Content warning in the first section for sexual assault and rape – description of a graphic image, and discussion of recent US politics. If those topics are upsetting for you, consider skipping.
There’s a cartoon of Lady Justice going around Twitter. I won’t link to it here, but it shows her being pinned down, and the implication is that she’s about to be (or being) raped. The cartoon is about this week’s confirmation hearings for Brett Kavanaugh. It’s in part a reference to specific events described in Christine Blasey Ford’s testimony, in part the Republican decision to ignore her testimony and advance his nomination anyway.
In a week where many survivors/victims of sexual assault and rape have been forced to relive traumatic experiences, this cartoon makes me deeply uncomfortable. It touches an already raw nerve, especially when shared without content warnings.
What’s a content warning?
A content warning is a note about potentially sensitive topics – something a reader might find upsetting or traumatic. Just as you’d warn about a risk to somebody’s physical health, so you can warn about something that might affect their mental health. With a warning, a reader can make sure they’re prepared (and safe) to read the content, or choose to skip over it.
There’s an example at the top of this post. When characters are limited, like on Twitter, it’s sometimes shortened to “CW”. Here’s another example:
*talks about death, links to a news article that mentions death*
Here’s a list of common topics I try to warn for:
- Death, dying, harm
- Animal death/harm
- Sexual assault and rape
- Suicide and self-harm
- Food (for people with eating disorders)
- Forms of discrimination (racism, sexism, homophobia, transphobia, ableism, …)
I might include an extra warning, or be more specific, if I know more detail about somebody in my audience. For example, several of my friends have traumas around parental death, so I’ll use a more specific content warning when appropriate. In general, more detail is usually better (as long as the warning itself doesn’t become upsetting!).
If you’re writing or talking about topics that some people could find distressing, I’d encourage you to learn about content warnings, and use them!
(This post is an expanded version of a Twitter thread.)