Trigger Warnings, plastered across content that Might Be Offensive to some people, are intrinsically problematic: one person’s trigger might be another’s uncontrollable, unabashed peals of laughter or another person’s shrug.
A Softer World uses trigger warnings. I love A Softer World. I get that some people would might be shaken up by its occasional references to child-molesting clowns; I get that Joey and Emily (I’m not friends with them or anything, I just refer to them on a first-name basis in my basis in my head because of the creepy intimacy the Internet confers) would like to be sensitive to those folks. But the strips that destroy me, FOR REASONS WE HAVE BEEN OVER, are the ones like this one.
It should also should be of NO SURPRISE TO ANYBODY that I don’t generally object to hyperbole; I favor it 10 times out of nine.
BUT. I have some rules. I think a lot of other people share these rules.
FOR INSTANCE. People who are way more into something than I can relate to, and are sort of judgmental about it, are pretty annoying! But IN MY OWN EXPERIENCE, they are generally not about to imprison millions of people, then torture and ritually execute them for no good reason. Therefore, obsessive cyclists are not to be called “bike Nazis.” Similarly, requiring citizens to purchase health insurance isn’t great policy, in my opinion! But I can see the difference between it and genocide, and you should be able to do this also.
SIMILARLY. Having to pay a little more for your goddamn carnitas than you would like to is not “rape.” Your wallet is also not being “anally raped without a reacharound.”
For one thing, unless there’s something about your wallet you’re not telling me (and if there is, for the love of God, keep it under your hat!), your wallet doesn’t even have an anus! Let alone some sort of thing that could be…reached around…seriously, just quit this shit. It doesn’t offend me As A Feminist, it offends me as someone who tries not to sound like an idiot every goddamn time she opens her yap to the Internet. By my own estimation I succeed one time out of four. By sheer coincidence, that is roughly the portion of blog posts I actually proofread and spellcheck before hitting Publish. Or maybe it’s not a coincidence!
Maybe you also should consider saying to yourself, Sweet jesus, is this not only a grotesque and ludicrous exaggeration but the most hackneyed analogy for (whatever inconvenience my privileged self has suffered today) to ever be employed in this great swinging frat party known as the Internet? I so, stop. Then go fuck yourself.
LOOPHOLES: I am still totally OK with saying you “got fucked” or “got fucked over” by your burrito vendor. Why is this OK, you ask? Isn’t it basically the same analogy, the same degree of indignation? Why are you all up my ass about this one thing, but not up my ass about using the expression “up my ass”? The answer is this: because I’m a goddamn Nazi, that’s why.
Additional loophole: saying trivial decisions are “like Sophie’s Choice” is always, always, always comedy gold. Please do it. It will make your day better.
Until the new issue of Harper’s hit the stands (and more specifically, until the ladies of the Internet started talking about it), that was pretty much the whole of my list of verboten hyperbole: no calling people Nazis unless they are actual Nazis, and no calling things rape that aren’t actually rape.
I thought that was a pretty good set of rules, but Susan Faludi — whose writing I’ve long adored — has compelled a third:
Don’t call things matricide that aren’t actually matricide. Like, say, intergenerational feminist disagreement!
NOW, if you have never disagreed with a feminist of another generation, but have (intentionally, accidentally, whatever) killed your own mother, you might be thinking, I don’t know, Christen. For all I know, they’re exactly the same thing! Now, others of you might be feeling similarly charitable, but have the reverse experience — wherein you’ve had differences with a feminist who is not of your generation, but have little to no experience in the killing-your-own-mother department.
Well! I’m here to tell you that I actually think the two things are really pretty different! IN MY OPINION.
Now, I realize that not everyone visibly shivers coming across the word “matricide” in her RSS reader. It’s basically just a handful of other people who’ve made end-of-life decisions about their moms (sup y’all), some people who accidentally murdered their mothers in car accidents, and I don’t know, probably an actual murderer or two who’ve begun to feel remorse.
This is why I’m not offended that Harper’s didn’t think to put a label on the magazine cover: “TRIGGER WARNING FOR THIRD-WAVE FEMINISTS WITH UNRESOLVED GUILT ISSUES SURROUNDING SOME OF THE SPECIFIC CIRCUMSTANCES SURROUNDING THEIR MOTHERS’ DEATHS.” Or for that matter, “TRIGGER WARNING FOR THIRD-WAVE FEMINISTS WHO OBJECT TO HAVING THE TENETS OF THEIR MOVEMENT COMPARED TO GREEK MYTH. I MEAN I ADMIT I HAVEN’T READ IT YET BUT ISN’T THAT A LITTLE PATRONIZING? AND ALSO IS IT JUST ME OR IS IT A LITTLE WEIRD FOR A FEMINIST WRITER TO USE SUCH A FREUDIAN FRAMEWORK TO CRITICIZE YOUNGER FEMINISTS? I MEAN SERIOUSLY.”
NOW: I get the analogy (I have a college degree in Getting Analogies, after all, as did MY MOM, who became an English teacher after I left home). I know Faludi knows the difference between disagreement and matricide, the same way your average Twitter jackass knows the difference between a forced sexual encounter and having to pay an extra buck for guacomole. I happen to also rankle at what the analogy implies: that younger feminists don’t know or don’t care what prior generations of women went through or fought for, that they lack a critical context for their opinions and actions. (That, and we all dress like whores!) It’s insulting as well as injurious to those of us who care deeply about ordinary women’s lives, including the lives of our own mothers.
I won’t get into the content of the piece yet, mostly because 1) I’ve gone on long enough already and 2) it’s not online unless you’re a subscriber, and I’m not, and I don’t feel like walking to 7-11 to buy the new issue of Harper’s today.
IN THE MEANTIME. My understanding (and I’m not surprised, as this is a frequent critique of the third wave) is that Faludi argues that a lot of us younger ladies spend way too much time focusing on stupid pop-culture stuff.
No seriously. It’s funny that the Electra myth has come up in feminist discourse this week, BECAUSE, a few weeks ago I was just thinking that Electra is a pretty weird thing for a single lady (for most of the run of the strip, anyway) to name her fussed over, child-proxy little yip dog! Like, the signifier bears so little relationship to its referent that it’s startlingly postmodern! AND HERE YOU THOUGHT CATHY GUISEWITE AND THOMAS PYNCHON HAD NOTHING IN COMMON.
In conclusion, if the strip ends with Cathy having Irving killed for some reason and the dog tearing her up to shreds and then wearing her entrails like a bathing suit, I won’t ask for any Christmas presents this year. I won’t ask for anything ever again.