[Great Debates] Volume 1: Trigger Warnings, Problematic Content, YA Books and More

July 6, 2017     The Bluestocking Bookworm     Books, Books I've Read, Great Debates, Personal, Random Thoughts

Hello, bookish lovelies! Welcome to Great Debates, a new and original feature on Bluestocking Bookworm! In this column, I will be tackling issues and opinions that are prevalent in the bookish community.

Today’s post was sparked by something that happened on my Twitter. It may get long and I may ramble a bit, but I have a lot of thoughts about this, so please bear with me.

I saw a list of books shared and billed as “Crucial Feminist YA Novels”. On this list were a lot of great books, as well as a few books that other bloggers have named as problematic. So, I did what I thought was the responsible thing and retweeted the list, with a small disclaimer that some of the books were problematic, and to please be safe. I got some snark for it, and got lumped into a group of people on bookish Twitter that I have actually actively been working against, because I don’t agree with their process.

So, I think that first it is important to have a small educational session.

It is really important to note that I am not an expert on anything, and am merely presenting my thoughts. I welcome respectful discourse, and please let me know if I have presented something in a way that is harmful.

What a Trigger ACTUALLY Is

A trigger is some form of stimuli that forces a traumatized person relive their trauma. This can be in the form of a flashback, or an intense emotional response (like panic). Not all people who experienced the same trauma will have the same triggers, or any triggers. But as the science behind developing triggers is not understood, it is important to know that this is not a blame game, or anything to do with people without triggers being “stronger”. So don’t go there.

It has nothing to do with taking offense or personal opinions. It has everything to do with psychology and mental health.

So, What is a Trigger Warning?

A trigger warning (TW) is a line of text before media is presented that alerts the audience to the presence of scenes, themes, etc. that may trigger them to that past trauma. While some triggers are common and can be warned against (things like depictions of rape, kidnapping, child abuse, etc.) some are very obscure, like the color purple or a specific phrase. No one expects trigger warnings to cover all potential triggers, just the big, glaring, obvious ones.

A trigger warning is not the same as a content warning.

OK, OK, OK… What The Heck is a Content Warning?

A content warning (CW) is similar to a trigger warning, but is for the things that might offend you, rather than the things that might trigger you. These things are a little more of a gray area, and I don’t really want to say what is or isn’t a trigger for everyone, because that isn’t my place at all.

I am personally offended by sexism, but I am not triggered by it. Others may be triggered, though, and no one should belittle them for that.

Problematic Content – A Broad Overview

I don’t really want to get into the specifics of problematic content, but rather give a broad and personal overview as to what this term means to me.

Problematic content is anything that promotes harmful ideas such as racism, homophobia, ableism, etc. – there are too many isms to list them all – OR sends a negative message to teens about things like body image. It isn’t these things alone that make a book problematic. It is when these issues are presented on the page as being OK, and we never see the character being reprimanded for their actions or words. It is the perpetuation of institutionalized prejudice and hatred that makes something problematic.

Triggering content does not mean a book is problematic.

Problematic books can also be helpful for some people to work through their traumas.

I don’t always talk about what other people find problematic, because I don’t always personally agree. But I do always sit back and take notice when I see it. It is part of being a responsible, adult, book blogger. To be informed and respectful, even when you disagree.

Why Does This Matter?

OK, so we covered some basic educational notes about what a trigger actually is and whatnot. And I bet you are sitting there, maybe rolling your eyes and wondering why I am bothering, and why any of this matters.

The thing is, young adult literature is not for us, the adults who love it. Don’t get me wrong — I really enjoy YA books, and I don’t believe in shaming people because of what they read… especially if people are calling down adults for reading YA. That isn’t cool. At all.

I don’t know any YA author who thinks anything about their adult readers while they write. They are writing for teens. They are writing stories that teens need. Finding yourself is not exclusive to one kind of literature — teens can do it with adult books, and adults can do it with teen books. So, we can love our YA books as adults, but we need to recognize that they aren’t for us. They are for teenagers.

Teenagers are smart. They are critical thinkers. But they are also impressionable. They are going through some really formative stuff. Some of them are dealing with some really heavy stuff. Some of them aren’t. Some of them have great support systems to talk with about what they read. And some of them don’t.

It matters, especially in the scope of YA literature. I had my parents and an excellent English teacher I could talk to about books. I look at teenagers today who are dealing with so much stuff, and yeah I want to protect them. Or rather, I want to help them protect themselves. I don’t want to dictate what they can or can’t read, but I do want to give as much information as I can and let them decide.

The trigger warnings and warnings of problematic content on YA books? Pro-tip: You can ignore them if you want to, especially as an adult reader. Unless you have triggers, or you are responsible for putting books into hands of teens (as a librarian, a blogger, etc.) then you go ahead and just ignore those things. They aren’t for you, anyways. They take nothing away from your reading experience by existing.

A Few More Personal Notes

I will always choose to be kind and respectful. I will always choose to be cautious when I promote books to certain audiences. Words are powerful.

I am not a blind follower of anything. I don’t blindly love all of an author’s work, and I don’t blindly discredit everything an author wrote because someone somewhere said it was problematic. I do not attack authors or publishers if they have books I don’t like or agree with.

I don’t review books I haven’t read.

I have been bullied, harassed, and chased off of all sorts of social media for sharing opinions like this before. So, this post? Hard for me.

OK, that is all I have in me for today, lovelies! Reminder that I am very cool with friendly and respectful discussion, even if you disagree.

Stay bookish ♥

Talk bookish to me!

3 responses to “[Great Debates] Volume 1: Trigger Warnings, Problematic Content, YA Books and More

  1. I think this is a great post and you’ve explained everything quite well. I’m sorry you have felt attacked on social media at times. I don’t think that is right. As far as opinions go, everyone is entitled to their feelings and I think they should be respected, whether agreed with or not (unless it comes to racism which is my trigger and will cause me to rant and rave with the best of them but that’s my weakness – and I own it fully).

    I’m so glad you posted this and it does a great job of explaining the differences. Thanks for your bravery in posting this.