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March 27th, 2017

Society

Tapping a Helmet Is Not Sexual Harassment

Lenore Skenazy

By Lenore Skenazy

Published Feb. 10, 2015

Canada's National Post reports that the Toronto Leaside Girls Hockey Association has instructed its coaches: No touching the players — even on their helmets.

The paper quotes an email from one of the association's board members as saying, "Under no circumstances should there be contact with the players, in any way." This includes "putting hands on shoulders, slapping butts, tapping them on the helmet, NOTHING ... so no contact period."

What's crazy about this rule is not just that it's, well, crazy. It is also part of the same mindset that brought us "trigger warnings." Those are warnings placed at the top of an article — or any other reading — that tell the reader that the following content could trigger feelings of distress, perhaps flashing the reader back to a time when he or she (but mostly she) felt demeaned or violated.

Though the practice began on the Web, it has spread to the world of academia. Colleges have placed trigger warnings on items as diverse as movies, nonfiction articles and even the modern classic "Things Fall Apart." But as social critic Jenny Jarvie points out, "once we start imposing alerts on the basis of potential trauma, where do we stop?"

The same goes for imposing bans on any and all touch. Just because there's a slight possibility that someone, somewhere will take umbrage — or, worse, feel traumatized — do we have to self-censor all the time? If so, normal interacting becomes a minefield.

Trigger warnings aren't even based on any real psychology, as far as I can tell. They simply seem to want to ensure that no one ever feels uncomfortable, as if discomfort itself is a form of assault. But the psychologists I've read suggest that fears only grow deeper and more desperate the more we try to avoid the "trigger."

One of the most common therapies for phobias, in fact, is exposure therapy — gradually exposing the patient to the thing he or she is afraid of.

More troubling than the silly science behind the warnings and the helmet tap regulations is the cultural assumption they're based on. Worrying that a girl might feel uncomfortable (to the point of feeling violated) if someone touched her helmet is a new, strange and insulting way of looking at young people. It's treating them as the most delicate of wisps, unable to handle the mildest of annoyances. A young woman is just one big, raw nerve ending, ever ready to jangle.

"We cannot conceivably create rules and laws enough to protect our children from everything," is the way a friend of mine put it. It's better instead to build kids who can roll with some punches — or taps.

So, Toronto, please stop acting as if your feisty young hockey players can't tell the difference between an assault and an attagirl.

They can.

We all can.

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