Speak Up and Complain

by The Cowl Editor on September 16, 2021


Speak Up and Complain

Changing the Narrative of Female Stoicism

By Angie Nguyen ’22

If you think about how people describe the most significant women in their lives, there are two ideas that tend to stick: that she always puts others before herself and that she never complains about it. These notions are outdated.

The idea of womanly stoicism was thrust upon women without their consent. Why is it that men are never expected to be the ones to put themselves last? Why are women expected to be the caretakers yet are not allowed to express the discomfort which comes with the burden of carrying everyone else? To follow in the path of a role model is one thing, but what happens if a virtue becomes an expectation? Sure, to be steadfast and strong in the face of hardship is admirable. However, in the age of the #MeToo movement and a collective reawakening to the plight of worker’s rights, it seems that we must learn to embrace our voices. 

Fred Korematsu once said, “If you have the feeling that something is wrong, don’t be afraid to speak up.” Personally, I know this lesson very well. A professor had assumed that I could not read English simply because of my name and consistently embarrassed me in front of the class by using heavy microaggressions. I began to dread attending this class and eventually started skipping it. Unsure of what to do, I called my mother for advice. She told me that I should have complained. 

These moments can be particularly eye opening, as it introduced the combination of female stoicism with the all-too-real discomfort of racism. What matters, though, is that if you speak up against these issues, you will be successful in making change. 

Growing up, I distinctly remember always being chastised for complaining about having to clean up after my father and brother. I was accused of being lazy for bringing up how unfair the situation was. However, I began to notice a pattern: the women of my family finished eating first to start the cleanup process while the men stayed seated and relaxed. 

While I was privileged to grow up in a family that was able to embrace change when it was brought up, I know of many people who feel stuck in the same patriarchal family hierarchy. Learning the value of speaking up can be rooted in complaints. By “biting back,” you can help yourself and others.

It is neither weak nor lazy to complain. When you refuse to speak about what ails you, you swallow your own teeth. And when you swallow your teeth, you can never bite back.