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 These notions are outdated.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.

Jamestown, VA

by Elizabeth McGinn on February 11, 2021


building outline
Photo courtesy of wikimedia.org and graphic design by Sarah McLaughlin ’23

by Angie Nguyen ’22

falling in love with someone you shouldn’t is like an ending is written before the beginning. you don’t listen to the bells, warning you of the heartbreak and the tears and the way the sparkle in his eyes dulls eventually because you’re so enraptured by the i-love-you’s and the morning kisses and the midnight adventures in his foreign car (a toyota is still foreign to me). we were only running on borrowed time.

how could i be selfish enough to lay claim on your eyes and their haunting depth—the way they changed with your moods. i never realized dark, brown eyes could hold so much feeling until i looked into yours. how could i think that a piece of your heart was reserved for me? that heart is as wild as a stallion, and i thought i’d harnessed you, put you into my stable. how could i even begin to think that laugh was meant for me and only me? you share your joy so effortlessly—i even envy you at times.

i know you said you were mine but that’s like trying to claim the oceans and its waves, the forest and its wolves. the way you move, the way you carry yourself, the way you think—it was never mine, always yours.

i always thought love meant surrender. but i’m so tired of trying to make myself a home in your amazon. i don’t want to be a colonizer of your lands. i cannot confuse breaking you with appreciating you.

but when you tell me you love me, when you kiss me and hold me, for a split second, in this wild world, you are mine.