Joan, the Burd, Morag and the Village Aunties: Women and the Cybernat Revolution

Another great guestpost, this time from Sarah Currier, AKA Morag Eyrie, who is a New Scot from New Zealand, and is the originator of the blog Village Aunties: Feminists for an Independent Socialist Scotland. Sarah has lived in Scotland for exactly 15 years today (6 March), and works in educational technology in higher education. She tweets as @morageyrie.
So the Burd disagreed with a bunch of other cybernats (including me) about Joan McAlpine’s article, you know, the notorious article drawing an analogy between escaping an abusive marriage and Scotland escaping the Union.
Early on, the Burd realised that some people she respected were surprised at her strong reaction, and she said that she might be “over sensitive”. I thought: as soon as a woman starts censoring herself with the kind of words used by misogynists to dismiss us, there may be something worth hearing underneath. Weirdly, even though I totally disagreed with the Burd, it was the first time I’d felt a real pang of sisterly solidarity with her. I so wanted the discussion to continue, with the participation of the other women who were chiming in.
Anyway, being a tenacious Burd, she kept in with the discussion and explored her own reaction. I ended up agreeing with one point she came to: that Joan’s piece doesn’t make the leap successfully between a domestic violence analogy, and why an independent Scotland would be good for women.
I’m drawing this picture as a way to show what happens when a bunch of women, and some non-sexist men too, engage in respectful discussion around a heated matter. Doesn’t happen very often on the social Web; nor do you often see women as the main players in a discussion outwith the feminist blog-o-phere. And even there, sometimes sisters tear each other to shreds. It all mirrors meatspace painfully well.
Addressing this lack of women’s voices in the Scottish pro-independence social media sphere was the reason why I set up the Village Aunties. The Burd and Joan seemed like lone voices in the wilderness. And, although I think that Bella Caledonia and Newsnet Scotland are excellent pro-independence sites with mostly excellent sexual politics (and growing numbers of female contributors), I wanted there to be a space specifically carved out for a feminist voice in our brave new world. Oh the hopes I had.
Don’t get me wrong, I’ve had nothing but excellent support from many, many people for the Village Aunties. So many women have promised articles. So few actually produce them. And I am one of the ones that rarely produces them. I could cite busy-ness, my intense new job, whatever, but when I look at the volume of blogging produced by the Burd, and the unbelievably fecund Mhairi McAlpine, and I know both of them are very busy with jobs and children and other activities, well, it’s all excuses.
The salt in the wound is that the lovely pro-feminist men on the left whom I have welcomed on the Village Aunties are the ones who submit actual articles!
What does all this say about why there aren’t more women’s voices in the independence debate? I think Joan’s article is an excellent case study. I wanted to respond to the Burd’s initial Tweets about it by saying “But that’s what I and every pro-indy woman I know says about independence: we love the ‘leaving an abusive marriage’ meme!”. And I hesitated. I was scared to say it. Maybe I am wrong and weird. Twitter will come down on me like a ton of bricks. Just like the whole political and media world seemed to be coming down on Joan; and then her own blogging sisters-in-arms joining them.
This time, however, I was feeling reckless so I did say it. Then some other women I respect chimed in agreeing with me. Then Bella and Moridura and others. Then I was concerned about the tide turning on the Burd. I wanted to maintain sisterly solidarity. And we did that!
But a message has gone out, for the millionth time. It’s gone out to those who don’t have the same weird reckless moments that I do (and I do live to regret them, believe me, nights of sleepless paranoia, wondering if anyone will ever speak to me again, wondering if I’ll ever get another job, etc.)
The message is: if you are a woman, and you write or speak publicly and say stuff that loads and loads of intelligent, politically engaged feminist women say amongst ourselves all the time, you will be attacked. I’m not talking about the Burd’s reaction, I’m talking about the rest of it. And I think I know why: the deeper reason why.
We’re not allowed to talk publicly about abuse and oppression and power imbalances and colonialism and racism. There are consequences if you challenge people on their blind spots around their own complicity in these systems.
And Joan said one of the un-sayable things. The entire realm of discourse about oppressor and oppressed seems to have been taken out of the equation. We’re supposed to be over all that, to have moved on. Just like we’re supposed to be living in a post-feminist society (ha!). There are some truths we can’t speak of, and for a lot of women, they know that to speak truth to power, the costs can be devastatingly high. Ask the SSP women reviled with language like “witches”, spit on and threatened, who told the truth about an abuser in their midst (another object lesson women in Scotland haven’t forgotten).
See I can’t even be bothered unpicking Joan’s article: I would *love* to spend some time extending the analogy with all the amusing extra bits my friends and I have come up with. I would also love a separate article on feminism and the SNP and how we can make sure an independent Scotland is good for women. But that’s not what this incident evoked for me. What it evoked was a new stage in the Cybernat Revolution. We women can disagree with each other, and we can support each other during those disagreements, and we can get below the intense emotions to the truths driving them, and we can articulate important things. Nobody can give us permission or make us feel safe: there is no real safety. All we can do is try every day to maintain our bonds of sisterly care and solidarity even when we disagree.

25 thoughts on “Joan, the Burd, Morag and the Village Aunties: Women and the Cybernat Revolution

  1. The health and well-being of its citizens is the primary responsibility any government. After 300 years 0f Unionist government, Scotland has the LOWEST LIFE EXPECTANCY AT BIRTH in Western Europe. Is there any connection or is it just that the Scottish people are the most indolent and feckless race in Europe?

  2. The correct analogy to be drawn is domineering Westminster parliamentary governance versus the popular will of the Scottish people.

    The perfect example of this ‘domestic’ conflict is nuclear weaponary, imposed by Westminster, rejected by Scotland.

    Scotland has a black eye in the name of Faslane. Everyone knows it is wrong and abhorrent but those members of the family who could do something about it do nothing but say in their defence, “your are lucky you don’t have two black eyes”.

    Lo and behold, Scotland ends up with two black eyes Trident at Faslane, rusting nuclear subs at Roysth.

    Beating up on Scotland has been the default position of the Westminster establishment for many a year. You can either respond like with like, or you can walk away and rediscover your younger self.

  3. I’ve come a bit late to this whole stooshie. I was busy yesterday so have only just read the article that’s got the Scottish blogosphere’s collective knickers in a twist. I thought it was a pretty poor bit of writing, but was clearly talking about an unpleasantly chauvinist view of marriage rather than domestic abuse. I am acutely aware that abuse can be both physical and psychological, but still, this piece did not seem to be to be looking at abuse of any type.

    That doesn’t mean I agreed with it. I think the “Divorce is an expensive business” line is a clever bit of marketing with little political meaning, and the Joan McAlpine article is a clumsy attempt to respond to it. I don’t want to see the debate about independence conducted by insulting and belittling England and its inhabitants. I want to read a positive case for both the union and independence, setting out how we can be responsible neighbours or cohabitees, whichever we decide to be.

    And as a final note, I hadn’t come across Village Aunties before, will definitely check it out. I entirely agree that we can disagree and discuss issues respectfully, there’s no need for all the shouting and havering.

    • Hi theshooglypeg. Post author here. I’ve seen a bit of stuff on Twitter about Joan McAlpine’s piece not being about abuse. I can see where some folk might think that way but I disagree. I think what she described was definitely an abusive relationship.

      There are degrees of course. When I’m with friends talking about this analogy, it depends on how angry and ground down we are feeling, as to how abusive the marriage we are analogising is. For instance, how recently we’ve watched some BBC coverage of Scottish events (hello Paxo!) or something David Cameron has said about, well, anything. I should note as well, that it’s not just women of my acquaintance who enjoy the analogy, it’s men too (and folk of other genders).

      I do think there are many more amusing and clever side roads to go down when making the analogy, well beyond what Joan McAlpine has done: I do think it was aimed at that particular readership. Maybe *she* doesn’t even think of what she described as “abuse”. But I do. When there is a serious imbalance of power, it doesn’t take much. Power corrupts: it takes a lot to hold power over someone else and not abuse it.

      Also, I don’t think anything in this debate is about insulting and belittling England and its inhabitants. We call abusive behaviour where we see it, but I see no implication that the good folk of England are culpable en masse. I more often see them as other victims, and I do think some people in Scotland feel guilty about leaving them behind. I would say: let us go, get ourselves strong, and we can help you resist more effectively.

  4. I don’t recognise the reference to ‘domestic violence’ – Joan didn’t mention it nor did she imply it. She referred to a domineering partner. In her analogy, it was a male partner, but in my experience, as a high earning man, who left the management of the finances to his wife, it was she that used emotional blackmail and subtle control to severely limit my actions and options, and the analogy was very resonant indeed.

    It was apparent that Joan’s piece had nothing to do with the solidarity of the sisterhood, nor of sexual politics in general, but was an attempt to frame Scotland’s situation in simplistic terms that even Daily Record readers could relate to. A difficult challenge which I think she achieved with distinction. The hysterical reaction to the article, especially from the unionists, shows how well she has done.

    • Hi Siôn. Thanks for commenting! I’m not used to getting comments, the Village Aunties is fairly new, and it’s, well, niche, you might say. Anyway, see my response to theshooglypeg above. I do see what Joan McAlpine described as abuse, and hence domestic violence. I did see a reference on Twitter to “battering” but nowhere have I said she talks about battering. Battering is nearer the extreme end of violence but emotional and financial domination, manipulation and control is still on the spectrum of violence and abuse.

      Even though you obviously don’t agree with naming it as “domestic violence”, it’s interesting that it resonated with you as a man on the receiving end of what I would call emotional abuse. Hope things are better in your life these days!

      And I agree Joan’s piece had nothing to do with solidarity of sisterhood. That is what *my* piece was about, and my piece was actually inspired by discussions that happened after Joan McAlpine’s piece was published, not even involving her. I hope she would agree with my general point, but I’m not in any way implying she was making that point.

      I do agree it’s general tone and content was aimed at Daily Record readers.

  5. So decades on from the hugely influential women’s movements of the 60s and 70s we still have knee-jerk defences for women’s writings because they are women. There’s no point in complaining that Bella Caledonia and Newsnet Scotland don’t have enough women contributors and then setting up a separate umbrella for women. If women want to make a real contribution to the debate about independence then surely they should be using the most prominent blog outlets to have their voices heard. I don’t believe that either of these two groups are actively preventing women from submitting their views.

    Why do you want to maintain differences in Scottish society? Having been active in the women’s movement I certainly don’t think I should be still be ploughing that feminist furrow. We’ve gone beyond that.

    • Hi lenathehyena. Thanks for your comment. I would have to disagree (as you probably imagined I would) that this is a “knee-jerk defence” on my part. I meant every word: that I agreed with Joan McAlpine’s analogy, that it expressed something that I and friends of mine have shared in conversation many a time. That I was actually surprised that some people had such visceral reactions against it. So, I appreciate you disagree with my point of view: but it wasn’t knee-jerk and it wasn’t just because Joan McAlpine is a woman. If a woman politician or journalist or whatever is wrong in my view I won’t hesitate to call it as I see it.

      I’m also not sure where you got that I was complaining about Bella Caledonia and Newsnet Scotland! I think you must have skimmed that part. I said “And, although I think that Bella Caledonia and Newsnet Scotland are excellent pro-independence sites with mostly excellent sexual politics (and growing numbers of female contributors), I wanted there to be a space specifically carved out for a feminist voice in our brave new world.” See the word “excellent” twice? I happen to know that Bella Caledonia folks have worked very hard to build up the number and variety of women’s voices on their blog. In fact I was one of the earliest people they approached to start achieving that. I just wasn’t ready at the time, and now I want to use my limited energy to focus on the Village Aunties. But I remain a great champion of both sites. It takes nothing from them to say we want a space in the cybernat blogosphere for a specifically feminist voice. In fact we have people of all genders as contributors on the Village Aunties so it’s not even just a site for women to write on.

      Finally you may feel we’ve achieved every feminist goal and can move on. The statistics about rape, domestic violence, inequality of income, unemployment, the list goes on, tells me different. It’s not feminists who are maintaining these “differences” it’s a sexist culture and the individuals who use it to their advantage.

      • Hi
        My point about Newsweek and Bella was that sites like them are surely the way forward for a much needed integrated approach to resolving political and social issues. The vocal uterus is a distraction a bit like an online Woman’s Hour.

        I welcome your website being open to people of ‘all’ genders whoever they may be.

        Did I say we had achieved every feminist goal? No, but neither do I see value in narrowing the focus of what is happening in the world within a feminist wrapper. The appalling acts of violence and exploitation which affect people – your examples of rape and domestic violence – and this is not the place to go into the background of rapists and those who carry out domestic violence – but relevant is their need to control and exhibit power over another whether fuelled up on drink or drugs or indeed using rape as a military tactic. Violence against any person is to be condemned whether against women, men, those from minorities in society or whoever.

        As for inequality of income and unemployment – it is clear the gap between male/female low earners exists although to a fairly small degree but that too many people are earning too little to live comfortably still needs to be addressed. One of the interesting differences between the earnings of men and women is the full-time/part-time issue – with the trend that full-time young men earn less than full-time young women and the incidence of women working in part-time/low valued jobs producing the opposite statistic. I think therefore that an introverted approach to low paid work muddies rather than clears the water.

        All this being said I hope your website is a success.

      • Hi lenathehyena. Thanks for getting back to me. I see we will have to agree to differ on the need for a collaborative feminist blog. I am a feminist so I want there to be a feminist blog in the cybernat blog-o-sphere: I think feminism has an absolutely vital perspective to offer in analysis and discussion of the problems facing us, also in talking about good things that might not get a mention elsewhere! So I have taken on making that happen. I’ll continue to engage with Bella Caledonia and Newsnet Scotland and other media outlets I find useful. The nice thing about the way the Web works at the moment is that many flowers can bloom, and if there is any particular site you don’t find useful you don’t have to read it. Having said that, challenging, thoughtful critiques are always welcome.

        Thanks for wishing us success: I think we want the same ends in general, even if we disagree on some of the specific tactics! All the best to you.

  6. The fact that Joan McAlpine’s comments get under the Brit nats’ skin delights me and illustrates the utter paucity of argument they have to hand.

    Sad bunch.

  7. Leaving aside whether you think the analogy Ms McAlpine used was appropriate or not (for the record, I think it is pretty simplistic to the point of being childish and, as noted above, doesn’t really make the critical connection in any case) this approach is emphatically not what is being presented in the Independence Roadshows currently doing the rounds.

    In fact, it is being stressed that this type of approach is specifically NOT to be taken in order to ensure the Yes campaign remains positive and aspirational. We have a classic case of an MSP being way off-message here because they are uable to make the transition from provocative writer to elected representative (I may be being generous here).

    • Hi Garry. These thoughts had occurred to me too, but my article would have been book-length if I’d touched on everything the whole incident brought to mind! I suspect the lack of a strong whip on Joan McAlpine is part of the wider strategy to make sure everyone has a hook into being comfortable with the SNP. I for one am constantly persuaded (as an anarchist mind you!) that it’s not bad to vote for them, because of the number of strong women and lefties and greenies I’ve met who are involved. But it is a very broad church indeed.

  8. Ditto to all above! I too have bookmarked.

    • Hope to see you over at the Village Aunties cadgers! Always looking for contributors there too (Burd is going to kill me for using her blog to poach contributors!!).

  9. Like!

    And for some reasons, I hadn’t come across Village Aunties before! *gasp* Bookmarked.🙂

    • Well bafflebox, glad you found us and are interested! Always looking for contributors on the Village Aunties, hint hint (sorry Burd!).

  10. This piece is the best thing to have come out of the whole wee controversy. It’s made me think, thanks!

  11. That’s a braw bit of writing, so it is.

  12. Pingback: Joan, The Burd, Morag, and The Village Aunties: Women and the Cybernat Revolution « village aunties

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