TRIGGER WARNING: This article contains information about “trigger warnings,” which may trigger to people who don’t like the idea of “trigger warnings.”
By the beard of Zeus!
A recent op-ed in the Columbia University student newspaper has called for “trigger warnings” on subjects such as Greek mythology and Roman poetry. The request comes after a sexual assault victim was assigned Ovid’s Metamorphoses and “did not feel safe in [her] class” after reading the vivid depictions of violence and rape.
As Michael E. Miller of The Washington Post explains , a “trigger warning” is an alert “about potentially distressing material.” The term was originally applied to Vietnam vets who were exposed to situations that triggered flashbacks. It was later adopted by feminists to alert sex-abuse victims about online content dealing with rape and sexual assault. But many critics now contend that the term has been overused to the point where it no longer has any meaning.
“Alerts have been applied to topics as diverse as sex, pregnancy, addiction, bullying, suicide, sizeism, ableism, homophobia, transphobia, slut shaming, victim-blaming, alcohol, blood, insects, small holes, and animals in wigs,” Jenny Jarvie wrote last year in the New Republic. “Certain people, from rapper Chris Brown to sex columnist Dan Savage, have been dubbed ‘triggering.’ Some have called for trigger warnings for television shows such as ‘Scandal’ and ‘Downton Abbey.‘”
In all fairness, I’d like a warning every time Chris Brown is about to play.
But as the recent Columbia op-ed demonstrates, proponents of “trigger warnings” believe using them on college campuses will lead to a more inclusive learning environment.
Ovid’s “Metamorphoses” is a fixture of Lit Hum, but like so many texts in the Western canon, it contains triggering and offensive material that marginalizes student identities in the classroom. These texts, wrought with histories and narratives of exclusion and oppression, can be difficult to read and discuss as a survivor, a person of color, or a student from a low-income background.
There’s no denying that there’s a ton of reprehensible behavior that goes on in Greek mythology. After all, posing as a bull and tricking a woman into having sex probably doesn’t jell with the whole affirmative consent movement. And that story is on the tame end. If most of the characters were around today, they’d have to register as sex offenders.
That said, is it fair to hold 3,000-year-old fictional characters to our modern-day standards? And if we apply “trigger warnings” to every situation that might be “triggering,” won’t we just end up ignoring them altogether like we already ignore those warnings before television shows? Wait, are those considered “trigger warnings?”
At any rate, I’m sure I just need to check my privilege and unpack my invisible backpack, or something like that.
(Source: The Washington Post)