Let's start with a basic premise: Every single person has things in their life that make them irritated. Things about which they would like to complain. Things about which they do complain.
I would suspect that even Oprah complains about work sometimes, or if not work then about her family, or about her friends, or about whatever irritates her. To complain is human, to write in gratitude journals divine, or some such.
At any rate, however, there seem to be people in the world who like to judge who has the right to complain - or really, to speak at all - and who does not. My question is this: at what point does one have a "right" to complain?
People who like to tell other people to stop their bitching, I've found, tend to think that the person doing the bitching has nothing to bitch about - she's lucky. So, for example, I shouldn't complain about things that irritate me related to my job because I'm "lucky" to have the life that I have.
First, let me say this: I will be the first person to say that luck played a role in me getting this particular job at the particular time when I got it. BUT. I'm not lucky. Nor is any other professor out there. Why? Well, here's what goes into getting a job as a professor:
- One spends years in which everybody else is earning money and putting cash into retirement and social security and buying first homes NOT earning money and doing all the other things and in fact going into DEBT (unless one is independently wealthy, or some such, which most people who go to grad school are not).
- One potentially puts relationships on hold during that time, and if one does that, the whole "finding a life partner" business becomes much more complicated, especially for women.
- One works fucking hard to earn a PhD. Without much acknowledgment and without much compensation.
- One has to reconcile oneself to the fact that one can't even choose what city one lives in, let alone what part of the country.
But an aside: I really love my job. I'm happy that I've chosen this path. I am glad that I made the choices that I did.
But that doesn't mean that things about this job don't piss me off. Just as things about grad school pissed me off, and I was happy I made that choice too. Just as things about temping pissed me off, and I was happy that I made that choice because it paid the rent.
So why is it that when I "bitch" about the job, when I "complain" about aspects of my life, that this is not acceptable behavior?
Well, I think part of the answer to that question does have to do with gender. If it didn't have to do with gender, then people wouldn't bring my physical appearance into the equation when they chastise me for expressing what I think. Whether I'm attractive or not attractive - or whether I talk about things related to my appearance, which I honestly don't think I do, really, but perhaps I'm blind to my own conceitedness - (and for those of you who don't know what I look like, I'll note that while I think I'm "pretty" or "attractive", I could use to lose some weight and I'm no super-model or anything) has absolutely nothing to do with whether I have a right to have an opinion, about my job or anything else. I've noticed, related to the blog, that the people who like to say that one doesn't have a right to complain tend to gravitate toward the blogs of those who admit to being single, childless women. I suspect that if I were a mother, or even a wife, that I wouldn't have to deal with this sort of "complaint" (as what are those who chastise one for complaining doing but complaining themselves?). I'll admit that I've not paid much attention to whether men get similar sort of "feedback" (often characterized as "constructive" criticism, as a "wake-up call" about what a bitch a person is), so I'll not comment on that, but feel free to post in the comments if you've gotten similar reactions, male blog readers, whether you've experienced this in blogland or in life.
I also think that part of the answer to the question has to do with the profession itself. On the one hand, non-academics think that academics have it easy. Does the comment, "must be nice to have summers off!" ring a bell? Or, if not that, "must be nice to only have to work 12 hours a week!" (and that, if one is at a teaching institution)? And someone recently noted that I "bitched" about my five-day-a-week schedule because it would cut into "vacations" - all I can say to that is that yes, I did complain about that (although I thought in a self-deprecating way), and you know why? Because the reality is that my most significant relationships right now are with people who don't fucking live where I work. With the exception of BFF, of course. But since the people I'm closest to live more than 3 hours away (whether by plane or by car), yeah, it matters that I teach five days a week, in ways that it just doesn't matter for people who are not in that predicament. If you think that I have "chosen" for that to be the way that my life is, take a gander at the job list in English Literature, and perhaps you'll get an idea of how little choice one actually has in the matter. But I digress. The point here is that I've never heard somebody say that a medical doctor shouldn't "complain" or that a lawyer shouldn't "complain" or even that a plumber shouldn't "complain" about work. There is a real belief in our culture that academics should be grateful that they get to be paid for the work that we do. That what we do is a "luxury" in some way. And the subtext of that belief is that what we do doesn't really count as work. Even administrators think this sometimes, because we "only work nine months" as opposed to working 12 months of the year. (Although, of course, that's not true either, for I do only get paid to work for 9 months but I do, actually, do work throughout the summer and on breaks.)
The fact of the matter is, everybody bitches. Male or female. And that doesn't mean that one isn't grateful for the life that they have, or that they don't appreciate the benefits of the life that they've chosen or the life that they lead. It's just that no matter how great a person's life is, some things about it suck. Period. Everybody has the "right" to complain. You know why? Because a lot of things in the world suck. And if nobody complained, then nothing would ever change, then none of those sucky things would ever be eradicated.
And whether I'm pretty or attractive or lucky or whatever, it doesn't mean that my complaints don't have validity. And if one can't bitch on a blog, where exactly can one bitch? That's the bottom line.