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

Cross-posted on A Burdz Eye View after Kate Higgins serendipitously invited me to write a response to Joan McAlpine’s article, on the 15th anniversary of my arrival in Scotland from New Zealand (yeah, today)!

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 did was tantalise me with 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.


5 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. auntiewestendwendy
    Mar 07, 2012 @ 13:29:53

    Sarah, thank you – what an excellent article and, as you say a real turning point. We can agree to differ and be stronger for it. So glad you came to Scotland and are getting people like me more engaged.


    • Morag Eyrie
      Mar 07, 2012 @ 13:35:25

      Thank you Auntie Wendy! :-)

      My next move: I will be organising some blog-post-writing workshops for women. Village Aunties workshops! With the aim of mutual support, information and tips sharing, and coming out the other end with at least a draft to work on for posting on women’s own blogs or the Aunties.

      Would you be interested in taking part? We could use your professional and Aunties-related tips, and maybe you could write something new as well!


  2. Morag Eyrie
    Mar 07, 2012 @ 20:59:37

    Hey, there are some substantive, even argumentative comments happening over on the Burdz Eye View version of this article! In case anyone wants to check ’em out.


  3. Downy
    Mar 08, 2012 @ 13:12:29

    I love your optimistic comments on sisterly disagreement.
    It would be very interesting to see whether those bonds remained intact when having a real go at a Labour or similar Unionista.
    You see, I’m not that optimistic.
    I’ve read so much real, nasty stuff out there that I despair. Just see George Foulkes’s contributions.
    I sincerely believe that the Matter of the Union transcends politics, feminist principles and simple “Queensbury Rules.”
    It’s all bound up with “self” that’s it’s not about identifying with a particular routeway to cure the world’s ills (or Scotland’s nor, indeed the UK’s).
    It’s all about individual’s career paths, expenses, foreign travel, publicly payed lifestyle and if your good, and support the lucky people in first class free junket travel and second home in London, well here’s a gong in the Honour’s list and stuff the kids living in poverty.
    That’s The Union and you can bet that those who benefit will do everything in their power to ensure that the gravy train keeps-a-rollin’
    The reaction to Joan’s article is just that. A deep seated fear that it’s all going to come to a halt. Joan could have used a metaphor of a gobstopper or free flying bird or anything and it would have brought the same self righteous vindictive. You see (again) The Union is precious; if you’re making a good little earner from it, or have vested interests and, by extension, don’t give two hoots for the kids in poverty. Which, in my experience, sadly, is what I sincerley believe.


  4. Morag Eyrie
    Mar 08, 2012 @ 16:16:22

    Hi Downy. I don’t disagree. I was feeling warm and fuzzy about discussions among women within the pro-independence movement. However, I wouldn’t descend to disrespectful responses even to the worst Tory or Unionist or BritNat Labourite or whoever. At least not on the public blog-o-sphere.. what I say in the privacy of my own home is a different matter!


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