The Internet Is Not a Safe Space

Last week, Washington Post columnist George Will was roundly excoriated for suggesting that victimhood conferred a privileged status on college campuses. Around the same time this was happening, long-time lefty writer and activist Yasmin Nair was saying roughly the same thing on Twitter.

"Everyone's got a fucking trauma boo-boo, and we're all expected to kiss the damn thing," Nair tweeted. "Here's my challenge to the 'Left' 'feminists': Can you organise one panel anywhere where subject of rape does NOT require revelation of same? It's @ the point where I refuse to sit on a fucking panel to talk about 'social justice' because, I HAVE TO CONFESS to be considered legit."

Nair's comments were tangentially related to Al Jazeera journalist Sarah Kendzior. Kendzior set off an inter-leftist Internet flash battle by insisting that linking to her public tweet about getting rape threats was tantamount to encouraging rape threats against her.

Folks across the ideological spectrum pushed back, noting that by Kendzior's logic we should avoid drawing attention to any women writing on sensitive topics. But the more people objected, the higher the rhetorical stakes escalated. Before long, to write critically about Kendzior at all—even in response to unfair and slanderous accusations on her part—was to "endanger her life."

Curiously, writing in defense of Kendzior did no such thing, even in high-profile publications such as Newsweek. Nor did Kendzior's feminist allies object much when Newsweek published a private email in which another female journalist (and Kendzior critic) wrote of being raped. The implication seems to be that there are two standards: one for people writing about rape in an approved way, and one for those on the wrong side of the Twitter mob.

The message, as Freddie de Boer* wrote, is that only some women "deserve" the protection of feminism. Those who fail to fall in line with the left-feminist consensus du jour are branded "bad feminists or, ludicrously, actually misogynists."

The message of this Twitter mob is that feminism means women are not free to form their own opinions, not about the right language to discuss rape and rape threats, not about the public nature of public tweets, not about how to honestly criticize others in a productive way.

De Boer called these attitudes "palpably sexist" in their assumption that women have an obligation to hold any particular viewpoint. But this is what good "male allies" do these days: accept whichever feminist narrative implies the most oppression and then swoop in to parrot the terms and save the day. Nevermind those of us who both consider ourselves feminists and reject prevailing progressive victimhood narratives. Dissenting opinions won't do. Dissenting opinions are violence.

"The mob wants to ensure that a certain experience gives you full control over the language," de Boer wrote. But it's not merely that—there's a trending leftist contingent that wants to ensure certain experiences give you full control over the world.

Hence: the transformation of the trigger warning. What started as a mainstay of feminist blogs and women's studies departments has bubbled over into mainstream academia and pop culture. At colleges from Rhode Island to California, students have been pushing for such warnings on course syllabi (some potentially triggering texts cited have been The Great Gatsby and Mrs. Dalloway). Outside of college campuses, some have called for trigger warnings on news articles and other media. 

When trigger warnings first gained traction, advocates had milder ambitions. On early feminist blogs, a trigger warning may appear atop posts about sexual assault or—more frequently in my memory—eating disorders and self harm. Because these blogs operated as tiny, tight-knit communities, norms like the trigger warning seemed reasonable—an easy way to cater to those who wanted to participate in feminist spaces but not frequently revisit particular types of trauma or potentially bad influences. As was often said, these were "safe spaces," carved out by and for feminists to talk to one another openly and semi-privately.

But Twitter is not a safe space (nor a semi-private one). The Internet is not a safe space. And college campuses are meant to prepare students for the world at large. Because the world at large is not a feminist blog comments section, attempting to apply the norms of one to it just doesn't work—nor should it. There's simply no way we can take into account all the ways individuals in society can be traumatized and all the factors that may be triggering.

Because this is the case, some triggers and traumas wind up getting a lot of attention while others are hardly mentioned. Why am I not surprised that people mostly worry over triggering memories of sexual abuse and rape, rather than memories of war and combat?

Old, sexist ideas about men and women's comparative levels of emotionality and resiliency are alive and well in trigger culture. And this is perhaps the most insidious effect of all this excessive empathy.

In the push to legitimize feelings of residual trauma, some have made this trauma both central to the mission of feminism and unassailable when proffered as explanation. And this—what Nair referred to as the "constant drumbeat of trauma"—has an infantilizing effect on perceptions of women, the discourse around them, and the discourse around sexual harassment and assault in general.  

The drumbeat of trauma drowns out cultural and systemic issues, encouraging instead a focus on merely reaffirming that people are hurt and scared. It mistakes acknowledgement and accommodation of this hurt—without question, and in the right language—as progress.

But slapping a trigger warning on a book of film doesn't change its content, nor the culture that inspired it. Journalists asking permission before linking to someone's public comments is nice—but it doesn't mean Redditors or 4chan will.

Attempting to inoculate each other from triggers is an ultimately misguided proposition. It merely hides the ugliness and insensitivity of the world at large—an ugliness and insensitivity we all must face squarely if we ever hope to destroy it.

(* de Boer is a good friend of mine.)

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  • Plàya Manhattan.||

    "...George Will was roundly excoriated for suggesting that victimhood conferred a privileged status on college campuses. "

    Truth is no longer a valid defense?

  • Tonio||

    Ha, ha. No, it's not.

    Also, that word "truth" doesn't mean the same thing to leftists that it means to more objective people.

  • BiMonSciFiCon||

    "There's 'the truth' and 'the truth!'"

    -Lionel Hutz, aka Miguel Sanchez.

  • ||

    I'm gonna rape you all. This is a threat. #LEGITIMACY

  • Rasilio||

    Yeah but you're Warty, we already knew that

  • Libertymike||

    Plus, strange as it may seem, some people here actually look forward to Warty's pinprick entering their ani.

  • some guy||

    Did you just volunteer to go first?

  • Swiss Servator, CH yeah!||

    So, how does that rate on the STEVE SMITH scale o' rape?

  • BuSab Agent||

    You can't rape the willing.

  • Tonio||

    I'm glad to see at least some on the left starting to push back against out-of-control whinerism.

  • ||

    ENB is a terrible feminist for not including a trigger warning on this post.

  • Elizabeth Nolan Brown||

  • Plàya Manhattan.||

    Bookmarked.

  • ||

    ditto.

    I claim we mark this as the moment Elizabeth Achieved Utility To The Commentariat.

  • Elizabeth Nolan Brown||

    Finally!

  • ||

    Sweet.

  • All-Seeing Monocle||

    I think Elizabeth wrote that entire post as an excuse to post that jpeg in the comments. And it was worth it.

  • Hugh Akston||

    Excellent rant, Elizabeth. Watching feminism and left in general consume itself with hypersensitivity, victimhood olympics, and thoughtcriminal witch hunts is cracking good sport. Here's hoping that when the phoenix rises again it comes with a modicum of common sense.

  • some guy||

    It's like a pissing contest, then trying to one-up each other on who has it worse. And like any pissing contest, it is impossible to come out clean. Maybe they will all ruin each other's credibility?

  • Paul.||

    This whole rape thing has gone off the fucking rails.

    Ok, show of hands, who here hasn't been raped?

  • Plàya Manhattan.||

    I'm not sure. I haven't been on a college campus in a decade, so I'm untutored on the matter.

  • The Immaculate Trouser||

    Me, last night, by my wife. Bitch liquored me up to sex me!

  • EDG reppin' LBC||

    Yep. My wife and I had drinks and then had sex last weekend. Im both a perpetrator and a victim. My birthday is this weekend, and I am looking forward to giving/taking rape again.

  • The Original Jason||

    Only males can be perpetrators and only females can be victims, you cishet shitlord.

  • some guy||

    I have had intimate contact while intoxicated. So, apparently I'm out.

  • Rasilio||

    By the definition of rape put forward by the modern Feminist movement I have in fact been raped by my spouse(es) on numerous occasions.

    I mean once when I was suffering from double pneumonia and a broken rib my ex wife even emotionally abused me into having sex with her (started whining and crying about how I didn't love her anymore because I hadn't touched her in weeks) even though I was far too sick and in far too much pain to have any interest in it.

    That said people who consider that shit rape are fucking losers who were looking for an excuse to be a victim (they were already a victim in their own minds, they just needed something to happen so everyone else would agree with them)

  • Coeus||

    There is probably not a non-virgin male on this board that hasn't been raped according to the feminist definition.

  • Marquis of Fantailler||

    There are probably virgin males who have raped with the loose definition feminist have given it.

  • BuSab Agent||

    Regrettable sex is NOT rape.

  • ||

    Old, sexist ideas about men and women's comparative levels of emotionality and resiliency are alive and well in trigger culture. And this is perhaps the most insidious effect of all this excessive empathy.

    This is an interesting idea, but I would modify it. It doesn't seem that this culture is necessarily focused on the comparative level of emotionality between men and women—I would say it's more insistent that everyone must share the traditionally female-coded level of emotionality. However, that emotionality is itself triggered by, according to this culture, traditionally female-coded traumas, like rape or sexual harassment, and specifically not to male-coded traumas, like war. That is to say, men and women are both supposed to be equally upset and nonresilient, but only about things that old, sexist ideas would tell us only women get upset about.

  • Elizabeth Nolan Brown||

    That's an excellent clarification.

  • Heroic Mulatto||

    It merely hides the ugliness and insensitivity of the world at large—an ugliness and insensitivity we all must face squarely if we ever hope to destroy it.

    While that sentence makes for a good conclusion by the standards of rhetorical persuasion, I hope ENB understands that sentiment is an impossibility. We can never destroy "ugliness or insensitivity". Any attempt to do so invariably leads to thought police and genocide.

  • Elizabeth Nolan Brown||

    Well, yes. "Destroy" was more for rhetorical flair (sounds better than "if we ever hope to perhaps slightly lessen it a little bit)

  • SugarFree||

    The idea that you cannot quote people's public statements to refute them or show rank hypocrisy is one of the most pernicious threats to argument and debate I've encountered.

  • Tonio||

    ^This.

    Brilliant, Sug.

  • Paul.||

    When you begin to lose the debate, you silence it.

    And people wonder why progressives turned their back on the first amendment.

  • The Immaculate Trouser||

    Knocked it out of the park, Elizabeth. Ultimately, the world is not a "safe space" and constructing "safe spaces" is both condescending and harmful to the victim insofar as it presents an errant view of the world.

  • ||

    I have a hard time believing that this rape hysteria nonsense is really about rape. It reads to me like a pseudo-intellectual campaign to make men hate themselves for being men. Strong people are supposed to be ashamed of being strong, weak people are supposed to be proud of their weakness. We live in a stupid time.

  • SugarFree||

    Rape is the knife; the hand that stabs would use another knife if it were sharper.

    If they truly cared about rape they wouldn't preach against women learning to defend themselves.

  • ||

    See my comment above modifying Elizabeth's point a bit. The important thing, in this culture, is to raise the profile/seriousness level of female-coded issues, and that means spreading them to the population at large—because this view inherently accepts that if men don't care about something, it isn't "important." Solving problems doesn't help, and teaching women to be more resilient doesn't help, because those things don't make men upset about the things women are upset about, and making men feel the same way is the only way to validate these female-coded feelings.

    And yeah, note how sexist the whole premise is. Where I say "female-coded," you would say "weak," and you wouldn't be wrong. And they would hate that, but play right into it.

  • ||

    I don't mean exclusively female, but I see your point about female-coded. I would call a hipster in skinny jeans weak, but calling him feminine is just as accurate.

  • SugarFree||

    I don't know, "feminine" is a positive thing in the right dosage. "Effete" is a more accurate term for the hipster, that parasite of dead culture, that rat king of affectations.

  • ||

    True. Effeteness and even effeminacy are different than femininity. Alison Brie, good, David Bowie, good, Pajama Boy, bad.

  • ||

    I analogize this a lot to what exists in the online bookosphere. Among a litany of complaints, two stand out and are in strange tension with each other: first, not enough books written by women are taken seriously and reviewed, and second, books written by men about "woman-y things" (in litspeak, we call this "domestic fiction") are taken seriously and reviewed. So there's this weird thing where you want to claim that (a) women and men generally don't care about the same thing, which is why domestic fiction is coded female, (b) because everyone hates women, domestic fiction isn't taken seriously, (c) but some men do care about woman-y shit enough to write novels about it, (d) those novels are taken seriously, so (e) domestic issues are important when men care about them but not when women care about them, and therefore (f) we need to make men care about women's issues because that's the only way for women's issues to be important.

  • ||

    These people spend a lot of time demanding to be taken seriously, don't they?

  • Paul.||

    Weakness is empowering.

  • Rasilio||

    It worked for the Jews and early Christians

  • SugarFree||

    Maybe men write about the domestic sphere more effectively because they have less at stake, and can therefore cast a more critical eye to its tropes and conventions...

    A lady acquaintance of asked me if I wanted to read her novel about learning to cook from her grandmother. It took a superhuman-level of will not to kill everyone in the living room and myself.

  • ||

    Why do you want to make Jennifer Weiner cry?

  • SugarFree||

    Because it's the only exercise she's likely to get this summer.

  • GILMORE||

    Yeah, whatever. Are you going shopping soon? (looks for more beer)

  • ||

    From deBoer:

    What this whole incident has revealed is that this is a cross-ideological phenomenon: whether Marxist or conservative or anything in-between, if you are a woman whose opinions do not jibe with those of the self-appointed owners of feminism, you have no right to expect to be shielded from sexism. Feminism no longer applies to you. If you think differently, they’ll sick the pathetic male “allies” like Christopher Carbone to mansplain at you for awhile.

    And how the fuck do they square this with the standard response of approved feminists to men, that "Women don't need men to tell us how to do feminism right"?

  • SugarFree||

    Because they have swallowed the "false consciousness" narrative. The "truth" of left-feminism is so obvious, that not believing in it means you are brainwashed or evil.

  • Tonio||

    I didn't think they actually....

  • SugarFree||

    Dammit, man. Don't leave me hanging!

  • The Late P Brooks||

    "Everyone's got a fucking trauma boo-boo, and we're all expected to kiss the damn thing,"

    Nice.

  • ||

    Another thing that I find deeply unsettling is that these people equate never being offended with "safety". We're not allowed to state opinions that they haven't approved, because that makes them feel "unsafe". The degradation of language is dangerous.

  • Elizabeth Nolan Brown||

    God, yes. I had a whole section in this post about exactly this but took it out b/c it was a little too tangential. But feeling "unsafe" is the new trumps everything card.

  • ||

    It's worth a full post. DO IT!

  • GILMORE||

    DO IT

  • Swiss Servator, CH yeah!||

    Thirded.

  • Fist of Etiquette||

    ...or else.

  • Brendan||

    "Safe spaces" are just hyper-focused echo chambers.

    Not only are they intolerant of directly opposing comments, but are nearly as aggressive about driving out those who aren't as supportive on a given topic or PoV.

    Half-hearted, conditional, or 'milquetoast' support of another person's position are treated as opposition.

  • ||

    "Trigger warnings" and all else has been misappropriated as a tool for control.

    It's not even about making people feel safe anymore, it's about winning by silencing the enemy, instead of persuading them. It's about oppressing those who disagree with you. You can't win a rational argument, so you silence the argument and declare victory.

  • SugarFree||

    Just like the idea of "privilege." Once you have a charge of privilege leveled against you, nothing you can do can refute it. Fighting back or arguing just proves your privilege.

  • ||

    Right, I don't have to refute your argument logically if I can just assert you are privileged and thereby have it be deemed invalid.

  • BiMonSciFiCon||

    Did the parents of these people fail to teach them "sticks and stones..."?

  • EDG reppin' LBC||

    Wait. Are you threatening to "break my bones"? Because that is making fearful. I feel unsafe. You are a horrible person.

  • ||

    The Ampersand is not a Safe Space.

  • BiMonSciFiCon||

    I'm gathering the sticks and stones as we speak. Run!

  • Tony||

    But we do agree that victims of rape are worse off than victims of conversations about rape? Yes?

  • Red Rocks Rockin||

    Go whine somewhere else, shitlib.

  • ||

    Are you just arguing for the sake of arguing?

  • GILMORE||

    No, he's sad and lonely and wants to play

  • Paul.||

    Victims of sexual harassment get to give talks on podiums now, yes?

  • GILMORE||

    "inter-leftist Internet flash battle"

    Call me back when that means they're using laser swords and there's only a slim chance of even one of them coming out alive.

  • GILMORE||

    On "trigger warnings", from the American Conservative =

    "Young people who have had very little experience of unsupervised play, whose parents have hovered over them their whole lives, may easily come to believe that the core function of adults is to protect them from dangers. They may not discern the same dangers that their parents do, but the structure of their expectations remains shaped by those parental attitudes."

    There may be something to this.

    I find my nieces constantly trying to tell me 'that's not safe! or you shouldn't do X, Y, or Z!" because their mother is a hypercontrolling teflon umbrella. They wouldn't play catch with me once because they suggested that 'throwing things in each others direction without 'protections' is unsafe'.

    (*don't worry - i then beat them up until they fought back and they now love hitting me in the head with anything they grab hold of)

    But the idea that the driver of 'trigger warnings' is an extension of a style of parenting that constantly emphasized 'potential harm' is something i'd buy.

    why else the word, "Safe"? something i find almost incomprehensible in how it is currently being applied. Life is NOT 'safe' in the sense they use it, and don't seem to accept that. "Safe" is how you *behave*. 'safe' is not a condition the outside world guarantees FOR you.

    Just a thought.

  • BuSab Agent||

    I think this is a very valid thought. when my kids were growing up, my house was a mecca for their friends trying to escape their helicopter parents. We would do things like: fence, shoot bows, slingshots, miniature ballistas, and GUNS!; use power tools, set fire to things, climb trees, had a trampoline (without safety rails!), where the only safety admonition likely to be heard was, "Son, I don't mind you harvesting the gunpowder from firecrackers to build a massive firecracker, but please stop doing it by the furnace." And finally where it was known that you aren't actually hurt unless you have a broken bone,blisters, or enough blood coming out to fall on the ground.

  • GILMORE||

    My father once referred to his own guideline as 'burned fingers'-parenting.

    "burned fingers" the price to be paid to ensure your children never burn the house down. Meaning, you let them hurt themselves to determine when something is 'dangerous' and therefore deserving of respect.

    dissuading children from 'potential minor risk' results in a disproportionate lack of respect for 'real risk'

    The thing that leaps to mind (frequently) as an example of this is the Millenial Kid saying to the drunk and angry guy who just punched him, "Hey man! = That's not cool!"

    Possibly the stupidest fucking thing to say to someone already willing to beat your dumb ass.

  • John589||

    This post is palpably dishonest. You're a good friend of DeBoer... you don't say! Kendzior virtually never wrote about this topic until she was forced, reluctantly: http://sarahkendzior.com/2014/.....g-a-thing/

    And, she publicly called for Newsweek to remove the email they printed from her antagonist.

    The piling on of people saying vile things about her in conjunction with the topic of rape threats is what encourages more threats, which did happen. Have a look at the comments on this article to see that theory in practice.

  • GILMORE||

    ""virtually never""

    You don't say?
    (see what i did there? eh?)

  • SugarFree||

    So she didn't send a tweet about rape threats from someone she called a "brocialist"? Some of her fellow travelers didn't complain about "linking to a [public] tweet without consent"? Gosh, why did Elizabeth make up up all of this stuff out of whole cloth? Maybe Elizabeth was the one making all those rape threats that no one would have known about if Kendzior didn't publically tweet about them in the first place.

    Diabolical, this Elizabeth is. And powerful. And a hacker. And a time-traveler.

  • Elizabeth Nolan Brown||

    Fetch me my monocle!

  • Brendan||

    You only have one and your servant isn't carrying it next to you?

    Sounds like someone is getting kicked out as soon as the board hears about this.

  • GILMORE||

  • Elizabeth Nolan Brown||

    "The piling on of people saying vile things about her,,"

    You say a vile pile-on, I say tempered critique. And I don't see anyone in the comments of this article doing anything like making rape threats against her, me, or anyone.

  • BuSab Agent||

    Well, except for Warty...

  • GILMORE||

    Sugarfree IMPLES raping. All The Time.

  • GILMORE||

    And you dont even want to know what "IMPLES" means. Its too horrible to even explain.

  • John589||

    A tempered critique in which you quote only people carrying out a vendetta against her? Please.

  • ||

    THIS IS WHAT FEMINISTS ACTUALLY BELIEVE!

  • GILMORE||

    "how dare you suggest I have a victim-complex!"

  • Coeus||

    "The piling on of people saying vile things about her,,"

    It's the way they fight. I've seen my mom, aunts and grandmother fighting the same way. If you can win the victim olympics, you win the argument, regardless of what it is. I see it in the workplace some as well. From what I've seen, it's usually women fighting this way, but I've been seeing increasing amounts of men doing it online.

  • John589||

    On the very odd choice of tweets that Jacobin highlighted to kick this all off: http://radicalreboot.tumblr.co.....-tweet-and

    There's a lot of axe grinding going on around this topic, and has been from the start. This post is no exception.

  • GILMORE||

  • John589||

    You reason guys don't have to take rape or threats thereof seriously. You shouldn't then whine if people think you are awful because of this. If you believe in liberty AND in personal responsibility, then you have to own the results of your actions. If someone does something to you that you think is abusive, you're well within your rights to say so.

  • GILMORE||

  • Coeus||

    If someone does something to you that you think is abusive, you're well within your rights to say so.

    And we're well within our rights to tell you you're an idiot if you think that quoting someone's publicly made statements is the same as rape and death threats.

    So, you're an idiot. Where do we go from here?

  • ||

    So do we not have to take them seriously because some of us are guys? Or are you giving us permission to not take them seriously.

    And what Coeus said.

  • Red Rocks Rockin||

    You know, you really don't NEED to make the rest of society suffer for your daddy issues. That's a choice entirely of your own making.

  • ||

    Nevermind those of us who both consider ourselves feminists and reject prevailing progressive victimhood narratives.

    This is a bit like saying "Nevermind those of us who both consider ourselves Christians and reject the prevailing Jesus-as-Messiah narratives". What utility is there in identifying yourself with a movement whose central premise you reject? If you don't believe in the very things that define modern feminism, there's no shame in failing to identify yourself as a feminist.

  • Brendan||

    I lose a ton of respect and interest for things when they tag trigger warnings onto things, especially retroactively.

    I've mentioned it before, but one of my previously favorite shows on Youtube, Hey Ash, Whatcha Playin' went back and put trigger warnings on every episode because one person tweeted that this episode triggered them.

    If you watched any other episode, you'd know to expect stuff like this and I saw it coming as he escalated his temper.

    Now you have every episode with a trigger, many of their podcasts have triggers, etc. and some of them are idiotic ("slappin'" on the Bioshock episode, for example). Then again, I only know about the idiotic term "safe spaces" because of Ashly Burch's tweets about them.

    It's weird to watch people delve full throttle into taking themselves way too seriously.

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