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Feminist writer and lawyer turns against trigger warnings

Jill Filipovic, a feminist author and lawyer whose books include “The H-Spot: The Feminist Pursuit of Happiness,” wrote in The Atlantic that she was “wrong” about trigger warnings; while she once advocated for their use, she now believes they can diminish resilience.

“In 2008, when I was a writer for the blog Feministe, commenters began requesting warnings at the top of posts discussing distressing topics, most commonly sexual assault,” Filipovic (pictured) wrote.

“Warnings were becoming the norm in online feminist spaces, and four words at the top of a post—’Trigger Warning: Sexual Assault’—seemed like an easy accommodation to make for the sake of our community’s well-being.”

Over the next half decade, trigger warnings moved from feminist websites to college campuses and groups on the left, she wrote.

During roughly that same period, however, “mental health among teenagers has plummeted,” in a development that predated COVID.

Part of the problem, she hypothesized, is that the “insularity” of social media prompts people, especially teenagers, to regard problems as crushing and insurmountable. Trigger warnings exacerbate this tendency:

Applying the language of trauma to an event changes the way we process it. That may be a good thing, allowing a person to face a moment that truly cleaved their life into a before and an after, and to seek help and begin healing. Or it may amplify feelings of helplessness and hopelessness, elevating those feelings above a sense of competence and control. …

To help people build resilience, we need to provide material aid to meet basic needs. We need to repair broken community ties so fewer among us feel like they’re struggling alone. And we need to encourage the cultivation of a sense of purpose beyond the self. We also know what stands in the way of resilience: avoiding difficult ideas and imperfect people, catastrophizing, isolating ourselves inside our own heads.

Read the whole essay.

MORE: Cornell rejects student government resolution for mandating trigger warnings

IMAGE: Jill Filipovic

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