book complaints thoughts

Causing drama – about complaining as a woman

“You are being oversensitive.”

I don’t know how often I have heard this sentence before. And to be honest, it took me a while to realize that being oversensitive wasn’t in fact a bad thing. Yes, I was being oversensitive, but what if that didn’t mean I should have let go, don’t care, feel less. It meant that I have a good intuition for what feels right for me and what feels wrong. The problem is that this is often not what people want to hear from you. And I was not intimidated to tell them what they didn’t want to hear. So, I ended up being the complainer. “Oh, Fabienne disagrees with something? Is she again causing a drama? Well, that’s just how she is.” Whether at school, in my dance classes or at home: I would probably get the award of causing dramas. 

What is even meant by drama? 

It means not accepting everything just as it is. Running the risk of disrupting the apparent peace of a situation. Being uncomfortable. Making people face their wrongs and maybe with-it face certain emotions. Which can be hard to bear. But it also means running the risk of being wrong yourself and creating a drama over nothing. And don’t you dare causing a drama over nothing.

If you complain as a woman, you very quickly fall into a certain drawer. There is an exaggeratedly distorted image of women complaining too fast and too much. When you raise your voice, you are causing a drama. Your actions are constantly on the edge being seen as an overreaction. Keep your voice down, keep your opinion down and most importantly, keep your emotions down. If you do find the courage to speak up, don’t run the risk of mixing it up with your feelings because you will most probably end up being defined as hysterical. Hysterical: women’s favorite word. Defined as hysterical you are not just a concerned person anymore that found itself in a difficult situation it wanted to change or has experienced unfair treatment. No, now you are just “always” overreacting. Hence as a woman, if you complain you have to be even more rational, come even more strong, be even more neutral and base what you experience even more on facts, than man have to do. US-psychologists around Victoria L. Brescoll from the University of Yale noticed that when a woman is angry, she loses her status, no matter what position she is in. Within an experiment they found out that being angry as a man is seen as positive, while coming from a woman it is seen as negative.1 Women should not be uncomfortable. They should care and encourage peace. Because a woman who does not complain and does not get angry, won’t change anything about the inequality between man and women.2 As a consequence there is a tendency of women not expressing their anger and their concerns outwardly. They make it out with themselves. So, while there is this image of women complaining too much, they actually learn from very early age on to be quiet and smile.

Furthermore, as a feminist you might find yourself losing your credibility when it comes to criticizing men as for example a feminist PhD student expresses in the book “Complaint!”: “I think they thought almost that I was looking for it, like a feminist thing, you are always overreacting, blowing things out of proportion because that’s what you see everywhere.”3 It might even come to the point of questioning yourself, your own judgment when you experience sexism. “She tells herself off, even: she gives herself talking to; she tells herself to stop being paranoid, to stop being a feminazi, to stop being a feminist, perhaps.”4 When complaining as a woman and as a feminist you run the risk of being seen as a “man-hater”, one that discards everything men do. Hence everything you criticize is not perceived as being expressed because there is something wrong about what a certain man did but simply because you despise man. You are not listened to and the louder you get, the less you are heard. “The could-be complainer is also the feminist complainer, feminism it-self being charged with complaint through the exercising of old and familiar negative stereotypes (feminists as “man-hater”). Feminist complainers are called vermin, polluting agents who need to be eliminated.”5 Being afraid of endangering their status and their position within a structure might lead to woman not speaking up anymore. 

Speaking up and making abuses visible is seen as a danger. It is seen as a danger and tried to be avoided, when it meaningful and impactful. Analyzing who is trying to avoid it makes visible who is in power and who wants the status quo as it is, meaning who benefits from it. “One way a complaint can be dismissed is by magnifying the demand; a demand for “equality and safety” is treated a wanting to bring an end to what or who already exists, or as separatism, a wanting not to share a space or culture.”

Being told that you are overreacting and being oversensitive is very dangerous, as by time you might lose your sense in trusting in your own judgment. We need to learn to trust in our senses. In addition we need to be open for criticism and change. Being sensitive is not something negative and is also not tied to a gender. Everybody should develop a certain level of sensitivity so we can create a space of awareness and of living with and not against each other.

1 See: Hoeder, C-S. (2021): Wut und Böse. München: hanserblau, p.38.

2 See: ebd., p.11.

3 Ahmed, S. (2021): Complaint!, p.105.

4 ebd., p.104.

5 ebd., p.131-132.

book complaints thoughts

Sich weiter beschweren

Im letzten Teil ihres Buches “Complaint!” erwähnt die Autorin Sara Ahmed eine Reihe von Ideen zu Beschwerden. Einigen von ihnen stimme ich wirklich zu. Und die Sätze sind eine große Inspiration für diejenigen, die sich beschweren wollen.

“I believe in complaining, even when it’s a bad outcome, just creating that record of what happened. I am glad that it exists for me, and that if any questions are raised I have it. I did lodge a grievance, I had a go, I did try.”

“A record can be what matters to the one who assembles it; a record can be a reminder that you made an effort, that you had a go, even if that effort did not lead to institutional change.” (S. 288)

Dieses Zitat erinnert mich an einen Spruch, der mich schon oft inspiriert hat: “Wenn man sich anstrengt, hat man nicht immer Erfolg, aber wenn man sich nicht anstrengt, wird man definitiv keinen Erfolg haben.” Mit Beschwerden verhält es sich genauso: Man muss eine Beschwerde einreichen und sich die Mühe und Zeit nehmen. Letztendlich hat die Beschwerde möglicherweise keinen Erfolg. Aber wir müssen es trotzdem versuchen, um gegen die dunklen Dinge zu kämpfen.

“I leave no trace of wings in the air, but I am glad I have had my flight.”— Rabindranath Tagore

“Even going through an exhausting of processes can have creative potential. Yes, we can be in a state of exhaustion because of that process. But complaints, even formal ones, slow and tedious ones, long and drawn out, can be creative. ”(S. 289)

“I suggested earlier that even when our complaints end up in filing cabinets, we take them with us. I also noted that we don’t always know where complaints go, before they are filed. But even when complaints end up in filing cabinets, they can get out; we can get them out. Filing cabinets are temporary shelters. The more letters written, the more letters to leak.” (S. 298)

Wir alle wissen, dass die meisten unserer Beschwerden im Aktenschrank verbleiben. Der Aktenschrank ist eine sehr verbreitete Methode, um Beschwerden zu vertuschen. Aber er hat einen begrenzten Platz und kann nicht alle Beschwerden abdecken. Wenn wir also weiterhin auf unsere Beschwerden beharren und uns wehren, werden diese Beschwerden irgendwann ernst genommen werden.

Natürlich hat eine Beschwerde viel mehr Aussicht auf Erfolg, wenn sie von einer Gruppe unterstützt wird. Die Realität ist jedoch, dass viele Beschwerden von Einzelpersonen eingereicht werden. Wenn also diese ähnlichen Beschwerden als Kollektiv zusammengefasst und zusammengeführt werden könnten, wäre die Wirkung der Beschwerde sehr groß. “Two heads are better than one.” Die Autorin Sara Ahmed hat viele individuelle Beschwerden zu einem Kollektiv zusammengefasst, um dieses Buch zu schaffen. Das Buch enthält eine große Anzahl von Vorfällen aus dem Leben der Beschwerdeführer und berührt viele Aspekte des Lebens. Ja, es ist die Kraft einer kollektiven Beschwerde.


“How far are you willing to go?”

“In practice, noneperformativity means the same practice. If the policy is treated as if does not exist, it does not come into use.” _ Sara Ahmed. policies that are just sitting there might as well be a key for some institutions to get positive press when asked about their existing policies or asked to change their policies. This doesn’t necessarily mean the implement of a brand new policy made buy someone who can take responsibility, but in many cases the disposal of what they consider a problem meaning the person who is complaining rather to dispose the real problem the complaint was about. It’s not which organization you belong to or work for that matters, it’s about what you believe in and how far you are willing to go. “An experience of sexism and misogyny becomes more difficult to process because to recognize what is going on can mean giving up a belief in an organization.” Sara Ahmed. we are dealing just with words, names and propaganda. Just because an organization claims that it’s doing a certain good towards something doesn’t necessarily mean that it supports that cause. Unfortunately many of those organizations are possessed by the same people who would shut the complaints and the complainers down and rather use those complaints to showcase that their doing something about it and celebrate their vage achievements. 


“The memory thrives us”

“when necessary, we can organize worlds in other ways. It should not take a global pandemic to learn that lesson.”_ Sara Ahmed. yet I wonder why history keeps repeating itself. “It is my theory they have been putting in the long finger and pulling this out, dragging this out over unacceptable periods of time, to try and tire me out so that I will just give up.”_ Anonymous Student. It is crucial not to give up. Reminding ourselves why we are complaining, for whom we are complaining, and how we are complaining, becomes the fuel that thrives us further to fill that silence and void between the complaint and the outcome of a hard procedure. 


“How did it taste like?”

In many cases the very experiences one needs to complain about, are the same experiences that make it difficult to one express themselves. This is why making a complaint about harassment can provoke the same feelings one was going through during the incident. Not to mention the effects on your mental and physical health. As Sarah Ahmed anonymously quotes one of the academics she interviewed, “The body of the complainer is a testimony to the work of complaint”. So if the body is the manifesto of that complaint, but that complaint is being stored in a folder that’s ending up in junk, then eventually both complaint and complainer will be banished from history as if they never even existed. When we are asked to describe the taste of our favorite candy, or a beautiful summer afternoon we had, we also get back to those snippets of joy. But negative experiences tent to stick ten time more at leas. 


A “just ear”

Hearing a complaint is not the same as hearing a person complaining. It can be difficult or even impossible in some cases to complain, or for one to express themselves. But it can also get as difficult for the person hearing it specially if one does not have a “just ear” or how Sara Ahmed calls it “a feminist ear“ nor the sufficient education that includes all kinds of beings of different ethnicities, sexual orientations and backgrounds thus making it impossible to understand, reflect and coexist. That leads to all sorts of discrimination and exile. “To hear with a feminist ear is to hear who is not heard, how we are not heard. If we are taught to tune out some people, then a feminist ear is an achievement.” _Sara Ahmed. To hear a complaint that has been made many times before throughout history, is also to hear the silence and to understand the reason of void. in other words, “hearing complaints can also be how you learn how complaints are not heard.”_ Sara Ahmed. 

book complaints general ideas thoughts

Complaining about the weather – about productive and unproductive complaining

Remember how during our first session in class we talked about productive complaining?

Well, please let me do the complete opposite today and just complain, 

because I really feel like complaining.

First of all, its winter.

People hate winter.

It is dark, it is cold, the days are so short,

but it’s also a nice topic to complain about every day.

Normally when I feel the need to complain I talk to my mother.

She is the “complaint-receiver” of the family. 

After a hard day of working, she comes home, where she finds 10 missed calls from her 4 children and a husband, everybody ready to lay off the burden they collected all day long.

But I could not reach her.

Please let me complain here about what we don’t want to talk about anymore:

I want to complain about the ongoing pandemic. I want to complain about my mental state that has pulled me into a down again. I want to complain about humanity still not able to deal with social injustices and climate change. I want to complain about the weather.  

But, who to address this to?

Some things are (seem?) too big to complain about productively.

All you are left with is just complaining.

This makes me think about whether we have never learned how to complain productively within the right structure. Watching a lecture from Sara Ahmed I found it interesting when she talked about certain procedures that are applied when you voice your concern to the official complaint procedures of institutions. They receive you, they listen to you, they nod, and they say yes. They say yes, they will accept your complaint and deal with it. It gives you a feeling of satisfaction. You were able to let off steam, you feel like you have advanced in your process of dealing with your issue. But then nothing happens. You went through the whole procedure, but in the end, you sent the file and by filing it you might put it to rest forever. The problem is that going through the whole procedure gives you a feeling of being active and of accomplishment without something happening for real. Because what happens from the part of the complaint-receiver is simple “nonperformaty”. There is a gap between what is supposed to happen (according to policies and procedures) and what is really happening1. You have to push institutions to follow their own policies and even then, it can take a lot of time as they hope that by time you will just let go. Hence in the end, all you did was letting off steam: an explosion is avoided by the one that receives the complaint2. By filing your complaint, you got a feeling of being productive even though in fact you were not.

When I think about it, I suspect the same thing happens when you complain to friends instead of directing the problem to the subject involved. I do think that it is very important to talk to your friends about weighs you down: you will realize you are not alone and learn to sort out your thoughts before you impulsively address them. But the problem might be that you complain so much to your friends and just anyone that you might not feel the urge to complain to the right person anymore. The complaint is never received, the steam is off, but nothing has changed: unproductive complaining.

Part of the issue might be that often you just don’t know who to address your complaint to. I have to be honest and say that before reading this book, I was not even aware that there are places where you could hand your issues to. And this is for sure again part of the problem why complaints are not officially dealt with. There is no general awareness of what to do when you find yourself in a state that is unbearable, where you or someone else is wronged, where you are looking for change. Looking at complaining and seeking change in within institutions there is strangeness in the aspect that there are in fact procedures set up for complaints, but it seems like everything is done for you to not use them and if you come to the point of using them, they seem to prevent themselves. Complaint-procedures are not accessible. “A complaint procedure is how you learn what to do, where to go, in order to make a complaint.”3 Before you can get through with a complaint you have to work your way through the fog of knowing how to do it. This is why you might not do it at all. And the less these procedures are used, the harder they are to find.

We need to learn how to make complaining accessible. We need to learn how to complain productively. Because for now complaints seems to be done to prevent us from complaining. 

Is our system not made to receive complaints because it is not made for change?

1 See: Ahmed, S. (2021): Complaint!, p.28.

2 See: Sara Ahmed, Complaint as Diversity Work, Joan S. Korenman Lecture, March 2019, ab min 8:15.

3 Ahmed, S, (2021): Complaint!, p.31.


“procedures are not hanging on trees”

Understanding your position and knowing your resources is fundamental in making a complaint. However, in comparison resources like policies and complaint procedures are not hanging on trees and easy to find. in some cases it even seems like you have to plant the tree yourself, take care of it and have precision in order to harvest the goods. In her book “Complaint!” Sara Ahmed wrote, “It can be hard to find the complaints procedure. Or you can be told there is no complaints procedure” Sarah Ahmed .

The way Sara explains it, you can be told that there is no way to submit an official complaint, in order to stop you from finding a way in first place thus making complaint procedures user unfriendly as wall as sabotaging democracy and equality in society. “like an unused path: hard to find, difficult to follow.’’ _ Sara Ahmed .

Even if you bring a policy as evidence to support a complaint, it does not guarantee you will get somewhere, it might even kick you out and view your actions as insubordinate. Therefor it is worth reflecting more on how we earn about institutions from what policies they follow if they are following their own policies, to ground a base to start from. 

book complaints thoughts

Unter dem Zwang

Nachdem ich den Teil drei “IF THESE DOORS COULD TALK? ” gelesen habe, bin ich von dem Artikel überrascht, in dem erwähnt wird, dass ein Hochschullehrer eine Studentin sexuell missbraucht hat. Da ich diesem Bereich zuvor weniger Aufmerksamkeit geschenkt hatte, fand ich diese Situation sehr befremdlich. Also habe ich im Internet nach der Lage an chinesischen Universitäten recherchiert. Nachdem ich die wirkliche Situation herausgefunden hatte, wurde mir klar, wie ernst diese Angelegenheit ist. Erst vor kurzem gab es ein Beispiel, bei dem eine Studentin ihren Lehrer wegen sexueller Nötigung anzeigte.

Allein die Zahl der Enthüllungen ist erschütternd, es ist schwer vorstellbar, wie viele weitere Vorfälle nicht ans Licht gekommen sind. Viele Studenten haben nicht den Mut, sich über ihre Lehrer zu beschweren. Einerseits glauben Studenten, dass der Lehrer ihre Note und damit indirekt auch ihre Zukunft in den Händen hält. Andererseits werden wir in China dazu erzogen, unsere Lehrer zu respektieren und auf ihre Lehrer zu hören. Das Bild des Lehrers ist für die Schüler immer ehrenhaft, rechtschaffend und heilig. Aber eines Tages schließt der Lehrer plötzlich die Tür, zeigt ein anderes Gesicht und will den Studenten ohne Scham sexuell angreifen. Ich bin sicher, dass die meisten Studentinnen an diesem Punkt überfordert sind. Selbst wenn sie sich wehren und es schaffen, die Tür zu durchbrechen. Aber auch danach bleibt ein tiefer Schatten auf ihnen zurück. Das kann zu Depressionen oder schlimmstenfalls zum Selbstmord führen. Das sind nicht meine Mutmaßungen, sondern Fälle, die tatsächlich passiert sind.

Wie einige der im Buch “Complaint!” angeführten Beispiele zeigen, findet diese Art von sexuellem Übergriff im Wesentlichen zwischen Masterstudenten und Professoren oder Doktoranden und Professoren statt. Warum? Ich denke, der Grund dafür ist, dass die Interaktion zwischen Master und Professoren eher eins zu eins stattfindet. Anders als bei Bachelorstudenten, die in einer Klasse, einer Gruppe oder einem Kollektiv auftreten. Sie sind viel stärker, wenn es um ungerechte Behandlung geht. Masterstudenten sind üblicherweise eine einzige Person, deshalb sind sie sehr schwach gegenüber dem Professor. Je anfälliger eine Studentin für sexuelle Übergriffe ist, desto größer ist die Wahrscheinlichkeit, dass einige Professoren es tun wollen. Aus diesem Grund sind Masterstudenten und Doktoranden die Gruppen, die am häufigsten von sexuellen Übergriffen betroffen sind.

Es ist nur meine persönliche Interpretation. Aber diese Ereignisse erinnern mich auch an einige der Themen, die von Masterstudenten in China häufig diskutiert werden. Einige Master sagen, dass sie in ihrem Masterstudium eher Assistenten ihrer Professoren sind und dass sie neben ihrem Studium viele zusätzliche Arbeiten leisten müssen. Ein Großteil dieser Arbeiten sind unbezahlt und helfen ihnen in keiner Weise weiter. Je mehr Arbeit sie leisten, desto wahrscheinlicher ist es, dass sie ihre Masterprüfungen bestehen. Einige andere Masterstudenten erwähnen auch, dass sie für Feste oder den Geburtstag des Professors jedes Jahr teure Geschenke machen müssen. Denn diese Geschenke können den Professor glücklich machen, und wenn der Professor glücklich ist, wird er oder sie in der Lage sein, einen erfolgreichen Abschluss zu machen. Aus diesem Grund sagen viele Masterstudenten, dass sie nach ihrem Abschluss keinen Kontakt mehr zu ihren Professoren haben. Alle Kontaktangaben werden unverzüglich gelöscht. Tatsächlich trauen viele Masterstudenten sich nicht, sich an ihrer Universität zu beschweren. Ob die Macht des Professors an der Uni zu groß ist?

Natürlich behandeln nicht alle Professoren die Masterstudenten so. Es gibt auch viele Professoren, die sich korrekt und hilfsbereit gegenüber den Masterstudenten verhalten.  Nach dem Abschluss halten sie den Kontakt und pflegen ein gutes Verhältnis. Dies ist eigentlich ein Wahrscheinlichkeitsereignis: Wenn ein Masterstudent seinen Professor ausgewählt hat, entscheidet sich auch der Verlauf des Studiums. Dieses Bildungssystem kann einige Nachteile haben und ist von vornherein ungerecht. Die Zukunft der Masterstudenten liegt nicht in ihrer eigenen Hand, sondern hängt davon ab, ob sie das Glück haben, einen guten Professor zu finden. Und wenn die Entscheidung einmal getroffen ist, kann sie nicht mehr geändert werden.

Ein Zitat aus dem Buch “Complaint!” lautet:

“I think of narrow corridors. They can be what you have to go through to get somewhere, to reach an open door. A professor can become a nar- row corridor: who you have to go through to get somewhere, who you have to go through to reach an open door. A going is often narrated as a gift. Those who abuse the power given to them by virtue of position often represent themselves as being able to open the door for others. When an open door becomes a gift, an open door can also be a threat.” (S. 230)



While the speaker made a complaint, there was another “I” who heard the complaint.

This “I” was, usually, or could be, a close friend or family.

However, the Emotional Worker or Counter Staff was the first person – who picked up the phone and answered or provided the basic requirements and guided the procedure and this could have been their first encounter.

This “I” is in charge and makes them fill the formula, asks them to wait till next week or next month, and delivers the papers to the committee.

 I (the counter staff, the emotional worker) had the duty of encoding or numbering the REAL COMPLAINT into JUST LETTERS and categorizing these complaints according to a given method.

In this numbered paper, there was no FACE, VOICE, EMOTION or indication that ‘I’ was heard.

I felt that they gasped for breath when they were angry and devastated. But when the complaints were delivered to the superiors, they could only see the well-ordered words. There was no reality. Thus, at some point, whenever I encountered THE SPEAKER, I pretended that I couldn’t hear-see-feel their complaints. 

This is my confession which I regret making rather late in time. I worked for many years as counter staff and I still remember passing the speaker by with an empty look. These memories struck me vividly while I read this book.