Feminism: Trigger Warnings of the 1860s

[Content Note: Trigger Warnings, Mention of Rape Comparisons, 1860s Classism]

Background here and here.  

For reasons that I wholeheartedly and delightedly blame Kristy (who is the bestest evah!) for, I've been researching the lingo and social etiquette of the people of the 1860s (specifically Texas women). I ended up at this Ladies' Book of Etiquette and Manual of Politeness by Florence Hartley which was entered into the Library of Congress in 1860, though I'm unsure when it was published exactly.

Anyway. The chapter on "Conversation" include this paragraph:

Be careful in conversation to avoid topics which may be supposed to have any direct reference to events or circumstances which may be painful for your companion to hear discussed; you may unintentionally start a subject which annoys or troubles the friend with whom you may be conversing; in that case, do not stop abruptly, when you perceive that it causes pain, and, above all, do not make the matter worse by apologizing; turn to another subject as soon as possible, and pay no attention to the agitation your unfortunate remark may have excited. Many persons will, for the sake of appearing witty or smart, wound the feelings of another deeply; avoid this; it is not only ill-bred, but cruel.

...Avoid always any discussion upon religious topics, unless you are perfectly certain that your remarks cannot annoy or pain any one present. If you are tête-à-tête with a friend, and such a discussion arise, inquire your companion's church and mention your own, that you may yourself avoid unpleasant remarks, and caution him.

(Note that the 1860s definition of the word "annoy" was a bit more hardcore than our modern version of the word.)

I'm tickled to have definitive proof that Making Minimal Effort Not To Trigger People isn't some kind of new me-first generational fad that has to be nipped in the bud, but rather (as many of us knew already) well-established common courtesy when talking to a large group of people and/or strangers whose needs and experiences you may not be fully cognizant of.

Why, it's almost like this trend of demanding the right to compare everything to rape (taxes, wallet-theft, religious proselytizing, etc.) without using a trigger warning because that would make the argument easier to spot coming is not the One True Way to converse with people. And it's additionally almost like this backlash against trigger warnings and a demand that people just "toughen up" about their triggers is coming from a place of insensitivity to needs rather than trying to avoid a "slippery slope" that we've apparently been on since the 1860s and are still in roughly the same place.

Anyway, I was also amused to note that this 1860s etiquette manual contains a large portion of our comment policy here. On not grammar-nitpicking:

...Overlook the deficiencies of others when conversing with them, as they may be the results of ignorance, and impossible to correct. Never pain another person by correcting, before others, a word or phrase mispronounced or ungrammatically constructed. If your intimacy will allow it, speak of the fault upon another occasion, kindly and privately, or let it pass. Do not be continually watching for faults, that you may display your own superior wisdom in correcting them. Let modesty and kind feeling govern your conversation, as other rules of life. If, on the other hand, your companion uses words or expressions which you cannot understand, do not affect knowledge, or be ashamed of your ignorance, but frankly ask for an explanation.

On accepting that other people are experts on their own experiences:

...Never question the veracity of any statement made in general conversation. If you are certain a statement is false, and it is injurious to another person, who may be absent, you may quietly and courteously inform the speaker that he is mistaken, but if the falsehood is of no consequence, let it pass. If a statement appears monstrous, but you do not know that it is false, listen, but do not question its veracity. It may be true, though it strikes you as improbable.

...In conversing with foreigners, if they speak slightingly of the manners of your country, do not retort rudely, or resentfully. If their views are wrong, converse upon the subject, giving them frankly your views, but never retaliate by telling them that some custom of their own country is worse. A gentleman or lady of true refinement will always give your words candid consideration, and admit that an American may possibly know the customs of her country better than they do, and if your opponent is not well-bred, your rudeness will not improve his manners. Let the conversation upon national subjects be candid, and at the same time courteous, and leave him to think that the ladies in America are well-bred, however much he may dislike some little national peculiarity.

On I-statements and subjective opinions:

Never, when advancing an opinion, assert positively that a thing "is so," but give your opinion as an opinion. Say, "I think this is so," or "these are my views," but remember that your companion may be better informed upon the subject under discussion, or, where it is a mere matter of taste or feeling, do not expect that all the world will feel exactly as you do.

Ahahahahahahahaha. I can be Miss Mannerz now?

I mean, seriously, I'm joking, but this is especially amusing to me in light of the commonly-employed misogynist stereotype that feminists are all aggressive, combative, fighting warrior women while also insisting that our safe space rules suggest that we are all too vulnerable and fragile to live in the "Real World" and we're a big bunch of babies etc.

Whereas the reality is that, while we may employ these guidelines for different reasons than the ones laid out in the etiquette manuals of the 1860s, the majority of our Combative Fragility Rules could be viewed as perfectly normal rules of hospitality, were not those making the criticisms inclined towards bad faith interpretations of our motives. Funny how that works.


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