In 2016, the TriggeredFeminist meme went viral. The woman at its centre, videoed speaking with Trump supporters about the scale of gendered sexual violence in the US, was branded an angry feminist. The clip of her is barely 30 seconds long, but it catalyzed something that had already begun. Almost immediately, distinct ways to describe her emerged. She was no longer just an angry feminist, she was possessed by the ghost of social justice.
She was so triggered.
Memes flooded 4chan, reddit and YouTube, shared by InfoWars, Pewdiepie, and Alex Jones. Triggered became such a powerful symbol in white supremacist factions that Donald Trump Jr. capitalized on the tsunami. Promoting his book, Triggered: How the Left Thrives on Hate and Wants to Silence Us, he launched triggeralib.com, where visitors can send famous liberals, highlighted in a curated list that features Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Hillary Clinton, a copy via Amazon.
Because, of course, they’re all so triggered.
There’s so much noise and so many questions: what does it mean to be a triggered feminist? What happens when you “trigger a liberal”? What do young people mean when they post online anecdotes about being triggered?
Can we pin down triggered’s current meaning in our rapid, ever-evolving discourse?
Triggered has undergone a series of public online mutations and is now a synonym for being upset or annoyed, or a crude stand-in to describe liberals and feminists. Language can seem brittle when it morphs at such speed, making it difficult to truly know how and why it happened. Nevertheless we must try. So, much like triggers themselves, let’s force ourselves backwards. To a place we feel secure in its meaning. Trauma.