Thursday, 20 March 2014

Why Scotland is the woman in this "relationship"

This post is going to contain some references to psychological domestic violence.

One of the reasons I started thinking about how feminism relates to the independence debate is because of the way the referendum has been described, again and again, as the break-up of a romantic couple. It's going to be "a messy divorce" (The Economist), "divorces seldom finish amicably" (The Telegraph) and it looks like this divorce is increasingly "hostile" (according to the former Scottish Secretary via BBC News). This was probably most infamously seen in the awful Katie Hopkins clip in which (at 1:42) she compares Scotland to a wife who wants to leave and take everything with her (managing to be both anti-Scottish and misogynistic in one fell swoop).

Writing for The Guardian, Libby Brooks noticed this trend and, referring to Dale Spender's Man Made Language (1980), blames this comparison on good old-fashioned sexism, commenting (quite rightly) that, "whenever a party or an institution or even a country is to be portrayed as feckless, fickle or flighty, writers head straight for the big book of gender generalisations". But, to me anyway, it feels like something more complicated is going on.

One of the reasons I have for this is that the metaphor of the relationship is not just being used by right-wingers and free-marketeers. It is also being used by Scottish people who want a Yes vote. On the National Collective website, Kezia Kinder says, "David Cameron was right, the UK is like a family. But it’s a family that doesn’t work, so come September 18th, let’s file for divorce” and Lady Alba in her hilarious pro-indy cover of "Bad Romance" compares voting "Naw" to a masochistic relationship with lyrics such as " I want your love though I know it's wrang, I like being told whit I should dae". It should be noted that when Scottish or pro-independence people use this metaphor they're not recasting England as the woman, the gender difference remains the same.

This is probably because everyone recognises the power imbalance between Scotland and England; it's clear that England (read: London) holds the power at the moment, that's what this whole thing is about after all! So Scotland is the woman, despite the raging, self-destructive masculinity some of our men are so famous for and the relative effeminacy of the posh boys of the Tory front bench.

I'm going to make a more controversial argument, though, rather than simply leave it at that. I think that the rhetoric of the debate hasn't been so much like a healthy relationship, but more like the fucked up push-me-pull-you of an abusive relationship. Lady Alba was joking when she said that our relationship with the Tories was masochistic, but now I'm seriously saying that the way the Tories (and the other Westminster parties, lest we forget) treat this country is abusive, and the parallels with domestic violence are the source of the impact of the divorce/separation metaphor. It's just that, like in so many relationships between individuals, you get so used to the low level abuse, those microaggressions and the gaslighting, that you stop noticing after a while that something is wrong. You accept "abusive" as normal. And this isn't just a problem for the Scottish people, it's a problem for everyone in the UK (but I'll get to that in a later post).

First of all, England (read: those who hold power and use it to forward Westminster's No message) as Scotland's abusive husband. They say you're not pulling your weight. That you only get by on their sufferance, because they bail you out. They say no one else would want you (the EU). They say that, if you decide to leave, don't expect them to let you have an easy life, they'll do everything in their power to make everything as difficult for you as they possibly can. They have control of your money (the pound), your financial independence (the Bank of England), they even decide who you can talk to and limit your contact with the outside world (through the BBC and other biased media). They have control of your transport, you can't move freely without them checking on you (through border controls). But they love you really- they just don't want you to go.

This is the kind of rhetoric we're hearing from south of the border. If this were a relationship between two individuals, you would call that an abusive relationship. If your friend told you that this was the way her boyfriend spoke to her you'd do everything you could to support her, you'd worry for her health, you'd pray that she'd find the opportunity to leave.

In Scotland we have major problems with domestic abuse. There's a lot of male violence against women in the home and the Scottish government tends to recognise it as an important area for preventative measures.  Professor Rachel Pain, writing for Scottish Women's Aid, called it "everyday terrorism". It's a process by which someone uses their intimate knowledge of you and your life to control you, to close down your options and to make you feel like you can't leave. I think the reason why we've kept talking about a "divorce", and the reason why we've kept Scotland as the "woman" is because we're recognising this dynamic, the invisible background to so many of our own lives, on a subconscious level. I don't think Yes campaigners are necessarily less sexist than their Better Together equivalents, I don't think that's why we keep the gender dynamic the same when we use the metaphor of the relationship to talk about the referendum. I think it's because we've seen these tactics before, and we recognise them. No wonder they call themselves Project Fear.

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