“Don’t whine, don’t let “them” ever see you cry.
No one cares.
Don’t be a baby.
Are you going to cry like a girl?
Asians (enter choice of identities here) don’t whine.
When the going gets tough get going!”
Fold your lips. Close your mouth. Shut up.
Shut your eyes.
These statements, uttered so casually, often and devastatingly underlie the societal norm throughout the (Anglo Saxon) world that complaining, of any sort is, UnAmerican, UnEnglish, unbecoming, weak and simply to be avoided. The phrase “keep a stiff upper lip” (as lip trembling often signals fear, or the onset of tears) is often used in British culture in order to remind those who might (horrors) show emotion that the desired behavior is quite the opposite, to keep going in the face of adversity. Socially sanctioned repression, disguised as moral and personal virtue, that actually serves to uphold and maintain unequal treatment and structures of power.
This is particularly so for people treated unequally – Asians in the quote above from Ahmed, women generally as evident in the sexist language the admonishments against complaint are often couched in, LGBTQIA+ people, who are often mocked in heteromisic ‘comedy’ as limp wristed whiners and Black cis men and boys, for whom complaining can be literally physically dangerous, both at home and even more so in society at large. When people complain about racism, sexism and homomisia, all too often the complaint itself becomes the issue – even within these communities themselves, all too often the response is for people to ignore injustice and just buckle down and work harder in the hopes of eventual (or spiritual) justice and acceptance.
As journalist Additi Murti noted in an article “Stoicism Has Become a Masculine Ideal That Values Repression, Indifference. What Could Go Wrong?” published on Swaddle last year – this is a dangerous distortion of Stoicism itself, which was concerned with both the common good, care for the community and even had elements of precursors to feminism – and transformed it into at best, the veneration of uncomplaining workers in the quest for capitalist production (to what end?) and at its worst, “a philosophical foundation for men’s rights nonsense … military training and aggression.” (note that Murti found judged the “worst” outcome to be militarization and aggression and I have conflated both in this slightly misleading ellipsis above).
This rambling soliloquy (because what is a blog post if not a monologue to yourself) full of run-on-sentences, nested quotes and departures from the text of our actual book, represents both my lived experience and personal, unacademic response to reading the introduction, as nearly every paragraph sparked a visceral connection to the challenges in both the process of complaining and the assaults on the integrity and personhood of the ‘complainer’. I could have written 12 blog posts, with varying degrees of personal, emotional reactions or academic bona fides, but it seemed most important to go back to the beginning, the basics as it were and assert my (yours, our) right to complain, the very real prevalence of beliefs negating complaint itself and affirm the importance of doing so… as a way to begin so to speak.