Why do so many people resent Trigger warnings?


Roy Rogers and Trigger

Friends, you’re going to have to explain something to this cowgirl:  I just can’t understand all of the irritation and resentment aimed at Trigger!  (What did this poor horse ever do to Peggy Noonan, anyway?)  From everything I’ve seen, he was a born showman, a high-stepping son-of-a-gun who never did anything worse than steal the show from his owner, Roy Rogers.  Trigger never bit or kicked anyone who didn’t deserve it, now, did he?

But let’s face it:  horses are really big animals, and some people are a little trepidatious around them.  Some horses are afraid of people, and can startle or jump when they’re spooked.  Just because some folks are a little fearful of horses, and just because some horses are easily spooked doesn’t make them bad people or bad horses.  It just means that those of us who are comfortable with Trigger should remember that not every person (or horse) feels the same, and keep that in mind when we’re discussing Trigger or bringing him around for company.

cowgirlropeNow, is that really so difficult?  Can you honestly accuse people who are a little scared of Trigger of “censorship” just because they’d appreciate a little warning before you march a big ol’ horse into a room?  I know Trigger, and the last thing he’d want is for anyone to feel “Triggered.”

Seems to this cowgirl that it’s just courtesy and common sense to remember that not everyone’s as comfortable around a horse as you might be.

27 thoughts on “Why do so many people resent Trigger warnings?

    • This seems right to me. The complaint about trigger warnings always seems to have embedded in it the assumption that people with less power are being presumptuous if they expect their concerns to be taken seriously. “Grow a thicker skin” is an easy thing to say when it’s not your ox being gored, right? (To mix a couple of leathern & bovine metaphors here!)


  1. Hi, Historiann. I’m not sure where best to leave this comment, so I hope it’s okay here. (Feel free to delete if you want.) I love the look of your new blog layout, but since you changed things my computer and phone have a difficult time accessing the comments. They think your site is a security risk and either won’t load at all or warn me to get out. This usually happens when I try to click though directly to comments from my feed aggregator. If I go directly to your site, I can get to comments. Anyway, I don’t know if this is an easy fix, but if it is I wanted to bring it to your attention. Your blog is one of the few places on the internet where the comments are simply not to be missed. Thanks!


    • Elizabeth, WordPress says the problem may be on your end: “It sounds like the links to your site through her feed reader are https (secure) links, so when she clicks through, her browser gives her that warning. However, the links in your feed itself are http links, so I’m not sure why that’s happening for her unless her feed reader and/or browser has some setting that sends everything through https.”

      I don’t know what to do with this information, other than maybe use the feed aggregator to alert you to new posts but don’t click on them through that–just log onto Historiann.com to see what’s new in a fresh browser window.


  2. I think NicholeandMaggie have it partly right; I think another part is that a lot of people are thoughtless and/or lazy, and don’t like having to think ahead about what might make someone uncomfortable. And then they may feel “caught out” because they were oblivious to someone else’s discomfort, and feel bad, and then want to try to feel good by making someone else feel bad.


    • I don’t think they want people to feel bad; I think they just want people who feel bad to STFU. They’re entitled to all liberty of speech; anyone who complains about their speech is obvs. AGAINST THE FIRST AMENDMENT.

      This is otherwise known as the Dr. Laura Schlessinger school of constitutional thought, whereby any criticsm = AGAINST THE FIRST AMENDMENT!!!


  3. This is the only blog I read (I even trademarked that phrase once for a T-shirt that I never got around to getting made), save for clicking on a link here occasionally, so I don’t know what a “feed aggregator” is, but it sounds very ranch-friendly, if expensive. I found it some effort to adjust to the new format, but not really too much. The biggest hiccup-item might be not being able to see how many comments there are before the “continue reading” click, but that’s no big deal. The black box partly obscuring the cowgirl faces at the top is maybe a bit unsettling, but “unsettling” is one of the underlying thematics of the entire enterprise, right? The WSJ wouldn’t let me read more than a few lines of the Noonan piece without a subscription, alas. I subscribe to a nearby convenience store where they let you scope an article or two while you’re stirring some sort of additives or performance enhancers into your coffee or tea.


  4. You’re asking the question in far too vapid a way. And veering towards the ad hominem as you do it. Here’s one good set of objections from the comments section of a recent opinion piece about the matter. There are other quite reasonable and substantive objections that are far from representing a personal investment in what your commenter associates with bullying.



    • Maybe I should have put a **humor warning** at the top of the post!

      I remain convinced that trigger warnings, like political correctness, are mostly phantoms in the minds of right-wing commentators. I haven’t seen much evidence that trigger warnings are pervasive, and zero evidence that they’re stifiling freedom of inquiry or liberty of speech.


      • Ooh, this commenter just hit hard against some mansplaining! And, as H-ann notes, disingenuous paranoia. Do you really think people are getting the vapors about trigger warnings stifling free speech. Srsly?

        (Hint: putting “trigger warning” at the top of a column as a courtesy doesn’t cause the government to come down and delete the column.)


      • To be fair, I did write “friends, you’re going to have to explain something to this cowgirl” in the lede to this post. But I thought that was pretty clearly a rhetorical request for an explanation, not a literal one.

        You know what? The U.S., state, and local government are curiously uninterested in what I teach. Maybe I need to TALK LOUDER?


  5. Historiann, I can’t agree that objections to trigger warnings are necessarily the reactions of the powerful to “people with less power,” and I don’t see how such objections are the province of “bullies,” as nicoleandmaggie say. The best thing I have seen written on the disadvantages of “trigger warnings” appeared in *Inside Higher Education* for May 29, 2014, by seven faculty who note that they work in “gender/sexuality studies, critical race studies, film and visual studies, literary studies, and cognate fields.” One point they make is that “Faculty of color, queer faculty, and faculty teaching in gender/sexuality studies, critical race theory, and the visual/performing arts will likely be disproportionate targets of student complaints about triggering [. . .]” To which my response is, “Well, yeah.”

    Liked by 1 person

    • Not understanding how trigger warnings have anything to do with student complaints about triggering. A trigger warning is simply a courtesy to let people know they should prepare themselves for something triggering. NPR does this whenever it’s about to air a disturbing story. The complaints about triggering will be there whether or not there’s a warning because it’s not the *warning* that those students are complaining about.

      Obviously triggers should only come as surprises. Maybe complaints about trigger warnings isn’t bullying, maybe it’s sadism?


    • I wonder why the Wall Street Journal and the New York Times didn’t publish their essay, then? (Any guesses?)

      There’s no organized movement to force every professor to offer trigger warnings, is there? (If there is, I’m unaware of it.) It seems to be something offered voluntarily for the benefit of students who might feel vulnerable to certain images, topics of discussion, or texts. Who could possibly object, except for people who want to monitor and control what’s going on in other people’s classrooms.

      I just might call that an attack on **my** academic freedom.

      FTR, I’ve never put the words “trigger warning” on a syllabus, nor have I said them out loud to my students. But I *have* most definitely warned them that we’ll be learning and talking about many difficult issues in my classes–slavery, warfare, rape, concubinage, genocide, etc.–and I have alerted them to particular titles and lectures on the syllabus that might make them extremely uncomfortable. I say this not to exempt them from the work, but rather to show deference to their feelings so that they can think it through before class, or come speak to me privately about any anticipated difficulty with assigned material beforehand.

      And you know what? No one has ever asked me to exempt them from reading a book, hearing and seeing a lecture, or from a discussion of any uncomfortable topics found therein. I don’t think most of them cared that much, but those who *did* care appreciated a little warning in advance & some space and time to talk it over with me.


  6. I agree with what a couple of others have said here that the opposition to the existence trigger warnings (as opposed to a principled decision not to use them yourself) is a fundamental misunderstanding of trigger warnings. Trigger warnings aren’t about creating a world in which people can avoid anything uncomfortable or upsetting. They’re about giving people enough information to decide how and when to approach a situation that is hard for them. It’s about giving them the tools to cope and actually work through material that might otherwise incapacitate them emotionally or physically or both.

    I have used trigger warnings or content notes very rarely in my online writing — I have concerns about what it says about our culture and the nature of trauma that we think we can predict what will be triggering for others (the people I know with trigger issues experience PTSD responses to very random things). But I respect what the apparatus of trigger warnings are trying to do. And I don’t think we should treat those who use them as hysterical or censorious or coddling.


  7. ha! I love the Emily Latella satirizing of the question and overwrought national op-eding on this stuff.

    Incidentally, the only “trigger” issues I have had down here has been with conservative Christian students who don’t like cuss words or sexual scenes in their books — a little hard to avoid in doing southern and African American history and literature! A little note on the syllabus and quick “hey, if this sort of thing deeply offends you, maybe think about taking another class” always has done the trick.


  8. I was sure this post would end with a Roseanne Roseannadanna line: “Oh, well. never mind.”
    And no one should ever be hating on Trigger (says the historian writing a bio of Dale Evans).


  9. 1.) Your Trigger and Roy image brought back pleasant memories so I saved it.
    2.) I also got the canned warning about your blog being unsafe, so had to override it with an “exception.”
    3.) I wish anyone linking to a site which requires a paid subscription (as with your WSJ Noonan link) would issue a trigger warning.


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