Lots of this blog is going to be about fiction, but underlying that there’s a deeper set of interests and priorities and questions, drawn from the writers I’ve learned my politics from, from whom I’ve learned what kind of questions to ask. One of the ones I hear hashed over again and again online is about words: how useful is it in activist communities to avoid words and change and reclaim them? Are trigger warnings missing the point sometimes?

I’m not going to argue those points with the world at large. Diversity of tactics: I think it’s useful for people like me who deal with the world by thinking in theories to write up what they believe, hopefully adding to a pool of ideas and resources and concepts that anyone can borrow from at will.

So, me, I’m going to treat language as important, because that’s how I see it. The words people have used about me have hurt me and shaped the way I interact with the world: maybe slowly, maybe gradually, maybe imperceptibly, but nonetheless deeply. The word oppression shares a root with pressure for a reason. Words have power: they give stereotypes weight until the people behind them are suppressed and invisible in hegemonic discourse. Besides, words used about me matter to me, so unless every member of a marginalised group tells me that they’re a-okay with whatever slurs are leveled against them being replicated by outsiders, I’ll try and refrain from using them. I’d ask you to call me out if I fail.

Moving on, trigger warnings. People use these to mean ‘contains discussion of sensitive topics’, but the goal ranges from ‘this that might trigger harmful behaviours in certain people’ down to ‘this could upset you’. Googling around for a few definitions and discussion will tell you that the phrase came from mental health self-care communities, but it was taken outside those spaces by people without histories of disordered eating or self-harm or flashbacks who started using it more generally.

Now, taking over another community’s terminology isn’t cool, especially when they used it for specific sets of situations and the broader usage adds white noise and unnecessarily restricts the content they can read. After pondering definitions for a while I’m planning to label things with ‘content warning’ to flag up general sensitive topics and ‘trigger warning’ for things that are potentially triggering in the original sense. I think it’s legit to want to be forewarned about a topic whatever the level of threat it presents to you.

And beyond that, I want a word to use for what I feel when I read about all the things the patriarchy does. I react when I read Andrea Dworkin setting out in no uncertain terms just how systematic violence and control of women is and what the consequences of that are to them. Twisty Faster at I Blame the Patriarchy is fierce and incisive and a joy to read, but she talks about women as the sex class and even from a feminist I admire that makes me flinch. I can see why she uses those words. That doesn’t mean it’s easy to read someone set out exactly how brutally and completely the world is set against her kind.

The tendency of people like me to want warning labels for the patriarchy plays into how radical feminism interacts with other types of feminist writing, I suspect. It’s much more comfortable to read tips for good consent within a feminist’s relationships than it is to read about the exact and horrifying extent of rape culture. They offer individuals something constructive to do within their social circle, something that can make them happier without asking them to survey and map the complete extent of kyriarchy in all its myriad forms.

I can see the use of that. I can see why blaming the patriarchy might seem like a futile effort. Damaging the system that damages us is an overwhelmingly huge and gradual project. As a power structure, as a force in people’s lives, as something that crushes us down throughout our lives – as all of those things and more, patriarchy is everywhere. I’ve shaped many of my friendship groups and televisual preferences and choice of reading matter around avoiding it and the heterosexism and cissexism and plain old sexism it wields against us.

But I wouldn’t want to put aside all my understanding and rage. It normalises violence against women; its institutions stubbornly and spectacularly fail to police that violence. This is not forgivable and this will not go away of its own accord.

And radical feminists remind us of that: they write about life outside that safety net, remind us of the looming threat, remind me that not everyone has the kind of happy queer friendship groups I have, that when I look outside that life and my places on the internet I see women underrepresented and oversexualised in most media and queer and non-binary folk completely absent. We grew up without images of ourselves in the world around us. We grew up in a world where men hold a terrifying amount of power and do not use it well. Sometimes I want to stay aware of that, to hear stories from other people and other places. Sometimes I’d rather stay in safer territory. Sometimes even if I don’t need one, I’d still appreciate a warning.

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