Last week was Halloween, and, as per my usual custom, I wore a different costume to every party. For the rock wall party, I wanted to be someone with only one arm -- I had a tremendous finger injury recently, and can only climb with my left arm, so it seemed fitting. The obvious choice was Bethany Hamilton, a total major badass who has continued surfing after losing an arm to a shark. What an inspiration!
For my next party, I was Cruella de Vil, and Ruby Snoofer was a dalmatian.
But for my last costume, I wanted to make a statement. Ever since reading The Coddling of the American Mind last September, I've been concerned about free speech, discourse and mental health in America. Then, after being banned from commenting on Everyday Feminism's social media for politely disagreeing with one of their posts, I published Everyday Feminism is a Joke and No One Should Ever Read It. In it, I wrote,
Everyday Feminism. Nassim Nicholas Taleb. And people/publications like you. You have a responsibility. I'm all for banning bullies and spammers from commenting on your social media. But it's cowardly to block everyone who disagrees with you because they disagree with you.
If Everyday Feminism has a responsibility to its readers, then educational institutions like Yale and Stanford have one to their students -- to ask them challenging and thought-provoking questions. To expand their worldview and build their life skills. But it's gotten to the point that, in the words of Professor Edward Schlosser (who writes under a pseudonym to protect himself), I'm a liberal professor, and my liberal students terrify me.
I have intentionally adjusted my teaching materials as the political winds have shifted. (I also make sure all my remotely offensive or challenging opinions, such as this article, are expressed either anonymously or pseudonymously). Most of my colleagues who still have jobs have done the same. We've seen bad things happen to too many good teachers — adjuncts getting axed because their evaluations dipped below a 3.0, grad students being removed from classes after a single student complaint, and so on.
Students are no longer getting the education they once were, in the name of "protection," of "creating a safe space" and never offending anyone, ever. Obvious implications of this aside, everyone who knows me knows that empowerment is my "thing." In fact, in a recent post, I shared my Quora bio:
Empowerment is important. Pretty much every study in the history of psychology research shows that empowerment and taking accountability will result in improved mental and physical health -- as well as increased happiness, job satisfaction and longevity.
Yet schools across the nation are increasingly becoming slaves to students' emotions. It's not empowering -- it's enabling! Law students are asking their schools not to teach rape law, lest it upset students. In one case, students petitioned against the use of the word "violate" (as in, "it violates the law"), because the word could be "triggering." Questions such as, "Where are you from?" have been banned -- as well as opinions like, "I believe the most qualified person should get the job."
Which is why I felt like it was almost my responsibility to dress as microaggressions for Halloween.
The gist of it was this: a little outfit, a magnifying glass necklace, and little labels with outrageously inoffensive "microaggressions" that have been banned or criticized in real life, including:
My date, in case it wasn't clear from the photo, was a trigger warning. We were both inspired by the Atlantic piece, and are both appalled by the anti-science movement. So we tried to get a group together, in which one person would dress as censorship (they'd look naked, but with either black or pixelated boxes over their junk), and another, more abstract pair would dress as BDSM, with the sub wearing a sign that said "Logic and Reason" and the dom wearing one that said "EMOTIONS!"
But no one wanted to dress up with us, because they, like so many college professors, were afraid their lives would be ruined by social justice warriors -- which, as Jon Ronson demonstrates in his bestselling book, So You've Been Publicly Shamed, is traumatizing and terrifying and definitely not something I would wish on someone whose only crime was a stupid tweet or Halloween costume.
Justin and I got off easy -- whether due to low public awareness (I think our peer group might be just a little older than the one that's invested so heavily in victimhood culture), or poor execution of our costumes (I never said I was an artist...), about 99% of people did not know what victimhood culture, microaggressions and trigger warnings were, and no one got offended at us.
I'd've thought more people would get it... and I thought it might trigger (pun intended) some interesting conversations.
Kind of like what Yale Professor Erika Christakis thought would happen when she sent the following email to students in her college:
What a fascinating and thought-provoking email! I had never read anything from the preschool teacher/education expert's point of view regarding Halloween costumes. Not to mention some of the insights offered in Christakis's published works, including Why Birth Control Matters for the American Dream, The Argument You Don't Hear About Birth Control in Schools, What is the Goal of Parenting?, Why Today's College Students Need a Class In Dating, and The Importance of Being Little: What Preschoolers Really Need From Grownups.
But instead of being like, "Oh, that is an interesting perspective -- I disagree, though. Here's what I see as the difference between an 8-year-old and an 18-year-old blonde girl dressing as Mulan," students at Yale are just kind of like:
"THIS IS NOT ABOUT CREATING AN INTELLECTUAL SPACE! IT IS NOT." (In addition to lots of personal insults and f-bombs. I wonder how that would fly in the workplace...)
Another student wrote in the Yale Herald, "I don’t want to debate. I want to talk about my pain."
It is clear from the above video that students do, in fact, feel a lot of pain. But it's hard to understand why Christakis's email made anyone feel unsafe. After all, she explicitly said,
I don’t wish to trivialize genuine concerns about cultural and personal representation, and other challenges to our lived experience in a plural community. I know that many decent people have proposed guidelines on Halloween costumes from a spirit of avoiding hurt and offense. I laud those goals, in theory, as most of us do.
To me, it is awesome that someone as busy as she would take time out of her day to start a discussion with her residents. As an intellectual, and as someone who values free speech, I guess she thought it would be valuable for students to... you know. Confront ideas they disagree with. Try to come up with some kind of solution to a question that clearly has no right answer. The sort of thing grownups are expected to do in the real world.
I would have loved to see a conversation about how students from certain religions might feel uncomfortable around students who are showing a lot of skin -- but, for some reason, we don't care about that. We care that our peers not wear headdresses, because it might make Native American students uncomfortable... but we don't worry that, in some students' culture, it is highly inappropriate or offensive to see a woman's skin.
Because I'm all about feminism and girl power and stuff. And, one time, I got an email from an admin in a building I worked in saying that, "due to one man's religion," women should make sure their shorts are knee-length, or something ridiculous. And my response was resoundingly, "Fuck that guy. If he can't look at the skin above my knee without having perverted thoughts, that's his problem. He should take it up with God." And obviously, I wore the shortest dress possible the next morning. How dare some anonymous religious dude try to control how I dress?
Yet last year, when I dressed as Sexy Allen Iverson for Halloween:
I spent a long time worrying about it. "Okay, I get that I'm not supposed to dress as a culture... but what about a specific athlete I admire, who also happens to be Black?" I asked around... and couldn't get a clear consensus. Some people said that a white person should never, ever dress as a black person no matter what. But to me, that doesn't make sense... Why can't I admire someone who is Black or Asian?
This year, when I dressed as Bethany Hamilton, I worried that people would attack me for being an ableist or something. But why can't I admire a badass surfer chick who only has one arm? Why can't I admire someone who has taught us so much about psychology?
Even if either of these costumes were slightly subjectively offensive... is that really enough to make someone feel unsafe? According to The Washington Post, yes. Yes it is. As per The New Intolerance of Student Activism,
According to the Washington Post, “several students in Silliman said they cannot bear to live in the college anymore.” These are young people who live in safe, heated buildings with two Steinway grand pianos, an indoor basketball court, a courtyard with hammocks and picnic tables, a computer lab, a dance studio, a gym, a movie theater, a film editing lab, billiard tables, an art gallery, and four music practice rooms. But they can’t bear this setting that millions of people would risk their lives to inhabit because one woman wrote an email that hurt their feelings?
The post continues,
The most recent incident occurred over the weekend. During a conference on freedom of speech, Greg Lukianoff reportedly said, “Looking at the reaction to Erika Christakis’s email, you would have thought someone wiped out an entire Indian village.” An attendee posted that quote to Facebook. “The online Facebook post led a group of Native American women, other students of color and their supporters to protest the conference in an impromptu gathering outside of LC 102, where the Buckley event was taking place,” the Yale Daily News reported.
So much bullying! All because of an email about Halloween costumes. Halloween costumes! Yet Obama himself says that college students should not be "coddled."
I’ve heard of some college campuses where they don’t want to have a guest speaker who is too conservative, or they don’t want to read a book if it had language that is offensive to African Americans or somehow sends a demeaning signal towards women. I’ve got to tell you, I don’t agree with that either -- that you when you become students at colleges, you have to be coddled and protected from different points of view. Anybody who comes to speak to you and you disagree with, you should have an argument with them, but you shouldn’t silence them by saying you can’t come because I’m too sensitive to hear what you have to say.
But let's go back to empowerment for a second. Like I previously said, empowerment is the greatest thing ever -- whether you're an oppressed minority, a survivor of an assault, a depressed person, or anything else. It's also the fastest way to get poor communities out of poverty.
Related to empowerment is autonomy. Our desire to make our own choices and solve our own problems is hardwired. When employees feel they don't have control over their work schedule or job, they hate their job. When people feel like they don't have control over their lives, they hate their lives. When old people in nursing homes feel like they have more control over their lives, they don't die. Autonomy is that important to our health and happiness.
Victimhood culture is characterized by helplessness, and people would almost certainly be better off if they found ways to empower themselves and establish autonomy, rather than feeling victimized and offended. Instead of trying to strip others of their autonomy, forcing apologies and resignations whenever you're offended... reframe your thinking. And maybe engage with ideas that are different from yours. I do -- and, as a result, my thoughts and ideas are changing all the time.
I leave you with this:
UPDATE: This is satire. But isn't it sad that we've gotten to the point where it's unclear?
About the Author
Eva is a content specialist with a passion for play, travel... and a little bit of girl power. Read more >
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