advising faculty members to "be aware of racism, classism, sexism, heterosexism, cissexism, ableism, and other issues of privilege and oppression," to remove triggering material when it doesn't "directly" contribute to learning goals and "strongly consider" developing a policy to make "triggering material" optional. Chinua Achebe's Things Fall Apart, it states, is a novel that may "trigger readers who have experienced racism, colonialism, religious persecution, violence, suicide and more."Interesting. Novels with revolutionary themes used to exist to get people angry. Charles Dickens made a career of it. Note, in the preceding sentence, the vague "other issues of privilege and oppression", which presumably has a Huge Exception for the reality of being a student at Oberlin, and the attempts to pronounce anathema on the concept of normal in the statistical sense, e.g. "heterosexism" or "cissexism" or "ableism" as attempts to evade the reality of evolved and emergent behavior in which men mate with women, men and women use the anatomy they were born with and interact in evolutionarily stable ways, and kids who get good grades and test well go to Oberlin.
The New Republic essay notes where the sensitivity to trigger warnings takes us.
The trigger warning signals not only the growing precautionary approach to words and ideas in the university, but a wider cultural hypersensitivity to harm and a paranoia about giving offense. And yet, for all the debate about the warnings on campuses and on the Internet, few are grappling with the ramifications for society as a whole.It's simple. Part of maturity is comporting yourself in such a way that other people don't have to walk on eggs around you, and recognizing that, although some of your buttons are always pushed partway in, other people aren't intentionally pushing your buttons to set you off. In higher education, understanding that someone's criticism of your first-order conditions is business, not personal, and that someone's different way of doing things might have something to emulate, is something to be encouraged, not chilled. That the essay focuses on the usual high-end hot-houses is doubly scary: first, it's the carefully groomed spawn of the well-to-do who are being deprived of the rough-and-tumble of messy ideas; second, those dumb ideas tend to trickle down to the land-grants and mid-majors and comprehensives.
Trigger warnings are presented as a gesture of empathy, but the irony is they lead only to more solipsism, an over-preoccupation with one’s own feelings—much to the detriment of society as a whole. Structuring public life around the most fragile personal sensitivities will only restrict all of our horizons. Engaging with ideas involves risk, and slapping warnings on them only undermines the principle of intellectual exploration. We cannot anticipate every potential trigger—the world, like the Internet, is too large and unwieldy. But even if we could, why would we want to? Bending the world to accommodate our personal frailties does not help us overcome them.Quite.
There's a Historiann post, responding to a gripe by Steven Hayward in Power Line about the micro-aggressions of the sexual underground during faculty diversity training, that will reward careful study. Put simply, although Big Ideas sometimes involve Big Controversies, there are productive and counterproductive ways of grappling therewith. For example, opening somebody's mind to the possibility that what appears at first blush to be "human nature" is actually an emergent, evolutionarily stable set of rules. That undermines a traditionalist, we've-always-done-it-this-way view of human interaction, yet suggests limits on what the sexual underground can realistically accomplish by way of deconstructing norms. Thus I have in one sentence pushed all sorts of buttons.