Triggering and the Return to Victorian Perceptions of Women

When Mathew Vassar built the original main building at Vassar college, he made the hallways of this college for women extra wide.  While there is an apocryphal story that he did this so he could later convert the college to a brewery if the whole educating women thing did not work out, the actual explanation is a window on Victorian-era thinking about women.

People of the time were convinced that women were subject to hysteria, and that one way to potentially defuse such hysteria was through exercise.  The extra-wide hallways were so women in their hoop skirts could walk back and forth in bad weather.  (Interestingly, Vassar and other women's colleges also played a role in the early history of baseball, fielding teams for a number of years until men decided that the unseemlyness of women playing sports trumped the fight against hysteria).

Whenever this story is told, we laugh today at Victorians' condescending, even misogynist views of women as subject to hysteria or fainting or the vapors when encountering the slightest bit of stress.

Which is why I never would have believed that it would be 21st century feminists dredging up these old attitudes with fears of "triggering."  Women are once again being treated as if they will get the vapors if difficult topics are discussed in class.  I suppose we are now supposed to leave these to men in the smoking room after dinner?

In the future, historians will draw a line somewhere in the last decade to mark the point where feminism switched from empowering women to treating them like children.

Disclosure:  My wife attended Vassar College and is still convinced the brewery explanation is the correct one.


  1. obloodyhell:

    }}} In the future, historians will draw a line somewhere in the last decade to mark the point where feminism switched from empowering women to treating them like children.

    While I mostly agree with your thesis about feminism, it REALLY started a long time before that. Sometime between 1980 and 1990 is when Feminism found out it had accomplished virtually all of its goals of making women equal (as much as actual biology allows, at least) and found it needed to make them victims in order to continue to justify Feminism's continued existence. Much like MADD, as well as the whole "race" thing, it has long since accomplished everything it rationally had to do, and for a good while has been working towards irrational goals in order to justify its own continued existence.

  2. Matthew Slyfield:

    Don't lump fainting in with hysteria and the vapors. One of the aspects of Victorian fashion was corsets. A corset restricts a woman's ability to breathe, potentially enough to cause fainting due to lack of oxygen.

  3. Mercury:

    Females may not be susceptible to “the vapors” but clearly “feminists” are. Many such openly complained about being overwhelmed in this regard after Larry Summers’ famous women and science speech a few years back.

    This “trigger-warning” business sounds more like an inevitable confluence of identity politics, political correctness and voyeurism – all very much the done thing these days. Feminists are simply the first group to use this particular tactic in the ongoing battle for status and power among the many, self-interested identity groups that increasingly define and determine outcomes for individual human beings in Western society. Most of us it seems will never transcend the lure of religion or tribal affiliation, we’ll just trade one for another.

    Somewhere at the heart of all this is a five-star general, dripping with multi-colored ribbons, bracelets and other regalia earned from past identity-politics battles, surveying the aftermath of this most recent engagement, repositioning her forces and plotting the next move…

    DISCLOSURE: I was once part of a very good college rugby team that completely underestimated what Vassar’s men’s rugby squad would bring to the field. They turned out to be mostly very large and experienced (and fabulously smelling) Europeans who had been playing the game most of their lives. We got our asses kicked…bad.

  4. slocum:

    Except in this the 'triggering' issue is a ruse. The real intent is to use it as a an intimidation tactic, a means of extending influence on the behavior of professors and the content of courses outside of traditional feminist programs. Don't read this as traditional female weakness, read it as post-modern female bullying.

  5. Rebecca Gebhardt B:

    Don't forget being called Bossy. That is just a step too far (#sarcasm)

    I also attended Vassar College, this is a good reference.

  6. kidmugsy:

    Where I live the big advance of feminism occurred in 1919. Everything since then has been smaller, or even trifling.

  7. mesaeconoguy:

    Why thank you for the compliment.

    The trick was having 2 or 3 South Africans, and an Aussie berserker.

  8. Craig Loehle:

    This is not just a feminist tactic. It is being used based on the right not to be offended. And since any random individual can be offended by all sorts of things, "triggers" can include scenes of violence in fiction (suicide, murder etc), so don't dare discuss Hemingway or even Harry Potter in English class, and better not go into too much detail talking about the civil war or union thuggery or lynchings--all offensive. It goes along with the children being expelled for pointing a finger and saying "bang"--no ability to distinguish between symbols and reality.

  9. mesaeconoguy:

    BTW, I smelled like beer & shit afterwards, so you're obviously referring strictly to the Euros there.

  10. rxc:

    The progressives use this technique to shut down any discussion that opposes them. You see it in the enviro area, labor law, family law, civil rights, feminism, etc. They actually seek to change the language to make it IMPOSSIBLE for someone to think or speak "bad thoughts". They have taken over the MSM, most of the press, and academia to make it happen.

    They do not view 1984 as a warning, but rather as an instruction manual...