I have begun working on a project on complaint. This project follows up from On Being Included (2012) and Living a Feminist Life (2017). The focus will be on how we can understand institutional processes; how things get stuck; how walls come up. The project is a qualitative study: I will be collected stories (in the form of interviews as well as written testimonials) from those who have made complaints about their experiences of sexual harassment, bullying and racism within universities as well as those who decided not to make complaints despite their experiences of sexual harassment, bullying and racism. I am interested in reflecting on formal complaint mechanisms as well as the informal means by which complaints are dealt with (and not dealt with).
I describe the method of the project as a feminist ear. As I argue in my chapter, Feminist Snap from Living a Feminist Life a feminist ear is what we acquire in living a feminist life. I wrote there:
To become attuned to sexism, to begin to hear with a feminist ear how women are not heard, is to become out of tune with a world. When you find this world jarring, you are experienced as jarring. A feminist ear picks up on what is being said, a message that is blocked by how what is being said is heard as interference. The sounds of no, the complaints about violence, the refusals to laugh at sexist jokes; the refusals to comply with unreasonable demands; to acquire a feminist ear is to hear those sounds as speech. But it is not just that feminist ears can hear beyond the silence that functions as a wall. I referred earlier to how working on the problem of sexual harassment led me to my own act of feminist snap. Once it is heard that you are willing to hear, more people will speak to you. While a snap might seem to make the tongue the organ of feminist rebellion, perhaps snap is all about ears. A feminist ear can provide a release of a pressure valve. A feminist ear can be how you hear what is not being heard.
Because: those who experience harassment come up against a wall of indifference. They have nowhere to go. Or if they do speak they are heard as complaining. The word complaint derives from plague, in a vulgar sense, to strike at the breast. A complaint: sick speech. Maybe she is heard as speaking from ill-will: not only as being ill, but as spreading infection, as making the whole body ill. If diversity is damage limitation, as I described in chapter 6, then damage limitation takes the form of controlling speech, of trying to stop those who speak about violence from speaking in places where they can be heard. To contain damage is to contain those who have been damaged. When she is heard as complaining she is not heard. And those who are willing to hear will end up hearing more and more; you are providing a place to go. Something I learnt from my own experience: resignation can be a feminist hearing. So many people got in touch with me after I spoke out about sexual harassment with their own stories of harassment and abuse in universities; with their own battles. Telling the story is part of the feminist battle. A feminist ear can be what we are for. The more wearing it is the more we need to hear.
I am at the very early stages of this research project. If you would be interested in talking to me or sharing an experience with me please fill in the contact form.