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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.

I was 13 years old

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Trigger Warning

I was thirteen years old when I had sex for the first time. I was in my first proper relationship and felt overwhelmed with the attention and love that he showed for me. I had people saying ‘you are too young to love’ constantly and yet, I felt these people were wrong as I fell into an intense, overwhelming relationship. As a couple of months went by, I felt a pressure not only from him, but from his male friends, to ‘prove’ my love for him by having sex. At this age, many girls had yet to have their first kiss and I felt ashamed that I was already so far ahead. When it finally happened, after much persuasion, I stumbled home in pain and kept it a secret. I gave in to his demands as I was flattered by his attention and felt that I would lose him if I did not give myself to him. I didn’t tell my friends or my family, but as little as two weeks later, I had boys coming up to me asking if it was true and the word ‘slag’ was thrown around. I ignored these daily torments and kept my head up, wrongly convincing myself that my boyfriend had not told anyone.

We continued our relationship for almost a year. A year in which I began to lose friends and I hardly saw my family because I was spending all my time wrapped up in this relationship dream world. We drank together and then he would ask me to do things I didn’t feel comfortable doing. Later on, I realised that it had only been me drinking, thinking of it as a social thing when it was really a way to get what he wanted from me. From the outside, my friends were convinced that I was in a perfect relationship and kept telling me how lucky I was, yet they didn’t have a clue what was going on because I was too frightened to admit it.

Girls and very occasionally boys, are told through religion, media, the internet and friends, that keeping your ‘virginity’ intact is important as it means others will respect you and you are still ‘complete’ and ‘pure’. Many girls are told that they must wait until they find that special person to give everything they have to and that if they are no longer a virgin, they are dirty and damaged in some way. I remember feeling as if I had no one who would understand me, because I was confused and I felt angry with myself. I searched ‘losing your virginity at age 13’ into google, and phrases like ‘have some self-respect’ and ‘disgusting’ hit me in the face. By this time, my boyfriend was being praised for ‘doing the deed’ whereas I was disappearing into myself and losing my confidence.

Three years after the end of the relationship, aged 17 and severely depressed, I broke down in front of my mum and told her everything. After being fearful for a long time of what anyone might say, I was relieved that she took me in her arms and cried, telling me that she did not judge me and that I was not spoiled or filthy, like I’d told myself I was for four years. Many young girls are shamed and teased for being sexually active yet can easily be pressured into it. A year after I had sex, we were taught sex education for the first time and I felt angry that we had not been taught earlier. I knew everything that they told us but not once were we told that it is okay to say ‘no’ in a relationship and not once were the boys told that it is deeply wrong to pressure someone into something they are uncomfortable with. I wanted to write this piece as although I regret my decision that I made at such a young age, I now no longer hate myself for not waiting. I am still whole, I’m still alive and I still have so much more to experience. I am not shattered or broken with a piece missing.

 

The author of this blog has asked to be kept anonymous.

 

A Christmas Wrapped In Rape Culture

Author:

By Jess Hayden

Trigger Warning

Christmas shopping. Love it or loathe it, it’s an activity which most of us will be partaking in this Christmas. The annual dilemma resurfaces – what to buy the sister who’s hard to find gifts for? Will Dad appreciate another pair of socks? Does Mum even like scented candles? Many companies will lure you in with unique gifts for your loved ones, but one website in particular has left me shocked and offended. There’s no easy way to say this, Cafepress.com has a range of Christmas themed presents, designed by members of the public, with “rape” written on them.

My first thought was, who would even buy it? Is there honestly a market for pro-rape merchandise? And then I realised, it’s all a bit of a joke to them. The designers, and the customers, all find this a bit amusing. This isn’t about wearing a T-shirt to offend p
eople – I honestly don’t think anybody would seriously wear one outside the house. Instead I think these are Secret Santa presents, novelty joke gifts which are meant to be amusing.

Well personally, I don’t buy it. I don’t think it is ethically right to trivialise rape to the extent of a “today I feel raped” bumper sticker, as if rape is somehow synonymous with a feeling like “tired,” or even a baby-grow with the word “rape” written on it.

If these T-shirts are so funny and light-hearted that I get told I’m over-reacting for tweeting about how much this has offended me, then we are defending rape-culture. We live in a society where many people will happily declare they just “raped” their friend at FIFA, or could “rape a full English”, yet as soon as a victim says they’ve been raped, you’ll find many of the same people shouting “over-reaction” and “liar”.

rape, baby clothesI’m not linking these products with an increase in rape, but when in England and Wales a woman is raped every 6 minutes, I think it is far beyond a joke to trivialise such a violent crime. It mocks the victims, encourages shame and is just completely ethically wrong.

Here at Powered by Girl, we decide to stand up for what we think is right and we encourage other young people to do the same. Therefore, we have just launched a petition – asking Cafepress to censor what they sell before selling it. Sounds pretty obvious, but this is something Cafepress are still not doing. I had to send them images of some of the rape-glorifying merchandise for them to delete, and to be fair to them, they did delete the content almost instantly. However, we believe strongly that these products shouldn’t have been on the website in the first place, and Cafepress should censor the products before they appear on their website.

So we ask you to please sign our petition and share it with your friends.

Thank you.

https://www.change.org/p/fred-durham-stop-glorifying-rape-and-violence-abide-by-your-content-usage-policy-by-moderating-content-before-it-goes-live-on-your-site

Breaking Free: True Stories of Girls Who Escaped Modern Slavery

Author:

By Sophia Simon-Bashall

breakingfree

I read this book recently and I feel compelled to share it with everyone. Why? Because it deserves to be read. And people deserve to read it.

“Breaking Free” is a collection of women’s stories – how they became part of, endured, and lived past human trafficking. Within, there are myths dispelled and facts set straight and a guide to how to talk about the topic, sensitively and knowledgably. It is inspirational and incredibly informative, but so accessible, despite being a painful read at times, due to the nature of the issue.

I do however have to give this book a TRIGGER WARNING, as it is not exactly beat around the bush. These are frank accounts of real experiences of physical, emotional, and sexual abuse. It may provide hope for victims, but it may be too difficult a read for someone who is familiar with the situations written about.

What I think is unique about Breaking Free is the diversity. The stories are not all from women of developing countries, continuing the myth that all sold in sexual slavery are far from the Western World. Neither does it ignore these women. The stories are about women who experienced similar horrors, in different ways, from differing backgrounds.

Maria Suarez went from Mexico to America at fifteen years old. On a job interview to be a maid, her ‘new employer’ locked the door, and informed her that from that moment, she belonged to him.

Minh Dang was born in California. From the outside her house was beautiful, and they were a ‘white-picket-fence and rose-bushes’ household. Behind closed doors, her parents abused and raped her, from the age of three years old. As she grew older, they began to sell her body to neighbours and strange men.

These women are individuals. They are not especially alike. It is a powerful reminder that victim blaming is ridiculous – there’s nothing that each of them did to cause what happened to them. They were unfortunate. Taken advantage of. They were not asking for it. What unites them is their strength and courage, that they took what they knew about this world, and have set out, effecting change.

Now activists in the anti-trafficking movement, Maria and Minh are out creating petitions, speaking to people in power, building safe-houses, removing the stigma. They are rebuilding their own lives as well as millions of others.

The book also features the story of Somaly Mam, which is an issue. I have been shocked to discover that she fabricated her story. It is a very confusing thing. It has been a significant setback for the movement as a whole, as it discredits others stories, the vast majority of which are wholly true. But we must remain in solidarity with the poor girls who have honestly experienced these horrors. I know that I would rather believe a few false claims, than turn away from millions of real victims, who desperately need to be listened to and heard.

Don’t underestimate the power you can have. You can help so many people. There are so many ways in which to support the anti-trafficking movement. Here are just a few:
-READ ABOUT IT. Read this book. Read other books too. Here’s a list.
-BUY ITEMS MADE BY SURVIVORS. Instead of supporting unethical trades, support those who need it. International Sanctuary and Made by Survivors are great places to start, with beautiful jewellery and other gifts created by women learning new skills, building up their lives.
-DONATE TO IMPORTANT ORGANISATIONS. Send money to those who run safe houses, teach survivors new skills, provide counselling for victims, rehabilitate millions. The majority of the organisations listed here accept financial donations, some also accept the donation of your time. Volunteer at a local organisation, hold a fundraiser, become a social media intern for a charity. The possibilities are endless…

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