There’s been a great deal of flak given to micro-aggressions and trigger warnings lately. Mostly with the idea that it is somehow coddling people and making things too “nicey nice” for people. Most recently there was an article in The Atlantic about it. (The Mary Sue did a great follow up to the Atlantic’s article.) The adultism of the Atlantic’s piece aside, the article, as the Mary Sue says, missed the point entirely.
Most Fan Fiction, actually, uses trigger warnings in the best way possible (especially for slash fic). At the beginning of each story, the author will list all of the things that the story could possibly contain that might squick, freak out, or not be of interest to some people. It is a form of ‘informed consent’: I am telling you what will come up in my story, and you can decide if the story is your cup of tea or not. In a classroom setting, trigger warnings can allow the conversation between professor and student about how to work with a student’s triggers while reading a selected text, especially when it deals with violent imagery (i.e.: rape, abuse, etc). Can trigger warnings be excessive or used in ways that limit people? Of course they can. Does it make trigger warnings a less valuable tool for people to manage their mental health? I don’t think so.
The same is true for micro-aggressions. People tend to miss these all together. As I mentioned in the body shaming post, we run into them every day all the time. They’re small and insidious, and most of the time people don’t realize that they are perpetuating them. But it adds up over time, and I believe, creates a low grade chronic PTSD. I know for myself that there are days where the body shaming micro-aggressions become too much and I have to just walk away from any media for a period of time. Racist micro-aggressions are so ubiquitous in American culture that are considered the “normal” for American life.
Managing exposure to micro-aggressions and utilizing trigger warnings aren’t coddling or running away. Recognizing micro-aggressions and trigger warnings are a way for marginalized, abused, and oppressed people to keep their sanity in a world that is constantly telling them they, and their experiences, are not worth taking into account.