Strong opinions, weakly held

Trigger warnings for misogynists

I admit that when I initially saw trigger warnings at the beginning of articles, I was a bit baffled. That sense of bafflement was well-captured in this New York Times article from May, about requests to apply them to literary works in college courses. I’ve come to think that the appropriateness of trigger warnings depends entirely on the context in which they are used. If you want to know more about them, the Geek Feminism Wiki has a good writeup of how trigger warnings are used and the reasons for using them.

A couple of days ago, my colleague Lara Swanson posted about unsolicited feedback she received from dudes after her Velocity keynote, and I realized that there’s definitely one context in which trigger warnings are underused. Clearly the men who gave the feedback would have benefitted from a trigger warning that might have prevented them from unexpectedly having a negative emotional experience while watching a conference talk.

With that in mind, here are some new trigger warnings speakers may want to use to protect men from having a damaging emotional response, and worse, taking it out on others.

  • TRIGGER WARNING: Woman to speak authoritatively about topics not considered “girl stuff.”
  • TRIGGER WARNING: Content may force representatives of privileged groups to confront the existence of that privilege.
  • TRIGGER WARNING: Speaker apt to apply metaphors men are unfamiliar with.
  • TRIGGER WARNING: Speaker to extoll diversity for its own sake.
  • TRIGGER WARNING: Speaker using whatever tone they like when giving this talk.

With these precautions, hopefully we can make conference talks a safe place for men.


  1. I am torn between two responses:

    No way this is the first time she had encountered those responses!

    It’s about time women expose those bad responses!

  2. I think one should be careful with sarcastic trigger warnings such as these.

    1. I would think they are more likely to illicit the type of behavior you wish to prevent. Nothing provokes a jackass more than someone trying to cleverly tell them they are a jackass.

    2. It’s also offensive and borderline misandry, especially to men who just want to be treated like everyone else and not be lumped in with those that act in ways that provoked your post. Your last sentence is really what provoked me to respond. If you want to replace men with misogynists, I’d be a lot less provoked.

    3. The very first thing you do is put some folks on the defensive and they may not even be in the targeted group. I’ll use myself for an example. If I saw a warning “Speaker to extol diversity for its own sake.”, I’m immediately going to label the talk as left wing propaganda, I’m going to make opinions and assumptions about the speaker and about the talk. Ones I shouldn’t make, but I’ll make them none the less and it will make the talk far less effective as a result. The problem is, I’m not against diversity. I understand how valuable different frames of reference are with regards to development because it is likely to lead to multiple ways to solve a problem and as a result a better solution. However, “diversity for the sake of diversity” to me is a political trigger phrase.

    Just make the best presentation you can. Those that will be offended will be offended. Those that want to cut someone down because of whatever reason, will do so regardless of whatever “trigger warning” is given.

  3. Unless you’re being ironic, this is kinda what she’s talking about–you seem to be taking her to task for not speaking in a demure nonthreatening way. Maybe #notallmen, but pretty sure #yesallwomen. You may not like her message or her tone, but if you try to redirect or derail what she has to say because of it, you’re kinda part of it. IMHO.

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