Sunday, 22 April 2012
As anyone who has read this blog will know, it deals with some fairly emotional subjects and while I hope it makes people think about things they may not have had to think about or address them from a slightly different viewpoint, it is mainly written to help me get my head straight on the same subjects. I am constantly surprised anyone else reads it (but secretly thrilled to have my ego fed, so thank you) but a recent conversation with some friends made me think about what I've been writing in a slightly different and possibly less indulgent fashion.
This blog talks a lot about rape and yet I've never put a trigger warning anywhere on it. There are a couple of reasons for that. Because I'm writing from my point of view, I never really stopped to think about it from anyone else's. I tend to write posts in a flurry and frankly haven't been organised enough to tag and label things clearly. I'm also a little bit ambiguous about trigger warnings anyway, feeling that it in some cases they skirt dangerously close to perpetuating unhelpful and prolonging behaviours of avoidance. Also I've never found them especially useful since my own triggers aren't especially obvious and clear cut. I rarely find written things triggering, but am still deeply affected by sights, sounds, feelings and touch. Being crowded into a small space with no obvious means of escape still does it as does environments that mimic the interrogation and disbelief of the various police stations I visited. I still suppress a sick shudder when I hear male Welsh accents and until recently my biggest trigger was the feel of unvarnished wood with the darkly amusing result that a wooden spoon could make me retch with fear. My therapist helped me see that the fear of wood was related to trying to push my first attacker away and we spent several afternoons in a basement room, fondling a selection of cooking implements and talking about boundaries to help me not scream around rolling pins.
As well as being borderline ridiculous to think or write about, my focus on my own triggers meant that I was terribly self absorbed and didn't give much thought to other people's triggers, naively assuming they were similar to mine and stupidly think that words don't have an impact. Talking it over last week with a variety of women I admire utterly and aspire to grow up to be like presented a whole new view to me which I've been thinking about all week. Then yesterday footballer Ched Edwards was found guilty of rape in a case where his victim was deemed too intoxicated to consent. He was given a five year custodial sentence and told his footballing career was over. The world and its granny had an opinion, mainly played out on Twitter.
Predictably there were two camps. Those who supported the victim completely and those who thought she was a lying bitch out to ruin a young man's career and get rich off the event. One of Ched Evans's team-mates Tweeted that almost exact sentiment (now deleted) and was backed up by another chorus of people immersed in rape culture. Ghastly as this is (esp for the victim at the centre of the case), it didn't surprise me. And since I don't follow a bunch of lads with no empathy on there, it wasn't shoved in my face. Except it was...
Well meaning and rightfully angry feminists who I do follow swamped my timeline with retweets from knuckle dragging bigots and added their own irate commentary. One had tweeted almost 10 times about it in 10 minutes with the result that when I checked my timeline after a lovely evening with friends, I was hit by a wall of intensely upsetting comments that filled the screen of my phone like a tsunami. I suddenly clicked as to what a lack of trigger warnings could do to people and asked her to consider using them before such an onslaught. She realised the issue (quicker than I had) and there was no bad blood. But the next morning, there was a similar deluge from others which when I logged on to have a wee chat with a friend about the Golden Girls took the sheen off the morning somewhat.
Doesn't this sound bitchy and precious? I'm aware of its princess vibe, but the whole thing made me very uncomfortable for several reasons wider than just feeling butt hurt. While the prevalence of rape myths and rape culture needs discussed to try break down incorrect perceptions and biases, this indiscriminate way of doing so seems to exclude a lot of people with genuine experience of the subject because it's bloody hard to convey anything while the room is spinning and you're breaking out in a sweat. Instead the people who have second hand knowledge get to posit themselves as the experts, which is actually pretty similar to what the people saying the stuff they don't like are doing, just on the other side of the fence. Victims get sidelined and talked over which can be triggering in itself as its often how they are treated in the aftermath of an attack. It also drives a subtle wedge between feminists and their allies, splitting the camps into 'traumatised' and 'incensed' creating a situation with a weird kind of privilege.
Many women know the details of rape culture firsthand and have heard the equivalent of those tweets and newspaper comments directed at them face to face and lived with them rattling around in their heads ever since. It's oddly privileged for some who has only read about it to offer them up to someone emotionally tattooed by them in the trauma equivalent of telling someone wearing the group's teeshirt that they should really listen to this amazing band you've just heard about and ignoring their first hand experience with a quote from a book. The fact that it is a genuine emotion and from the right place doesn't really make it any less patronising and difficult to deal with. And I feel bratty bringing it up as if you can't have opinions on subjects unless you've experienced it. I also know that most women have experienced some form of being made to feel frightened by the rape culture we live in from street harrassment to being blamed for that same harrassment because of what they were doing or wearing and that I'm perpetuating a hierarchy that rape is the worst thing ever and other forms of assault aren't the same and less important and I really don't want to do that. I'd just like it if those with first hand experience were given more of a space within the group that should be supporting them and room to speak if they choose to, even if it's halting or slowed by emotion.
So from now on, I'll be trying to do that very thing myself and will be prefacing my entire blog with a trigger warning and adding specific ones to certain posts as necessary so that I stop assuming my triggers=everyone else's experiences and think more about what my words bring up. But, you'll notice that that warning isn't there yet. So am I being awkward and putting it behind the jump or tucking it away like the size guide on clothes shop sites? Nope. In the spirit of learning not to talk for people or treat victims like people who are too damaged to have independent thought and need spoonfed, I'd like to ask your advice on how to phrase it so it's welcoming, educational, doesn't talk down to anyone but does the trick. What should I focus on? Should I provide links to sources of help and support? Should I leave it as it as? Whatever you think would be helpful, I'm willing to do.
I get a lot from writing here and even more from the support people give me by reading it. Some of you know me and some of you don't and I'd like to make both sorts of readers feel welcome and show my appreciation by making this a quiet corner of the internet with a safe space. I can't promise kittens to pet or cake, but I'll do my best to make sure you don't go away feeling worse than when you dropped by. It's the least I should be offering and I'm sorry it hadn't occured to me until now. It's just one more way that I'm incredibly grateful for the peer support I have in my life. Plus, I'll be 34 this year. It's getting a bit unseemly to still be in a teenage-esque 'me me me' mode...