Voicing the unspoken, towards a life without fear regardless your gender – About “Blank noise”

“Blank noise” is a non-profit organization and a community project, run solely by volunteers aiming to raise awareness about sexual and gender-based violence and encouraging people to take agency against it. The project has its roots in Bangalore where it was initiated by Jasmeen Patheja in the framework of a student project. The community around “Blank noise” has grown substantially within the last years and its initiatives have also reached other cities in India1

The project has risen out of the struggle of not being heard: It has developed out of the issue of sexual harassment in India that was, as the name of the project implies, merely a noise from the background, hence something that was likely to be overheard. “Blank noise” wanted to change this and give a voice to the people that have suffered under gender based violence. Developed in 2003 it has been one of the first initiatives to bring attention to sexual and street harassment. At that time this issue did not even have a word to name it and was called “eve teasing” which was misleadingly implying a harmlessness to it. If as a victim of gender-based violence, you cannot even name what is happening to you, it will be very challenging for you to fight against it. “Blank noise” is about naming it, voicing it, showing it and hence fighting it.


1 Wikipedia: Blank Noise. Accessed Feb. 2022.

The work of “Blank Noise” includes performative actions and interventions in public space that draw attention to street harassment. Furthermore, it consists of building testimonials for those affected by it as well as creating a community that supports them. Herewith they don’t only raise awareness about the problem of “eve teasing” and animate people to tackle the issue but also build a safe space for victims of such incidents, by for example providing legal counselling for them. Through campaigns, workshops, discussions and the use of mainstream media their message is communicated, and people are involved. Hence a community of Action Sheroes/ Theyroes/ Heroes was established that fights for a life without fear: 

“Blank Noise ignites the idea that every person has the ability and potential to eradicate sexual and gender based violence.”2

One of the biggest concerns of the initiative lies within ending victim blaming, to shift the responsibility of the act of sexual violence from the affected to the perpetrators and with it recognizing collective responsibility for this issue. One of their most known works is the “I Never Ask For It” project that has been going on since 2004. Victims of sexual and gender based violence are asked the question: “Do you remember the clothes you wore when you experienced the violence?” and are invited to share these garments with the project. The aim is to by 2023 have collected 10000 garment testimonials that will be installed collectively at sites of public significance. “Blank noise” uses the clothes symbolically to break with the assumption that the victim in some way by its appearance, behavior or by being too attractive, has provoked or requested the assault. Through different methods such as workshops, campaigns, public interventions, exhibitions or collaborative research, these testimonials are brought to the people. The performative actions consist of carrying the clothes through the streets and confronting the public with the truth. In addition to this they carry boards where affected people can give testimonial about the sexual violence they have experienced and what they now want to ask for. These walks of testimonials stand as an act of giving witness and showing solidarity with those assaulted: a walk towards a process of healing. 

“To end sexual violence we need to end victim blame”3


Another project that caught my interest was the “Meet to sleep” project. Connecting to the idea of the right to live a life without fear, “Blank noise” motivated women to sleep anywhere in public. They want to fight for the possibility that even in this very intimate and vulnerable position of sleeping you would not have a reason to be worried to be attacked. It’s a step moving “Towards the right to live defenceless.”4 The initiative invites women to connect with each other and to gather to sleep together in the parc (or anywhere else) and to talk about their experience. You can either join an existing “Meet to sleep”-action or initiate one by yourself or you can even just decide to sleep anywhere. This activity, the moment of overcoming your fear, enables the participants to create a new narrative, detached from fear. Sometimes an activity as simple as the act of sleeping can become an act of resistance and of change for a life in which you can feel safe no matter your gender:

“I feel safe when I am heard.

I feel safe when I am not judged.

I feel safe when I don’t have to justify myself, over and over and over again.

I, Action Shero, am your safe space,

as you are mine.

I never ask for it.”5

2Blank Noise: About, Herstory. Accessed Feb. 2022.

3Blank Noise

4Blank Noise: Meet To Sleep, About Meet To Sleep. Accessed Feb. 2022.

5Blank Noise: Home. Accessed Feb. 2022.


Feeling safe means being heard, feeling safe means feeling believed – Connections to the book “Complaint!” by Sarah Ahmed

In both the book “Complaint!” (2021) as well as through the work of the “Blank noise”-collective the connection between feeling safe and being heard and believed is emphasized. In a lot of the narratives in the book of those who shared their experience with engaging in a process of complaining, the burden of having the impression of talking to a wall but also of not being believed strongly emerges. “Blank noise” attaches great importance to precisely this aspect, helping women to speak up, to be heard and fighting for being believed in order to live without fear. 

In the book “Complaint!” Sarah Ahmed deepens her idea of the “feminist ear” which she has first introduced in her book “A Feminist Life”. To hear with a feminist ear does not only mean “to hear who is not heard” but also “how we are not heard”6 and it can also mean to hear silence: “what is not being said, what is not being done, what is not being dealt with”7. “Blank noise” has emerged out of hearing the silence of sexual harassment that was not being addressed, and the initiative has turned this silence into noise. Through the collective a lot of women found the courage to express what they have experienced. This provokes those with no feminist ear to sill hear and to hopefully become more sensitive to their own and someone else’s actions regarding sexual assault.

“Blank Noise and its #INeverAskForIt mission are committed and invested in building our collective capacity to be listeners.

It isn’t enough to ask or ‘encourage’ survivors of violence to speak, when the capacity to listen has not been taught.”8

While the book focusses most of its attention to the barriers you face while complaining within the institutional context, the work of “Blank noise” is not about formally filing a complaint and it reaches out to many areas outside institutions, such as the private life. Nevertheless, a part of their work lies withing supporting women as they engage in official processes of reporting the sexual violence they have experienced. 

Both initiatives9 base their intention on working with testimonies. The process of sharing personal testimonies can be experienced as very difficult because “to speak about a past trauma can be to make that trauma present”10. However this might be an important step into finding peace with what has happened as “Blank Noise” states: “We want the building of this mission to be a process of healing; where survivors of violence feel heard and believed.”11

Unfortunately, it is not self-evident that one is believed when one speaks up about the fact that one’s own boundaries have been severely crossed. Reading the book “Complaint!” might at times be a bit disillusioning; hearing about all the complaints that don’t go through, all the people that are ignored and all the institutional barriers that manifest themselves as soon as you want to criticize anything. A lot of testimonies in the book are about how the complainers struggled with not knowing if it was justified for them to complain. They either nearly did not speak up at all because they did not fully have the trust that they would have the right to do so or if they did, they would be told that they had misunderstood the situation that has caused them to complain. If you are not believed to have experienced sexual violence or harassment or are even blamed as the victim for the sexual assault, then the one that has caused the violence is not taking any responsibility. It’s the victim’s fault, either for having “caused” the incident (“she asked for it”) or for having misjudged the situation (“it was nothing”). „The opposite of feeling blamed is being believed.“12  Ending victim blaming, recognizing the individual boundaries and sensibilities of each person is the step we need to take to achieve a society where everyone takes responsibility for their actions. 

However discouraging failed complaints might be, one essential message of the book “Complaint!” is how as a collective you can get further. “Collectivity was a way to share the cost of complaint. Rather than each of us being on her own, we would stand together.”13 “Blank noise” is providing this collective power for the women who stood alone. If you are not alone you can be heard and if testimonies add one to another change is possible. Until we have reached that change, we have to scream loud enough.

“To complain is to give support to life: you plant something in saying no, by saying no, the twists and turns of new growth.”14

6Ahmed, S. (2021): Complaint!. Durham: Duke University Press, p.4 

7ebd., p.7

8Blank Noise: Home. Accessed Feb. 2022.

9I decided to speak of the book “Complaint!” as an initiative as I recognize Sarah Ahmed’s work of collecting testimonies as more than just documentation.

10Ahmed, S.: Complaint!. p.14.

11Blank Noise: I Never Ask For It, Vision / Origin. Accessed Feb. 2022.

12Visible: Award 2019 – Shortlisted Blank Noise – Jasmeen Patheja. Accessed Jan. 2022.

13Ahmed, S.: Complaint!. p.266.

14ebd., p.309.

art book general thoughts

Inhabiting the complaint – about feeling it in your body

What does it feel like inhabiting your complaint? How do you experience, as the complainer, your body becoming a testimony of the work of complaint?1 Where do you feel the process of having to prove that you are or were underlying an experience of injustice and that were you were harmed? And how does it feel to find no support and no way out of this situation? Where do you feel it in your body? How does it manifest losing their sense of clarity and no longer being able to trust your body to tell you what is right or wrong?

1 See: Ahmed, S. (2021): Complaint!. Durham: Duke University Press, p.39.

An attempt to visualize: 

Ahmed, S. (2021): Complaint!. Durham: Duke University Press:

The less backing you have, the more weight you have to bear. (p.39)

You swallow it. (p.48)

A complaint can feel sticky: the longer it takes to make, the more it sticks to you. (p.117)

In the thick of it. (p.103)

Being shattered is not always a place from which we can speak. (p.14)

You are trying to hold yourself together. (p.117)

The lack of clarity of the process becomes the world you inhabit: nothing is clear. (p.44)

Complaints, wherever they go, often end up in filling cabinets, those handy containers. We too can become containers. (p.117)

Bodies can also store what minds file away, which is how we come to feel the truth of something in our bones. (p.108)

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 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.

basic book general thoughts

Am I allowed to complain? – about being privileged enough to complain and not being privileged enough to complain

I would like to start this post by stating: Everyone is allowed to complain, anytime, anywhere, concerning any issue.

What does this sentence provoke in you? Do you agree? Do you disagree?

I myself have to say that I am not so sure about this, even though I am also not so sure who should be deciding over this. Complaining means expressing discontent or dissatisfaction about something, making an accusation, stating that something is (done) wrong. I want to specify here that I will focus on complaining when you are treated unfairly, such as for example by a person, a procedure, or an institution. 

Who is allowed to complain? A complaint starts with the reason why you want to complain, and this reason starts with a feeling. A feeling of something being wrong: feeling hurt, suffocated, excluded, offended, hence unfairly treated. And this is where it already gets complicated. “Am I allowed to complain?” starts with a: “Am I allowed to feel wronged?”. The fact that it is so difficult to define right or wrong, especially when emotions are involved, makes the whole process somewhat subjective and easily determined in the end by whoever is in power (with this often being whoever you complain about). So, who decides over right or wrong? The complainer or the “being-complaint-to”? 

Who is allowed to complain? The right to complain is also a matter of privilege. On this issue there is a conflict between the fact that some people are too privileged to complain and some not privileged enough to get through with a complaint. Are you the right person to complain? While going through with a complaint “we learn how only some ideas are heard if they are deemed to come from the right people; right can be white.”1 There is absurdity in the fact that if you are in the position to make a complaint, hence if you are suffering under certain power relations that put you in an unjust situation, you are most probably not being heard. “You might not feel confident that your complaint is being taken seriously when your complaint is about not being taken seriously.”2 Thus when you chose to complain you take a huge risk, which might lead to self-damage. More than often, you are already in a precarious situation and can’t afford to lose your job or hurt your image. If you find yourself in this situation, you might be reminded of your dependence on the one you want to complain to. Hence your issue is not being taken seriously by those in power to do something about it. In addition to this “complaints are more likely to be received well when they are made by those in power.”3 Those who are already more influential are more likely to get through with their complaint. This is widening the already existing inequality gab in hierarchies.

Who is allowed to complain? Those who are heard are those who are in the “right” place to complain: those in a stable state, those with enough power, those who have the right connections, those with the resources to do so. But isn’t it ironic that when you find yourself in a situation of suffering, without support, and hence file a complaint, you are not supported by the system? And if you are in the “right” place to complain you are actually not really in the right place to complain, meaning the reason why you complain might not be that severe, because you don’t find yourself in a precarious situation. 

In conclusion when is complaining justified? When is your state alarming and legitime enough to be entitled to do so? When are you well enough positioned to complain? When are you allowed to take away people’s oh-so-precious time to criticize and tackle the system they are so desperately trying to uphold? To complain is to make yourself vulnerable. Be aware of the burden that comes your way, whether it is the burden of your privilege to be able to do so, or your struggle or even your inability to get through with it.

1 Ahmed, S. (2021): Complaint! 2021, p.6.

2 ebd., p.21.

3 ebd., p.24.

art book general thoughts

A drop in the bucket – about feeling disillusioned and gaining hope

Making a complaint can evoke a feeling of futility.

Giving so much, receiving so little.

Like a drop in the ocean, 

dissolving in a system that has not been waiting for your concern. 

Like a drop on a hot stone, 

dissipating with a hiss in a system not willing to see its own wrongs.

Like a drop in the bucket,

adding another one, and another,

until you are dried out.

The drop, the hiss, not heard, 

rendered invisible, inaudible, by the institutional barriers.1

Drop after drop,

until you end up dropping your complaints.

Making a complaint can drain you.

It’s exhausting, while what you complain about is already exhausting.2

Soon you realize that there are certain rules that define if you will be heard.

You have to find the right paths,

paths made so entangled; they seem to be made in order for you not to find them.

A paperwork so user unfriendly, as if build to avoid its own purpose.3

In fact, you even have to be right person to complain, 

and often if you are in a position where you need to complain,

you are not that right person.4

Making a complaint can disillusion you and your belief that you have a saying in a system.

How many drops do we need to break the barriers of institutions?

How many drops do we need to be heard by those who cover their ears?

Those avoiding seeing their mistakes, not willing to allow change. 

How many drops do we need to create a river that forms its way through the impassable structures of institutions? 

We might need so many drops.

Making a complaint can be very painful

But sharing pain can be a relief,

sharing energy can be empowering. 

Let’s unite, hear those who complain, join their voice,

Let the rain fall,

let the drops become one.

Making a complaint can bring about sea change.

“A drop is just a drop is just a drop

until she meets another

combined they run together

she rinses stone, gets through walls, she crosses borders, never holds

until all the drops become one

big deep blue

where every drop

is just a drop

is just a drop

is just a drop” 

Faraway friends – Intro (Rain is coming)

1 See: Ahmed, S. (2021): Complaint! 2021, p.6.

2 See: ebd., p.5

3 See: ebd., p.31

4 See: ebd., p.4