An epiphany about Trigger Warnings, Rape Culture and The Patriarchy backfiring on itself

I’m a white guy. I was born, raised and live in Canada. My family was middle class, so I was never hurting socio-economically. I grew up in a conservative town (though I myself was only conservative up until my teens, when I came to reject my catholic upbringing and much of the obedience that came with the programming). In 2008 I moved to the big, Liberal city, “Home”. I was probably vaguely aware of feminism before that, but I really started to learn here. All of what I knew/had learned up to a week ago was finally put to the test in a big way 2 days ago.

I do a podcast with a friend of mine. On the most recent episode, I called him out for misusing the word “rape”. He had said on the previous week’s show that he had a chest cold and it was raping him. I had a chat with him after the show about it, and told him that I thought he should reconsider using that word in such a context. His initial reaction was “I think you’re being overly sensitive”. I told him, having never been raped myself, I can’t profess to know what or how a rape victim/survivor feels when they hear people comparing a forced sexual assault to having a bad chest cold and cough, but I thought it was considerate to air on the side of common decency.

We had a bit of a debate about this, and then he showed me a bit by comedian Hannibal Buress, in which he was describing a woman who was verbally harassing him and he kept telling her to leave him alone, he didn’t want to talk to her, but she was undeterred. He then said “STOP! You are behaving like a rapist!”. He later says in the bit (to paraphrase as I don’t remember exactly) “you are raping my eardrums with your words”. I told my friend that in the first instance, the word was used in proper context, so I had no problem with it. The second use was more like the chest cold example, but not quite as strained.

We agreed to discuss the topic more spiritedly on our next episode, which we did. I seemed to ultimately convince him that yes, context really matters,and that he should take better care to use words correctly (such as not saying “gay” when you mean “lame”, or saying that a hard test raped you). I added a trigger warning and he questioned it, and his girlfriend (who was present) even commented to the effect of “isn’t using a trigger warning kind of letting a victim wallow instead of rising above it?”. I didn’t feel that was the case, I feel like it’s just being considerate.

I took the question to a carefully chosen panel of my friends on facebook, to pose the question and see what they had to say. I wrote:

“My personal take is that we should only use these words in proper context, which I think stands to reason. I think trigger warnings are fair, because I know some soldiers come back from war so riddled with PTSD that they cannot ever be expected to function “normally” in society again. I believe the same can be true of (some) rape victims. While being dead is technically worse than living with severe PTSD, the latter does often then drive people to kill themselves anyways, so it’s not clear cut (whether substituting “murder”/”kill” in place of “rape” is necessarily better). I felt the trigger warning was considerate, just in case”

What resulted was a wonderful, friendly discussion, in which my podcast friend, myself, and several other friends of mine had a round table discussion about triggers, sensitivity, censorship and more.

One particularly cool comment that came up (from a male, if that matters to you for context) was:

“I can’t help but notice that everyone has been bending over backwards for the past day and a bit to avoid people hearing plot spoilers for a fucking TV show [referencing the finale of Breaking Bad, which had aired the night before]. And yet somehow it’s too much to ask that we take steps for people to avoid hearing things that may trigger flashbacks to a horrible event in their past?”

I can’t argue with that one little bit. Solid point.

I inadvertently stumbled upon a pretty significant epiphany of my own. I am on a never ending quest to become a better, more considerate person, to weed out my blind spots, ignorance and unacknowledged privilege. One thing I have hated is that sometimes, in public, I get death stares from women who I don’t know (and don’t know me), just because I’m a guy. I feel that’s terribly unfair and have openly complained about it before.

In the thick of this trigger warning discussion, my brain made a connection for me that really needed to be made:

“It occurs to me now, that when women walk down the street on a daily basis, they don’t get trigger warnings of which men are assholes and are going to catcall/harass/assault them, it just happens. Makes WAY more sense now why most women have basically chosen to indiscriminately apply a trigger warning to anyone with a penis, just to protect themselves, and thus why even while I’m innocently doing my grocery shopping and minding my own business, I get death stares from women just for making eye contact. I hate that that’s a thing at all, but that just means I need to smack some f***ing sense into other penis owning humans so they stop being shitheads and so women don’t have to be afraid of ME because of those shitheads’ behaviour. It’s not fair to tell women not to indiscriminately judge all men, they have to protect themselves, and that’s the easiest way for them to do it.”

After I finished typing that, it was literally like “hey brain, that was pretty rad. why didn’t you figure that out sooner!”

And now I feel like I MUCH better understand the perpetual anger and depression of being a woman in our society, because I know they can’t get away from this shit, they can’t turn it off, it’s just a fact of life. And that’s completely unfair and bullshit. You shouldn’t have to put up with that. This made me realize just how important it is to call other guys out on this shit, whether they are friends or strangers. ESPECIALLY if they are friends. I really feel like this is a CRUCIAL understanding. If more guys understood this, we might actually be able to largely curb Rape Culture.

And I will totally confess that I am a big fat coward, because the system is totally set up and stacked against us (that is women, and men who don’t prescribe to the male dominated system). If I speak up, I align myself with the women, who these men don’t value or give two shits about, and since I’m not a tough, macho guy, and I don’t like to fight, I’m no danger to them. They can laugh at me and walk away, continuing to terrorize women.

I typically observe this behaviour in a pack mentality situation. Me, one measly 150lb dude against a pack of misogynists? I don’t want to get force fed my hat and balls, thanks. But I have to try. Even if it feels pointless/hopeless, I have to. The patriarchy needs to end. It fucks everyone over.

On that note, I want to share something that a woman wrote on facebook, in a separate (but ultimately related) discussion. It fits right in here and is even more perspective for other guys out there who don’t know better:

“Men aren’t allowed to cry without being seen as weak? Don’t blame women. That’s the patriarchy backfiring on itself. And this goes for many things that men tend to suffer from. It’s not women doing it, it’s the patriarchy. When men are mocked or ignored when making sexual assault charges, because “lol who rapes a man?!”… that’s the patriarchy backfiring on itself. And, hint hint, these are things feminism is fighting to stop.”

This just after I had decided to stop calling myself a feminist, and start calling myself a humanist. This is why I read as much as I do, and I ask questions, and I try to listen in when people who are smarter than I am talk about real things. This is a battle being fought right in our front yards, and yet we get distracted by so many other things that really shouldn’t bloody well matter until this is fixed.

“Start where you are. Use what you have. Do what you can” — Arthur Ashe

To listen to the podcast in question — click here (and skip in 45 mins). I’m sure the next one is going to be pretty interesting too.

Also — Jackson Katz’ book “The Macho Paradox — Why some men hurt women and how all men can help”