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Monday, September 21, 2009

Trigger Warning


posted by Silvana
I don't think I've ever issued a trigger warning before. Not on this blog, not on any of the other blogs I've written for. I am uncomfortable with them for a whole host of reasons, some of which I am sure will piss people off immensely. The primary one is that when I read feminist blogs where post after post is tagged with a trigger warning, it gives me the impression that the proprietors think survivors of sexual assault are so delicate as to need to be warned about any potential violent narrative that is upcoming. As if they don't already know that a post titled "Area Man rapes seventeen women" or whatever is going to be really goddamn upsetting. In general, I prefer to make the subject matter clear in the post title or in the first line, and trust people to make the decision that's right for them as to whether to read, rather than foreground what amounts to IF YOU HAVE BEEN RAPED MAYBE YOU SHOULDN'T READ THIS.

Which I don't like.

All this is to say that given my position, it's telling that I feel very uncomfortable, today, for the very first time, posting what I'm about to post without some kind of warning. So here it is: this post contains things that are racist, sexist, misogynist, ablist, and violent.

But I feel the need to post a trigger warning because I was actually triggered by something I saw on Saturday night. Alas, the world doesn't give you trigger warnings. Blogs do. I suppose sometimes movies do, because at least they're rated and there's an explanation given for the rating (Language, Sexual Violence). But walking down the street? There's no trigger warning for that.

On Saturday night I went to see The Informant! with friends. It was delightful. We had pizza afterward. I could have had them give me a ride home but I was feeling energetic and liked the idea of taking the train home late, something I rarely do, and people-watching. It was fascinating. A whole different crowd from the people I usually see on the train during my daily commute. And I was fine. But when I got off at my stop and was walking down the stairwell something caught my eye.

It was one of those "HELLO MY NAME IS" name-tag stickers, slapped on the wall. In the blank space on the sticker, someone had written in bold black Sharpie, in all capital letters:

RAPE NIGGER GIRLS

I stood there, three steps from the bottom. My first instinct was to get out my phone and take a picture, because, what the fuck? I looked up and saw some other people coming down the stairs, and I froze. I can't have these people see me take a picture of this. I don't want to draw their attention, to me, or to it. Should I rip it off the wall? Should I talk to the station attendant? Should I call the CTA? Should I fall to my knees and weep?

The people, two men and a woman, were coming closer, halfway down the stairs now. I looked closer. Underneath those three words was a cartoonish drawing of a face, head tipped back, with tears sprouting upwards from the eyes like in Looney Tunes. I gagged. I pushed through the turnstile and walked home. I did nothing.

My neighborhood is a diverse one. I thought, what if some 10-year-old black girl sees that? What if any black woman sees that? What if white men see that? What will they all think? Will they be able to just walk on by? Will my hypothetical young black woman feel a punch in the gut like the one I felt, only 10,000 times worse? What would possess someone to write that? What would possess someone to gleefully draw that picture? Ahead of time? Carefully place it on the wall in the train station, right near the bottom, right where people are turning to go around a corner, right in eyesight?

I feel sick.

I can't think about it anymore.

Then, this morning, I arrive at work and click through my google reader, blog after blog, blah blah blah. News. And I see this.

Apparently, invocations to commit violence against women aren't just being slapped on the walls of CTA stations on nametag stickers by wayward white supremacist graffiti artists. No, also they are on the FUCK MOTHERFUCKING FUCK sides of buses. Two hundred and fifty of them.

DEAF GIRLS CAN'T HEAR YOU COMING

I feel sick.

BLIND GIRLS CAN'T SEE YOU COMING

I want to throw up and collapse to the ground and I'm weak in the knees and I can't breathe and I'm having trouble writing this because I just want to pound on the keyboard saying FUCKFUCKFUCKFUCKFUCK. Sorry, the CTA says. These ads weren't approved. We will take them down. And I haven't even heard about this until today even though I read every single fucking thing on the internet and this happened LAST WEEK because it's just, you know, incredibly banal. Oh, look, someone is offended by something? Oops! And what about my clients? What about these young black deaf women who are treated like shit at every turn, their bodies appropriated and mangled and taken over by the state, the Department of Children and Family Services Department of Public Health Department of Healthcare and Family Services Women Infants and Children Department of Human Services Social Security Administration Cook County State's Attorney Illinois Department of Corrections United States Department of Justice.

Fuck.

Because when I see DEAF GIRLS CAN'T HEAR YOU COMING what I see is RAPE DEAF GIRLS.

Because I am not an idiot and I have literally seen the writing on the wall and I know what it means.

And then, I think to myself, well at least the Chicago Tribune was on the case, at least they came out strong and hard, and these horrific ads will go away before they reach the eyes of every deaf girl in the city, who by the way use public transit a lot because guess what? They're poor. Thank you Chicago Tribune.

Except not, because right here at the end of their editorial about the ads is this beautiful nugget, which says of the advertising campaign: "It's no more or less offensive than Chelsea Handler's "My Horizontal Life: A Collection of One-Night Stands," which was also a best seller."

Wait, what? You mean this book? A woman writing about her sex life, full of bizarre, interesting, sometimes funny, and uniformly CONSENSUAL experiences? The ad campaign that exhorts its male consumers to rape women with disabilities? That's as offensive as a woman writing a humorous romp about consensual sex.

It's BED-AND-TELL? That's the problem?

I feel so triggered I want to fucking punch someone. Trigger Warning.

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