This is by Glasgow-based feminist activist Amy Westwell, and was originally published here.
In the coming months feminists across Scotland will be working on this to ensure that Scotland’s future is a feminist one. If you want to get involved please do get in touch with Amy.
A Feminist Call to Arms
Scottish national identity will be shaped, created and clarified in the run up to the referendum. The next two years will be a fundamentally important time for Scottish political and cultural consciousness: the time for radical change is not after the referendum, but here and now. At times, even those who don’t admit to a “tartan messiah” mentality seem to believe that the path is already marked out, and that we must merely win the referendum, then set about changing Scotland. Even if this were to be true for left-wing politics, I cannot conceive that it is true for feminism.
Scotland’s culture is extremely patriarchal. This is true in many countries, and in many different cultures. But what makes this a burning issue is that Scottish culture will have a tendency to be glorified in the next two years. Whether this is Scottish left culture (Red Clydeside, strong Trade Unions), or Scottish social democratic culture (public services and free education), or particularly Scottish patriarchal culture (Football supporters, Masculinity), nationalism is hardly ever genuinely framed in terms of women.
I am committed to Scotland, especially to women in Scotland. I cannot and will not, however, connect with the nationalist myth, that Scotland’s political culture is superior to England’s, because I think that to focus on this obscures the extreme levels of gender, race, LGBT and class oppression in Scottish society. What is special about the independence referendum is not that self-determination will allow us to live the dream, but that the debate around national determination can become a vehicle for the self-determination of oppressed groups. This requires genuine political engagement on the part of the Scottish population.
I think that feminists should question the significance of self-determination for Scotland if the political consciousness created in the next two years has no feminist elements, if there is not some kind of Scottish consciousness of feminism which is expressed politically or culturally, and seems to be creative or developing. We need to be moving towards a referendum with a clear and steady view of Scotland’s problems: Scotland’s existing poverty and inequality, and Scotland’s misogyny.
How can we create a feminist consciousness in Scotland in the next two years and beyond?
Where we can fight for change
The timing of same-sex marriage becoming a political issue was near-perfect. There are now few people in Scotland who are not aware that Scotland is politically active in terms of LGBT* equality, and many who feel a strong sense of pride that we are progressive in this sphere. This is not to say that Scottishness is now equated with LGBT* liberation, but that this is the first step along a long road, where previously there had been consistent connection of Scottish national identity with hostility towards LGBT* folk.
This model is useful for considering the potential impact of feminist being high on the political agenda in the next two years.
Here is a non-exhaustive list of possible high-profile, probably parliament-based, campaigns:
- Funding for Scottish Women’s Organisations, such as Women’s Aid, and Rape Crisis Scotland.
- Promoting affordable childcare.
- Promoting pay-equality
- Abortion in Scotland is currently under the same restrictions as in England. We could run a movement for women’s self-determination. Why would we want Scotland’s Right to Choose without a woman’s Right to Choose?
- Changing the law on rape, to challenge ideas that women exist in a permanent state of consent. Changing courtroom and police procedure on rape, such as the use of sexual history and character evidence. These kind of campaigns are already being promoted, but could be embodied in a much less disparate way.
- The End Prostitution Now campaign intends to promote the introduction of laws analogous to Swedish prostitution laws.
These more specific issues would be the starting point for much more radical and broad change. These campaigns could take the form of:
- Challenging domestic abuse
- Challenging “sex-object culture” in the media and in our society.
- Challenging rape culture
Where we stand
We have a multitude of committed feminist organisations in Scotland, the most well-known being perhaps Scottish Women’s Aid and Rape Crisis Scotland.
More can be done to make these organisations identified with and related to by Scots. There are also many committed feminists in Scotland who identify with these organisations, but do not feel empowered to act.
We also have a highly committed network of Student Feminist Societies willing to put time and effort into campaigning for change.
We have two female party leaders, and one particularly strong deputy leader. 34% of MSPs are women.
We have trade unions fighting for the rights of public sector workers, many of whom are women. We have higher female leadership in unions than we have had before.
The SNP wants to avoid perpetuating its patriarchal nationalist stereotype.
We have a proud history of Scottish women. This should be promoted as a normative Scottish history of Scotland, to negate the Scottish male myth. We also have a proud history of feminism.
We have a female makar. We have other strong female cultural figures: Elaine C. Smith, Jackie Kay.
As the referendum approaches: there is much consideration of Scottish national identity. There is a tendency to idealise this identity, to talk of Scottish communitarian spirit, Scottish egalitarianism, or more demonstrably Scottish pride in free university education and free prescriptions.
These elements necessarily coincide with the Scottish identity that revolves around football, drinking, and other male-dominated spheres. And as with any nationalism with a historic basis, the Scottish national stereotype favoured by political movements from the socialist left to the SNP is male: it has elements of Burns, Scott, Macdiarmid, Maclean, but hardly ever a woman.
It is not merely that women are conspicuously absent in this national identity, but actively repressed. The stereotypical Scottish male is strong, aggressive, and it is no longer necessary to argue that there is a strong link between football and domestic violence.
We need to actively create a Scottish women’s national identity. This can draw on the past, but I believe that fundamentally, it should be a creative and liberating national identity, stemming from women in Scotland today. Scottish male identity must also be recreated.
And where to start
Firstly, I’m calling for a broad feminist debate in Scotland. This could be online, or in newspapers, or at conferences. We need to be writing, and thereby dominating the Scottish political sphere.
I’d like feminists from across Scotland to be brought together to discuss ideas.
I’d like organisations to be brought together in a coherent network. This could perhaps start with a national student feminist movement.
I’d like different generations to be brought together to discuss their vision of a feminist Scotland. We have a huge number of feminists who set up local Women’s Aid and Rape Crisis groups, but little interaction with younger generations.