Complaint as a queer method
March 31, 2022 1:12 PM   Subscribe

"To be heard as complaining is not to be heard" is the first sentence of Sara Ahmed's book Complaint! about how power is used against those who complain about abuses of power (pdf of intro). Paris Review interview: "When you make a complaint about harassment that’s endemic to a university, you’re pitting yourself against people who don’t want that problem to be recognized." Listen to Ahmed's lecture from March 16, 2022.
posted by spamandkimchi (4 comments total) 26 users marked this as a favorite
I should have mentioned that the first link and the Youtube link are basically the same talk. There's a poetic cadence to Ahmed's words, so even if you prefer reading to listening, I would suggest giving the talk a listen if you can!
I think of how policies can be what appears, what stops us from seeing what is going on. Diversity too can be what appears, what stops us from seeing what is going on, how it goes on. The organization might appear welcoming, diversity as an open door, come in come in, minorities welcome. Just because they welcome you it does not mean they expect you to turn up. Perhaps you open the door only to end up in a hostile environment otherwise known as the diversity committee. This woman of colour academic describes, “I was on the equality and diversity group in the university. And as soon as I started mentioning things to do with race, they changed the portfolio of who could be on the committee and I was dropped.” If you are dropped from the diversity committee for mentioning things to do with race, the diversity committee is how you don’t mention things to do with race.
posted by spamandkimchi at 1:27 PM on March 31, 2022 [6 favorites]

Ahmed from the blogpost (line breaks added for readability/emphasis):
When I think back to my experience of complaint, I hear silence.

Silence can be a wall. I think of our efforts over three years to try and get the university to acknowledge the problem of sexual harassment. We could not even get an acknowledgement in public that these enquiries had taken place. It was like they never happened, which was, I have no doubt, the effect they were looking for.

The very first mention of them in public was in fact a post on my blog, written just after I resigned, which is probably telling you something about why I resigned. The university treated my resignation posts as a leak, making a mess, causing damage.

But it was not just the university that treated my disclosure as damaging. A feminist colleague described my action as “unprofessional,” because it caused “a fall-out which damages us all now and in the future.”

We are learning what it means to be professional. To be professional is to be willing to keep the institution’s secrets.

It is important to note then that silence is not just something enforced by management or marketing departments, silence can be performed as loyalty, turned into a duty by our own colleagues, including feminist colleagues, silence to protect important people, silence to protect resources, silence to protect reputation, individual, institutional, silence as promotion, how you maximize your chances of going further or getting more from the institution.
posted by spamandkimchi at 1:30 PM on March 31, 2022 [12 favorites]

I'm really looking forward to reading this. I really enjoyed her previous work on emotions and living a feminist life.
posted by knapah at 1:41 PM on March 31, 2022

Agreeing with this.

I technically don't know anything "whistleblowing." Thank goodness. I don't know of any crimes being committed or sexual harassment going on. I don't have that ethical conflict going on. But I know some things on a lesser level. Sometimes I daydream that if others found out and had a giant uprising of drama, that might get those in control to do something. Or just squealing about this stuff if/when I'm out of the situation.

But I'd be found out. I'd be the obvious source for anyone finding out. I'd ruin my life forever and ever and never be able to survive again. I'd probably still ruin my life if I said anything even after being gone. You can't fight the giant institution and win. All you do is annihilate yourself. Evil wins.
posted by jenfullmoon at 5:55 PM on March 31, 2022 [1 favorite]

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