Feminism in the Scottish post-referendum movement – #the45plus feminists rising

Village Aunties were awful quiet on this blog for the last part of the Yes campaign. We, and other feminist and social justice fellow travellers, were mostly busy doing other stuff: leafleting; hosting stalls; canvassing; registering voters; going on marches and rallies; writing in other channels; helping with other #indyref groups like Women for Indy, Scottish Asians for Yes, etc.; discussing indy with relatives, co-workers, neighbours and friends; etc. etc.

In the wider movement, no real feminist challenge to the various campaign activities took hold. None of the pro-indy leaders and coordinators thought the issues important to intersectional feminism, beyond “reaching women so they vote Yes”, were important to Yes. “Wait until after the revolution”: the standard cry of patriarchal movements going back forever, was implicit.

This is a shame, and it is something we need to remedy now, as the Yes campaign morphs into a movement to achieve, come hell or high water, the things we wanted independence to give Scotland. It is early days and we, all 1.6 million (and growing) of us, are still reeling and weeping and raging and basically working through our grief as we evolve into something new and powerful. We are becoming excited again about the potential for a new Scotland.

But from Village Aunties’ point-of-view, let’s be clear about a few things first:

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A feminist analysis of the potentials and pitfalls of Scottish independence

Book coverThere’s a new book out, you may have heard: Scottish Independence: A Feminist Response by Cat Boyd and Jenny Morrison – they have already had a launch in Edinburgh at the famous radical bookshop Word Power, and there is a Glasgow launch next week at Mono on Tuesday 26th, 6.30pm. I hear the Edinburgh launch was really successful with around 50 people squeezing themselves into that lovely wee space.

Disclaimer: Jenny is a pal of mine and I know very well how little time she and Cat had to write it- three weeks from start to publication. And I hope everyone will understand how tricky it was to reduce a potentially huge topic into something readable and useful for bringing undecided feminists over to considering a Yes vote (I know they didn’t want to just preach to the converted).

It is a very slim volume so don’t be afraid to pick it up and dip in. It still manages to cover a lot of ground and is, to my mind, a good primer on over-arching feminist approaches to and analyses of the issues around Scottish idependence.

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Another ‘better together’ opportunity lost

This is my only my second post for the village aunties. In my first post I said that I wanted to “be properly engaged and informed from all sides” in the independence debate, and I made a plea to both sides not to “rely on scare tactics . . .”.  Some time has passed since that post, and I’m still waiting for that engagement. However, an interview with Alistair Darling published in the Sunday Observer has engaged something today which has prompted me to take to the blog again.

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Feminists letting the side down

[CONTENT NOTE: mention of rape and violence against women and girls]

Some feminists are in denial.

They need to understand that even in this modern age where so many feminist gains have been made, many girls and women are still living in a kind of hell. The system of sexual bondage and oppression they are subject to is global.

While some affluent women in Western societies claim they enter this bondage by choice, and some countries even have laws protecting their rights, many, many girls and women have been coerced or sold into sexual servitude.

To this day, even in Europe and North America, some underage girls and young women are taken either against their will, or with promises that are lies, across internal and national borders. They are then shocked to find they are required to have unwanted sex; to be raped, by men that they did not choose, are not attracted to, and cannot escape.

Even the so-called “choice” practitioners of this system often do not know what they are getting themselves into. The situation is so bad that many women die every year, often when trying to exit; killed by the men who abuse and rape them. The police cannot always help them, and if they are stigmatised by other factors, such as being poor, or drug users, they are so much less likely to be deemed worthy of help.

Often they have children to their abusers, and are then further trapped as they need to try to protect and support their children, compromising their ability to escape. Although, conversely, it is often the welfare of their children that gives them the final bit of courage to do so. There is some help for these women provided by the state, but it is never enough; services are always under pressure and indeed are being cut.

Some of these women, of course, always feel that they made the right choice, but even they may wake up one day and think “this isn’t for me” for any number of reasons. But due to the patriarchal, capitalist set-up of our society, even these privileged, empowered “choice feminists” still come up against various barriers to leaving. And life afterwards is often very hard, financially and emotionally. Sometimes they go back or try a different configuration of the same set-up. Sometimes they just stay and numb themselves with alcohol, drugs, or other addictions.

What I find difficult to believe is that there are actually feminists, real self-proclaimed feminists out there who willingly enter this servitude, proclaiming that because they feel they have their full rights under law, it is safe for them to do so. They even seem happy and proud. And they want more people to have the right to do what they do, despite the inherent risks!

Surely, so many of them will awaken one day realising that they made the wrong choice; that they have let all women down by supporting an institution that historically is not and cannot be beneficial to women, no matter how you try to dress it up with “rights”. In the meantime they are letting all women down by propagating a myth. They are the pathetic mouthpieces (witting or unwitting) of the individual men, and the patriarchal capitalist system, that this form of bondage supports.

Don’t get married.

Abolish marriage.

For more on the topic of sex work and feminism, see http://www.sexworkeropenuniversity.com/ and http://glasgowsexworker.wordpress.com/ plus the recent Storify laying out what happened when some sex worker led organisations tried to add their voices to a discussion on sex work at a feminist conference: http://storify.com/fornicatrix/left-out-in-the-cold-sex-workers-at-notts-women-s. And if you want an intro to how one feminist decided to throw her weight 100% behind sex workers rights, see our very own post on that topic here – it contains many more links to good resources to help you understand and think through the issues for yourself.

Village Aunties at the Independence March and Rally 2013

So we went:

Village Aunties take the train to the 2013 Indy March and Rally

Village Aunties take the train to the 2013 Indy March and Rally

Then we waved our banner about and enjoyed the march and rally greatly (we even got a round of applause as we walked up Cockburn Street, plus many many photies taken of us and congratulations on our sheer existence):

Village Aunties banner at the indy rally on Calton Hill.

Village Aunties banner at the indy rally on Calton Hill.

(Many thanks to Auntie Sveinn Jah for the above photo).

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Village Aunties celebrate Bi Visibility Day

Today is Bi Visibility Day.

Bi Flag

Bi Flag

There has been a growing tendency for trans* and genderqueer activists to dis bisexuality as an identity that, they claim, reifies the binary in gender and sexuality. In simpler words, they think the “bi” in bisexuality reinforces people’s idea that there are only two genders and/or sexes, which is inherently oppressive and/or transphobic. The following linked post gives a decent breakdown of how these ideas came about, and offers a rebuttal, from Radical Bi, and does a much better job than I ever could. Please read it first if you feel like taking issue with this post: http://radicalbi.wordpress.com/2011/02/22/words-binary-and-biphobia-or-why-bi-is-binary-but-ftm-is-not/.

Defining your identity

I have been an out bisexual for my whole adult life (and in my teens too), and spent a good number of years doing bi activism and grassroots, unfunded peer support work. I am also a feminist cis woman who will fight to my dying breath to include and support and stand up for trans* folk, genderqueer folk, sex workers, and those subject to racism, ableism, and all manner of other oppression and abuse, in everything I do.

I am 47 years old, and I have seen generation after generation of activists find new Really Good Reasons to make bisexual identity invalid and/or invisible. Yet I spent years supporting, validating and listening to all kinds of bisexuals (some life-long, some at a stopping point to and from other identities) who found it the right identity to express their sexuality, and who found the bi community a welcoming and supportive place.

I have been shouted down and shamed and ignored and tokenised by prominent and not-so-prominent gay and lesbian activists and organisations (*cough*Stonewall*cough*) enough times to burn me out several times over, and I have lived through the suicides and breakdowns of several fellow bisexuals. I will not be taking any shit from a new generation of queer activists.

I can say that of all the communities and groups I’ve ever been involved with, the bi community and its events have always been the most inclusive and self-reflective by a long long way. At Bi Glasgow and subsequent groups Bi Edinburgh and Bi Scotland, we used to work very closely with trans* community groups and there was a lot of cross-over in meetings and cons and other groups. Of course, no community or group is perfect on these counts and the above-linked post by Bi Radical teases some of this out with a bit more nuance.

I am now a bi-dyke as I have been in a same sex relationship for 7 years and will not step away from being lesbian-identified; I am in solidarity with lesbians and other women who love women; we bear a huge brunt of misogyny and homophobia – when I was young in the 80s, “bi-dyke” was a thing, we even had badges. I am not making any of this up (see the Bi Radical Tumblr for all kinds of radical bi stuff). I am also happy to identify as queer when it serves solidarity. But come at my bi comrades and I will be answering back!

And, ooh, look, Stavvers has done a post too :-)

Weekend Mum

Maternity leave is over. Five mornings out of seven, I get up at six, feed Jimmy his milk and banana, wash and dress while he’s still eating and leave, shutting the door behind me; by 7.30 at the latest.
I don’t think about him at work. I even try not to think about work when I’m with him. I just concentrate on doing one thing at a time, to the best of my ability.  It’s easy because I enjoy almost everything I do. I live a good life. A man’s life really. I shut the door behind me and go off to argue with tribunal judges, write training materials on the bedroom tax, talk to other adults and eat lunch while reading the paper.
I enjoy the security and pleasure of a family life without any cost to my career or my sense of self.
I reckon if I was a stay at home mum, I’d want a husband like me. One, who helps in the mornings, gets home for the bedtime routine and still does a hand’s turn around the kitchen. Nick doesn’t always agree. There are certain things around the house that neither of us has taken responsibility for. It’s not clear whose job they are and they cause little arguments and resentment every time they need doing.
I contemplate career progression and speculate aloud about going for promotion. Not yet of course, some time far in the future, when Jimmy’s at secondary school and doesn’t need me about so much.
Nick is amazed at this. “No Man would think like that” he says and I consider things from another angle. I’m the bread winner now. Perhaps that’s a responsibility worth taking seriously as well.
2 days out of 5, I play fun weekend mum. I take Jimmy to soft play, to the library, to the swimming pool. We sit in little Italian cafes so he can eat pieces of penne off my saucer and charm the waiters into tolerating our mess.
“Is he old enough for the zoo yet?” I wonder aloud and Nick says “No, not quite. Perhaps in another 6 months” I don’t know these things anymore. I have to ask.
Jimmy’s eyes light up when he sees Nick enter the room and he does that delighted little baby squeak. Nick holds him close and I see how easy they are with each other now.
“I love to see you two together like that” I tell Nick; “It’s a real reassurance to me to know, he’s being cared for so well, while I’m away at work”
Apparently this is also something a man would never say, which surprises me. As a good Marxist, I always assume material conditions determine consciousness. Living this husband’s life- I imagined my concerns would be similar to any of the fathers at my work.
“Oh no, Men don’t have that sense of responsibility. We see children as competition if anything.”
My husband is not one of those men who would describe themselves as a feminist.
He’s something better than that. A man who is willing to let me in on what men are really like- instead of always trying to convince me of how different he is from the others.
I know what he says is true. How else to account for the increased risk of domestic violence when women are pregnant or have recently given birth? It would be a mistake to assume violent men are the aberrations. Every heterosexual relationship plays out in the shadow of those same power relations.
On some deep level I have known this already. That deep pleasure I feel when I see them getting on together. I can name it. It is relief.

Breast Feeding Awareness Week

23rd to 27th of June was apparently breastfeeding awareness week. This is the kind of information you become party to in the Mumsnet Bloggers Network. (which on my personal blog- I’m in!: http://eccentricseal.blogspot.co.uk)  Some bloggers have used this as an opportunity to post about their own breastfeeding experiences- so I thought I’d have a go. A little late, but still….

 Jimmy was born by cesarean section: a little scrap of life, just 4lb 2oz, whisked away from me before I could hold him. I was bouncing off the walls from morphine, and shaky from some really dramatic blood loss when I was asked for permission for the nurses to “just give him his first feed” of formula.

 This I happily did, taking the “just” at face value. It wasn’t like that of course and Jimmy ended up spending a full 10 days on SCBU (Special Care Baby Unit).

 He wasn’t even drinking formula in the end.  He was so little that any kind of sustenance made his blood sugar jump about like a metronome in an earthquake. They fed him glucose through a drip in his arm. He was like a little humming bird.

 Visiting your own baby in SCBU is awkward. It’s your child and you have the right to be there, of course. But you’re also hanging around someone else’s workplace. You are allowed to help care for him, but it feels a little like playing with dollies. Your presence is not exactly necessary.

 On the other hand- being apart from your baby feels mildly but unmistakably wrong. The mildness decreasing with the amount of time spent away. For 10 days, I had the choice between sitting in a rather boring, overheated room feeling socially awkward; or sitting in the comfort of my own home feeling wrong.

 On top of that the social services investigation was still on-going (the whole lengthy sage is detailed here http://eccentricseal.blogspot.co.uk for those that are interested) so I felt like my visits were being scrutinised. In retrospect they almost certainly were.  I found myself doing things like unnecessarily bringing in little blankets from home, despite the perfectly adequate bedding he was already wrapped in- purely because bringing in blankets felt like something a loving mother might be expected to do.

 So, Jimmy took glucose through his drip. Then he took milk through a tube in nose. Then finally milk by mouth. The milk by mouth bit was important because it was a condition of him being able to leave hospital.

 There was a period where there was nothing medically wrong with him; he even known to be capable of sucking, because he’d been given a bottle for a night feed once.  But he wasn’t allowed to come home because I’d said I wanted to breastfeed, and he hadn’t done that yet.

He wasn’t going to either- the way things were going. Jimmy’s feeds were scheduled for once every 4 hours. I was managing to make maybe 2 or 3 of them per day. I would hold him up to the breast and he would look up at me sweetly and… do nothing. He’d never been hungry in his life and I think sucking simply didn’t occur to him.

We would just sit there together until the nurses got bored of it and then Jimmy would have a feed through his tube and then I would put him down. I knew we were never going to get started with these few, regulated minutes of practice per day. But I was never going to get him home until we’d got started.

Now- I’m a person who’s cautious with her optimism. I like contingency plans. I like to scope out the worst option ahead of time and make my peace with it. So I’d already decided that if I couldn’t manage to breast feed, i wouldn’t let it bother me. In my opinion, people got altogether too invested in this kind of thing. They placed too much pressure on themselves and then allowed their own expectations to spoil their happiness. I wouldn’t be making the same mistake. If it worked out for me, fine. If not- I’d move on.

 And this was not working out. It’s instinctual to want to be with your child. Everything in my being was telling me that he needed to be with me. Far, far more than he needed vitamins or immunity from diseases, or hormones or any of the other undoubted benefits of breast milk; he needed just to be with me.

 And yet, and yet…

 As I faced up to jettisoning the breastfeeding, I did worry. I wrung my hands over it. I even ended up phoning a very uninterested, childless friend for advice:

 “You want to give your baby a bottle?” He asked nonplussed “What’s in the bottle? Is it Buckfast?”

 Pro tip: Childless friends are great for perspective.

 In the end, it didn’t come to that. My ceaseless lobbying for a place in Transitional Care finally won out.

Despite professional concerns that I would “Go mad with post puerperal psychosis” if I were placed there “too early,” I was finally given a private room where I could just hang out with my baby in peace and take 15 minutes fiddling about with the latch if we needed to. Which we frequently did.

We were there for a weekend and it turned out to be the most idyllic two days of my life. Jimmy fed like a trouper, and then slept happily. I read books and phoned friends and wrote discussion pieces on the acrimonious breakup of a far left group I was involved with at the time.

I had a huge sunny window and a comfy hospital bed and my baby sleeping beside me, smelling of sweetness and peace.  I did not develop post puerperal psychosis. I was more deeply contented than I’ve ever been. Perhaps since I was a baby myself.

Jimmy is coming up to a year old now. He eats macaroni and bread crusts and cheese and chocolate cake. I’ve moved him onto formula during the day so I can return to work, but he still enjoys a good feed of breast milk first thing in the morning and last thing at night.

So my breastfeeding experience is a happy one and it all worked out.

 But for me, breastfeeding was also, as I suspect it is for a lot of people; a quick and dirty lesson in compromise. In the necessity of doing, not the “best” thing for your child; but the best thing in the circumstances. The death of that exacting pressure we are encouraged to place on ourselves.

And for that, I am also grateful.

A Sorry Sort of Privilege

There’s a description in Carol Craig’s excellent book: The Tears that made the Clyde
of women and children hanging around the gates of factories and shipyards, or outside pubs. It was pay day and they were hoping to run into their men folk and shame them into giving them something from their pay to run the household, before everything was drunk away.
 At the time, it was common, accepted practice, for the man take all the money and spend it on his own pleasures. So much so, that trade unionists, recognising alcoholism as a problem, had a campaign to persuade landlords to refuse service once half of a man’s pay had been drunk.
 In other words, the most progressive, left wing men around at that time thought that it was reasonable for one member of a household, to spend half of the entire money for a family, for one week, on himself, in a single night.
 I read this, with a short lived sense of relief at how far we had come.
Short lived until I noticed the number of adult men coming into the advice centre, where I then worked, with raging substance issues and cheerfully tell me about the financial help they were getting from aged parents, from girlfriends, from ex partners even.
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Buffy in Scotland – Choice, Women’s Power and Independence

buff4x

About ten years have passed since the final episode of the series Buffy the Vampire Slayer aired on TV. Series creator Joss Whedon, who spoke in the Glasgow Film Theatre at this year’s Glasgow Film Festival, showed that pop culture can be non-sexist, a profound social commentary, deeply philosophical and entertaining at the same time. Buffy, Willow, and many other protagonists continue to be role models for generations of young women. Do we all need to become superheroes to change the world around us? With the economic downturn, climate change and biosphere decline threatening our livelihoods, it seems like that at times. But with the Scottish referendum comes a rare opportunity to envision change on a larger scale, by choosing a different path – a path which is not set on destruction, but on renewal, and on cherishing the things that matter to improve the quality of life for all. As a tribute to the ten year anniversary of the closing of the series, let’s imagine what Buffy would make of the Scottish Independence campaign…

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