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Content Notes 101

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By Yas Necati

Whilst reading through our site or others, you might have come across some posts that are marked at the beginning with something called a content note. In case you’re wondering what that is and why we use it, here’s a quick guide.

What is a content note?

A content note is usually placed at the beginning of a piece. It’s

put there to inform you about topics or themes that might come up in that piece, so that you can be aware of them before you start reading. For example, if a piece is called “10 best cat videos ever” you might put a content note: “cats”.

The example above is pretty obvious, and pretty silly, but whilst I’ve used cats as an example to illustrate what a content note is in its simplest form, content notes are mostly used more seriously and shouldn’t be taken as a joke.

Content notes come about as a way of letting people know of any potentially triggering or hard to read themes that might come up in a piece. If I were to put a content note on this piece, it would read: “Content note: discussion of content notes, trigger warnings and reference to themes/topics that might be triggering or upsetting”.

To give you a bit more of an idea, here are just a few examples of things that content notes are commonly used for. Someone might put a content note if a piece discusses racism or transphobia, or if a piece references war or sexual violence. Content notes should be used if the entire piece could be upsetting or triggering, for example if it is a piece about cuts to welfare and the effects the cuts are having on marginalised communities. Additionally, content notes should also be used if something triggering or upsetting is mentioned at any point in the piece, even if the piece as a whole doesn’t focus on this topic. For example, somebody might write a piece about kickass female characters in comics. At some point in this piece there might be a few lines about the main character being catcalled on the street. A trigger warning for a mention of sexual violence/catcalling should be put at the beginning of the piece, so that a reader knows that this topic is mentioned at some point.

Content notes can be used to prefix all sorts of different media – not just writing. For example, a content note might be used before a video, podcast, poem, piece of artwork, or any other form of content. However, for the simplicity of this explanation, I will refer to written pieces as I explain further.

Why use content notes?

Content notes are commonly used so that people can know of anything that might trigger or upset them before reading a piece. This gives someone the choice to carry on reading or to choose not to read the piece. If they decide to carry on reading, they are prepared for what is ahead and they won’t be surprised or caught off guard by something that could be difficult for them to read.

To give an example, somebody who is mentally ill might be reading an article about their favourite band online. At some point in this article there might be a quote referring to the lead singer as being “mental”. This might be a really difficult word for the person who’s experiencing mental illness to read, particularly if they have experienced discrimination in the past. The media, family members and bullies might have used this word in a hurtful way towards that person, and therefore reading it could trigger memories and feelings that the person could find hard to cope with, all just by reading a piece about a band they like. If this piece had been prefixed with a content note such as “mental health slurs”, this could have been avoided.

There has been a lot of talk in the media and popular culture recently about content notes being “too politically correct”. At Powered By Girl and SPARK we choose to use content notes because we feel that it’s important to look after our readers. We want to give you the choice to opt out of reading things that might be painful if you don’t want to. We also want you to read difficult things only if you choose to do so – not by accident.

Why “content notes”, not “trigger warnings”?

At Powered By Girl and SPARK we use content notes to prefix our pieces. You might have come across something called a trigger warning which is still widely used on many sites.

A trigger warning is very similar to a content note: it is designed to prefix a piece and highlight anything in that piece that might be triggering. For example, a piece that mentions police violence might have a trigger warning: “police brutality”.

We used to use trigger warnings for our pieces, but we’ve moved to using content notes because we think the language makes more sense. “Trigger warnings” imply that anything that could be triggering is mentioned at the start, but the truth is that we don’t know what might be triggering for people, and every person has different triggers. To give an example, someone might be triggered by the song “Everywhere” by Fleetwood Mac because it’s a song that their abusive ex frequently listened to, so it reminds them of their ex and the abuse that they survived. This trigger is unique to this person, and they probably don’t share the same trigger with many other people. The point here being – as an author of an article or blog it is impossible to know what people’s triggers will be, and to put a trigger warning for everything that could trigger anyone – because that could be literally any word or phrase in the entire piece.

The reason we use content notes is because whilst they don’t solve this problem, they don’t imply that we have covered all the triggers that could come up for anyone. We try to use content notes for things that are common triggers, like discussion of violence, slurs, hatred and discrimination. This way we can warn people of general topics that might be triggering or upsetting.

The flaws of content notes

The above is obviously an example of a flaw – even with content notes we can’t prevent people from being triggered or hurt because we don’t know every individual’s triggers. By using content notes, we hope to lessen the amount that this happens. There are a few other problems with content notes.

The first is that the word used to describe the content note could be a triggering word in itself. For example, if a piece discusses rape it would be prefixed with a content note: “rape”. However, reading this word as a content note could be triggering enough – the person might not choose to continue reading the piece, but they may have already been triggered. In this example, the content note appears to be counter-productive. However, although the word rape alone might still be triggering, reading the piece could have potentially been worse for the survivor as there might be more detail than just the word itself. Either way this isn’t ideal, but at least with a content note the reader is left with a choice to not read on and be surprised by discussion of rape in more detail.

Content notes can sometimes be used in the wrong way. For example, someone might write an article full of ableist slurs – words like “stupid” and “mad” – and prefix it with a content note: “ableist slurs”. This doesn’t make it okay to use this kind of language! The only time slurs should be used is if they’re being criticised, or if they have been reclaimed: words such as “queer” and “crazy”. A content note should only ever be used to highlight that there will be discussions about something problematic or triggering. If it is used as an excuse to use slurs/hurtful language/discriminate or excuse violence, then it’s not being used right.

I hope this gives a brief overview of what content notes are and why we use them. If there are any content notes you think we should be using and aren’t already, please email  me on yasthatannoyingfeminist@aol.co.uk to let us know.

Abbatoir Floor

Author:
Photo by Kaylen Forsyth

A poem by Kaylen Forsyth

Content note: Violent and sexist language, gender based violence and harassment

my name changes from BABY to HONEY,
NEARLY DRUNK ENOUGH, DARLING to BITCH.

i always thought i’d love the first boy to talk in poetry,
but i craved metaphors of moonlight, not war-talk and violence:
BANG, SCREW, NAIL, DESTROY.
“i like this song, do you?”
“i prefer the original,”
and you’d think i’d said something funny;
i guess it’s hard for him to grasp-

i have an opinion, i exist outside of this room,
i exist as a person- when i’m not just a nail
to be banged, to be screwed.
i guess it’s hard for him to grasp- but do you know what’s harder?

watching a girl even younger than myself
with a man twice her age on the abattoir floor.
she’s probably the girl of his dreams
or close to it-
the youngest he won’t be sent down for,
and he grabs at her throat like he’d tear at a steak;
he decides if she’s raw,
if she’s burnt,
if she’s bloody.
“keep your eyes off those boys,
you dirty, little slut!”

he has reigns on her conversations,
her body, her beauty.
and when i check on her later
she’s smiling so wide,
calls the finger-shaped bruises on her neck pretty pearls-
“why should I be afraid? it was just like a movie.”

One week after the Women’s March: what now?

Author:
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It’s been 1 week since the Women’s March where millions of people stood against Trump, and perhaps more importantly stood in solidarity with each other against what Trump stands for. One week on, we reflect on some of our experiences of the march, and some of our hopes for the future…
Awakening to the news that the women’s march was the largest protest in U.S history made me speechless. Awakening to the news that an estimated 2.9 million marched in the country surprised me. As someone who avoided the inauguration because I believe that this country was in a hopeless state, I found myself in an unexpected state of optimism. Seeing so many committed to women’s rights was uplifting. Moving forward, I hope that women of all identities will not only continue to fight for the rights of women, but also fight women from minority races, the LGBTQ community, the Muslim community, and more. I hope that a stronger and larger coalition of women forms in years to come. I hope that more female politicians specifically those in the white house and females in positions of power push an agenda that protects the rights of women in collaboration with the millions of citizens who want the rights of women protected.

– Maram Elnagheeb

Last week I marched in a loving community of 500,000 people, which now seems like a drop in the bucket of over 4 million people worldwide. We marched not just in opposition to the inauguration of a President, but in protest of the unequal treatment of women worldwide who are standing up to say, “We have had enough.” It was one of the single greatest moments of my life because for the first time I know I’m not alone. There are millions of women and we are fighting together regardless of race, gender, sexuality, citizenship status,and physical or mental ability status. When you cut one of us, we all bleed and we are refusing to bleed anymore. We sent a clear message to political leaders across the world, we are here, we are loud, we are energized and we will not go away. The war on women has gone on for far too long, we are prepared to stand up until we are all equal. Stand up and rise we will.

– Christiana Paradis, Washington DC march

The Women’s March was the biggest I’ve been on in my life, and I’ve been on a lot of marches. From the sheer scale of things it’s obvious that Trump’s presidency has really upset and terrified a lot of people, even over here in the UK. I think it’s important that we don’t stop with the march – that we continue to show solidarity with women and oppressed groups worldwide, now and in the future. Marching is great – but what now? It’s important we take action to support others, and keep resisting.

– Yas Necati, London March

Let’s keep standing with Standing Rock

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By Stephanie Wang

Undoubtedly, a Trump presidency threatens the legacy of President Obama by reverting the policy moves he’s made the past eight years.  His decision to build the Dakota Access Pipeline is devastating, and as an environmentalist and an activist, I cannot reconcile the idea of building the pipeline when it will only set forth a precedent of placing money above lives, culture, and the environment.

Building the Dakota Access Pipeline will have terribly negative impacts on the Sioux population living in the region, posing both an environmental and cultural threat to the Sioux Indians. The Dakota Access Pipeline will destroy sacred sites that have existed for hundreds of years and destroy ancient burial grounds, which is a direct violation of federal law. In addition, the pipeline could potentially contaminate the water supply of the Sioux Indians – an oil spill at the Missouri River would befall an economic and cultural catastrophe upon the Sioux population, permanently contaminating the Missouri River, a major water source for those living in the area. Without question, the Dakota Access Pipeline poses both an environmental and cultural threat to the Sioux Indians and completing the pipeline will signify that oil and the energy is more important than human lives– what will be the cost of such “progress” that the Trump administration is determined to greenlight?

Naturally, the construction of the pipeline has been extremely contentious, with thousands protesting near the Standing Rock area. These protests have lead to hundreds of arrests and the use of force and other violent tactics to disperse the protesters. On largely peaceful protests, police have used attack dogs, water cannons in freezing temperatures, and explosive teargas grenades, injuring hundreds. Freedom of assembly is a basic right in the United States, and yet, it’s something that’s being infringed upon in Standing Rock.

The company building the pipeline, Energy Transfer Partners, calls the decision to build the pipeline, “a purely political action” but when there are humans lives at risk, it cannot be purely political. When we are reduced to simply making decisions for the bottom line, at what cost will it come at? How many lives will be sacrificed and how can we possibly justify it? Once the Dakota Access Pipeline is built, what will stop the Trump administration from building more, disrupting and endangering more communities? What will stop the Trump administration from entirely disregarding our civil rights in the name of economic “progress”? That’s why we can’t stop protesting against the pipeline being built.
Now, more than ever, we need to show our support and solidarity for the Sioux Indians and the protesters in Standing Rock. It can be as simple as reblogging, sharing, or retweeting an article on #NoDAPL, signing a petition, or attending a #NoDAPL protest in your city. You can also get involved by writing to government officials and oil companies urging them to reverse the decision or by donating money to the Standing Rock Sioux for legal, sanitary, and emergency purposes. Every action counts and every action will help ensure that the Obama administration’s actions and the protests of the Sioux people to stop the building of the pipeline were not in vain.

For more ways to get involved, check this link out.

The literature of hope – a new series

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By Anna Hill

What exactly is hope? And how can we use it to keep going in the face of oppression, fear and trauma? I don’t have a solid answer for the first question (except maybe the words “warm yellow light” like physically, but also in ur soul), and as for the second I think there are a lot or resources that discuss this very topic! In this new series, created in response to my own rising hopelessness (coupled with my mental and physical illnesses) in the face of Brexit, Donald Trump and the continuing rise of fascism throughout Europe, I am going to highlight different texts (including films, books, articles, paintings and so on) that focus on Hope.

To start the series here are some emergency hope pills in the form of a comic, a non fiction book, an article and a twitter thread:

Hope in the Dark by Rebecca Solnit

This book was offered for free after the American election and so has sprung up again, although it was written during the Bush administration (so around 2003/4).

Solnit explores what is powerful about hope and I think its important to cultivate that – even if hope feels like lipstick you don’t like wearing, or an uncomfortable jumper, its in the interest of the political elite [those who benefit and uphold the current structures of power [like Donald trump]] to keep us hopeless. Because without hope there will not be energy or vigour in our protests, in our resistance. You can start with a baby step towards hope, you can start by looking after yourself, by hoping for a kinder world, for justice, for peace.

“Hope is a gift you don’t have to surrender, a power you don’t have to throw away.” – foreward to the third edition, 2015

How To Be Ungovernable

I recently read this article and I thought I would mention it because it’s important – I think I sometimes forget what noncompliance can and does look like, so this was a good reminder. Share the article as much as you can so you can be ungovernable too. Fascism shouldn’t be given a platform and we need to do our best to disrupt and fuck it up as much as we can. It’s amazing how people are organised. You can do this. You. Can. Resist.

This Fuck Theory Twitter Thread

This twitter thread made me do a 180 on my own approach to hope, political action and queer theory! This is, in part, because I am a massive theory dork, especially with queer theory – but anyone who has read queer theory can tell you it’s a pretty dismal world view.

Queer theory hinges on futurity – that is that queerness will only be redeemed in the future, that we will always strive for queerness but never get there and the death drive i.e the will to die – that is such negativity that death and loss and pain are the only queer things and the only pure resistance to heteronormativity that you can put up with. Theory is only useful if it can be used on the streets – but if this theory is used politically on the streets then queer people are in even more danger than usual. Being invested in your own survival and happiness is not “buying into” heteronormativity and capitalism, it’s necessary if you want to stay alive. Glorifying death, loss and horizons is theoretically interesting but in the present day it fucks over a lot of people and discourages them from taking part in politics and imagining a world that we CAN get to that allows more of us to be free and to cared for. Your joy is radical! Cultivate it! Share it!

The Movement by Gail Simone and [readable in full here]

This comic book series is one of the best I have ever read! It has, in true DC fashion, been stopped only 12 issues into the series, HOWEVER, what we do have is wonderful. The comic is about 6 homeless teen vigilantes who care for a neighbourhood in coral city. They call themselves the Movement and are basically fighting against police brutality – the issue starts with a policeman being sexually violent against a young girl, who is then protected by The Movement and who then try to take the policeman and put them on trial on their own court.

The lead members of the movement are a great mix of people (which is basically accuracy tbh) – some of the group are survivors of abuse, some are physically and/or mentally ill, many of them are queer, some are immigrants, some are poor, most of the group are women! The group as a whole is lead by an incredibly powerful, wondrous black girl named Virtue. Plus there is an Aromantic, Asexual character!!! Cannonly!! This is what a resistance team actually looks like! And I think that’s why it gives me such hope – rather than shifting a story of fighting against evil through a white cis middle class straight boy (looking at you Harry Potter), it is a story we can legitimately dream ourselves into. When I wrote my notes on why I loved this I wrote in capital letters: JUSTICE, REVENGE, COMMUNITY. Which I think sums it up nicely!

(As I said this series does start with sexual violence which is alluded to/replayed throughout the first six or so issues – so if you can’t deal with that I would skip this. The comic is also, on the whole pretty bloody and violent, so stay safe and stay away if you need to.)

That’s it from the first instalment of the literature of hope, hopefully some of my fellow PBGers will contribute so we can create a bank of warm yellow light for each other when our own resolves are low.

What gives you hope? Let me know! I’m on twitter @_lily_luna_

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