In its simplest definition, a “trigger” is a stimulus — a smell, sound, or sight — that initiates feelings of trauma. The stimulus could be anything from a color to a song. It is not clear how the brain forms these connections, however, it appears to be linked with sensory experiences. The trigger works in various ways, sometimes needing only something similar to the sensory experience or something similar to situation in which the experience occurred.
For example, a person who was in a car accident may experience a triggering response to the song that was playing on the radio when the accident happened. It may even extend to the musician or similar sounding music. However, a person may experience a trigger response due to a situation. For example, getting into a car or simply seeing one might cause the person anxiety.
The reason the above explanation was necessary is because there has been an abuse of the word “trigger”. Far too many people use it to mean that something made them uncomfortable or reminded them of a negative experience. That is not a trigger.
Why bring this up? I do so because a feminist teacher claimed she was “triggered” by a male student’s paper criticizing “rape culture”. According to the anonymous blog post, the teacher decided to educate her male students on the theory of “rape culture”. Many of the male students rejected the theory, yet one student’s rejection stood out:
Every so often, however, male students may present a reasonable shortcoming of the prevailing rape culture rhetoric, such as “Why don’t we talk about when men experience rape? How can we make space for that dialogue without pushing aside women’s experiences with rape and systemic inequality.”
This is a valid question, and the inquiry is on point. We need to make space for men (as well as non-binary people) to share their experiences with rape since the foreclosure of such space stems from the very same mechanisms of inequality reproduction that facilitate rape culture in the first place.
When I encountered a paper that began with this question in my gender class, I hoped the student would take the paper in that direction.
This presumption continues throughout the post. The teacher presumes that the student will think horrible things about her, which leads the teacher to impugn his character rather than consider his position. For example:
He started by citing a media example of a case where a woman on a college campus raped a man, and how poorly the campus responded. However, I first felt a twinge in my spine when I looked up the source of his story and traced it back to a Men’s Rights Advocacy (MRA) group. “Okay,” I thought to myself, “students use terrible sources all the time, often because they might not have the skills to distinguish journalism from something like an MRA group. I’ll give him the benefit of the doubt here and make a note of it for the next paper.”
Unfortunately, his “argument” quickly devolved into a tirade claiming – since he presented ONE case where a man was raped by a woman – Feminism is pointless and women are complaining too much about “their problems.” He wrote that men and women experience rape culture in exactly the same way, and claimed talking about gender inequality was just an effort to make men look bad. He said that women brought these things upon themselves by making people, and specifically men, angry and annoyed via conversations about Feminism and rape culture. He did not even feign a presentation of data to back up his argument after the initial example, but rather, he simply ranted against Feminism, women, and open discussions about the sexual violence women regularly experience.
The teacher does not provide any examples from the paper. She does not cite the one source she claims the student presented, nor does she appear to give a fair look at his arguments. It is possible that the student presented his arguments poorly, yet it seems more probable that this teacher is biased against the criticism of her positions. I would like to know the source from the men’s rights group the student cited. Was it a reddit page? Was it a blog? Did the source include multiple citations? These are relevant points the teacher fails to answer.
Yet it is her response to the paper that is most astounding:
As I went over his paper, I realized that I was reading a paper that sounded word for word like something my rapist would say.
That sounds like projection, and projection of the nastiest sort. It is meant to associate the unknown student with the teacher’s rapist, thereby making the student into a rapist. All this is because the student disagreed with a feminist argument.
Let us consider the frame of mind of a person teaching about a subject matter that is so volatile to her that a mere disagreement causes her to see a student as a rapist. This is not a person who should teach such material. Indeed, this is not a person who should teach at all. She appears to have a number of underlying issues that should be addressed before she sets about teaching anything.
And not only did this sound like something my rapist would say, this student fit the same demographic profile as the man who raped me – White, college male, between the ages of 18-22.
Again, this is pure projection. I assume the teacher lives in the United States. As such, a significant of the population would fit the above demographic. Are we to assume that she is petrified of about a fourth to third of the country? Are we to assume that any young white male with whom she disagrees “triggers” her?
Out of curiosity, I must know what “triggered” response the teacher experienced:
I got up from my desk and went for a walk. I couldn’t concentrate. I had plans to read a book later that afternoon, which were shattered by being thrown back into a pit of traumatic, fragmented memories by this student’s paper.
In short, she was not triggered. She was perturbed and angry. Her solution to these feelings was good. Going on a walk to clear her mind could help. I fail to see, however, how the mere mention of male victims or criticism of “rape culture” would bring up fragmented memories. What connection is there between those concepts and her past experiences? The teacher never clarifies this. Of course, her comment could be hyperbole, and little more than an attempt to garner sympathy because:
I was furious at the fact that, as an instructor, I was expected to take his paper seriously […]
Is that not a teacher’s job? Are they not expected to treat students’ work seriously? What if he makes valid points? What if he demonstrates flaws in the teacher’s arguments? What if he genuinely considers the positions he presented valid? How would the teacher refute those positions if she cannot take the student’s work seriously?
Again, this does not seem like someone who should teach any classes, let alone one involving such a heated topic. A person so prone to overreacting will likely to escalate to further extremes, such as:
[…] and scared of what he might do if he didn’t like his grade.
Like rape her? That is what she meant. She thinks if she gives the student a bad grade that he will rape her. Apparently this is what non-feminist male students do. She goes on to admit this notion is unlikely, but:
[…] his words felt so familiar that I began having trouble distinguishing him from the man that did.
She curiously never states what these words are. We are left to assume the student’s words were essentially “rapey” based solely on her feelings:
Their words were so frighteningly similar that the “rational instructor” side of my brain could not overpower the “trauma survivor” part of my brain.
There is no “rational instructor” portion of her brain. If there were, she would not have gotten to this point. She would have realized her reaction was ridiculous and took a more logical approach to the student’s paper. It sounds like the teacher was angry because the student refuted her position, and lacking any response to his arguments, she decided to view them in the most negative light. Again, that is not behavior appropriate for a teacher.
None of my training or experience prepared me for something like this, not even advice from the few Feminist scholars I have had the pleasure of knowing.
Nonsense. Her training would have included writing and reading persuasive and argumentative papers on topics with which she disagreed. This is something most eighth graders must do. She should be well versed in dealing with arguments that are critical or hostile towards her positions. I would agree, however, that few feminist scholars would prepare her for a rigorous counter argument to feminist theories.
I was in a position where I had to take this student’s words seriously, evaluate their merit, and provide a percentile score based on how well I thought they fit the parameters of the assignment.
Yes, she was in the position to do her job. What an imposition.
“ZERO! YOU GET A FUCKING ZERO” I literally screamed at my computer screen. I decided that I wasn’t ready to return to grading papers yet so I got up and went for another walk.
Childish, yet better than assuming the student is a rapist.
I felt irritated that in two pages of (poorly written) ranting this student was able to undercut whatever authority I thought I had as an instructor.
How? Who other than the teacher read the paper? Did the student show the paper to his classmates? Were other students bragging about how the teacher was taken to task? In what way does disagreeing with a teacher amount to undercutting their authority?
More disconcerting is the teacher’s assumption that she is inherently right. This is warped thinking, particularly when it comes to this kind of topic. We learn new information about sexual violence and its impact constantly. One must be open to changing one’s opinion, if one wishes to be honest.
Authority that, especially as a female instructor, I worked hard to establish and maintain.
To the best of my knowledge, most teachers are female. While there are more men in higher education compared to women, women make up the majority of gender studies departments. Likewise, most students are female. So from whom did she need to establish and maintain authority? Her colleagues who agree with her positions? Her students who largely agree with her positions?
I imagined him sitting on the other side of his computer screen laughing at my pain, joking about my distress.
What a narcissistic thing to write. Why would this student think about the teacher beyond trying to disprove her argument? Why would he care whether she was in “distress” because someone questioned her ideas? Why would he think in such a manner? This is another instance of the teacher’s unresolved issues concerning her experiences dictating her reaction.
I imagined him being friends with my rapist (though the man who raped me is now significantly older than this student, he is frozen in the 18-22 age bracket in my mind).
This is the point where I think it is necessary to suggest this woman seek therapy. This level of protection is unhealthy and dangerous. If she make this kind of association over a paper, imagine her reaction if her boyfriend said something she incidentally found “rapey”. She needs professional help to address her unresolved issues before she ever steps back into a classroom or associates with anyone with a Y-chromosome.
How, I wondered, could I possibly evaluate this student’s work in an “unbiased” fashion? Such a request would involve me living an entirely different life than the one that I’ve had.
No, it would require basic objectivity. Did the student present his arguments in a coherent way? Did he provide evidence? Did he address potential flaws and criticism? This is the least one needs to do to objectively grade the student’s paper. One need not agree with his position to do it. The only reason the teacher finds this such a problem is because she is used to being biased. She is used to her positions being the only acceptable positions. The notion that she would have to consider views she disagrees with never occurred to her.
I returned to my computer late that night. I pulled up his paper, took a deep breath, and began to read it again. No one ever advised me about how to grade a paper that sounds like something my rapist would say, so I suppose I will have to train myself. After all, I am certain that I am not the only instructor to have to navigate this dynamic, and I’m sure this won’t be the last time I have to navigate it.
It is shocking she made it this far without any student ever disagreeing with her. I would say this makes the story sound fake, yet given the number of inane, petulant tantrums feminists have thrown over the years, this teacher’s story, as crazy as it is, could be true.
That makes it particularly frightening because her feelings appear to matter more than her objectivity. If she does not like the subject of a student’s paper, this tantrum appears to be her response. She does not state in the post what grade she gave the student, yet one could imagine it would not be a passing grade.
I feel for any student, even those who agree with the teacher, who have the misfortune of being in her class. They are not getting a fair education. This woman is wasting their money (or more likely their parents’ money) instead of teaching them to be critical of the information they receive. Even if her final point were that “rape culture” is a thing, she should encourage her students to find the flaws in the theory and discuss them. That is the better response, not accusing a student who challenges her of being like her rapist because he said men can be rape victims.
This is, unfortunately, what passes for higher education on many college campuses.