15 November 2010

Will you Go Laddie Go?

“... the paradox facing women in Scotland is that the debate on nationalism in Scotland has ignored gender, and feminist debates on nationalism have ignored Scotland.” Breitenbach, Brown and Myers, 1997)

Over at Bella Caledonia, they've been having a week long celebration of women writers which commenced with a piece from Caitlin O'Hara, who asks two questions which I suspect reflect the discussion at Positively Independent. O'Hara asks, firstly, why is the image of Scottish nationalism so male? and secondly, why do fewer women support independence? Contrawise, Lena the Hyena is less convinced by the idea that Scottishness is hegemonically masculine:

"Historically women have been engaged in all kinds of causes and movements during very masculine periods of history i.e. throughout the whole of time. Women support and engage with struggles for what they have to gain through them. There has to be a reason for participation. Surely it doesn’t matter if the independence message comes in a male or female voice. It is what is contained in the message that will spark an interest or not."

Joan McAlpine responds by suggesting we should focus on the "cultural reasons why men are more likely to be attracted to independence than women.", contending that perceptions are "not about gender representation" in institutions, but instead should focus on the "social factors". Among these, she argues that "Women are more emotionally driven, they have strong ties to friends and family in England" and that it is crucial that the independence campaign acknowledges these bonds." Moreover, Joan plucks out a few

"cultural issues that could explain the gender divide. One is football. While more women are now interested in the game, it does remain a predominantly male obsession. Supporting the Scotland team is an expression of cultural nationalism that many men absorb as boys".

I read these contributions with interest, not least because they echo many issues sketched elsewhere before.  I was particularly struck by the extent to which the contributions at Bella echo an edition of Scottish Affairs from more than a decade ago, in 1997. In her introduction on gender and national identity, Alice Brown writes about the ways "in which the discourse on national identity and nationalism itself tends to be gendered, often excluding both the experience and contribution of women." In a pre-devolutionary political context, she argued that this could be:

"...illustrated by examining the data from the Scottish Election Survey carried out at the last general election which demonstrates a gender gap in the constitutional preferences of men and women and the way in which they describe their identity. More women than men stated their support for a Scottish 'Assembly' (52.5% as against 46.1%), while more men than women preferred independence in the European Community (20.7% compared to 14.1%) and also total independence (7.2% men and 4.3% women). Asked to say which statement best described how they saw themselves, more men than women described themselves as 'Scottish not British' (20.7% as against 18%) and 'Scottish more than British' (42.9% versus 37.7%). However, more women than men saw themselves as 'equally Scottish and British' (36.5% women and 28.5% men). This is just one example of the way in which issues related to national identity and nationalism may be interpreted differently by women and men. The point is that we have little understanding of the explanations for such differences and whether or not they would be reproduced if we examined other indicators."

In the same number, Breitenbach published ‘“Curiously rare?” Scottish women of interest or The suppression of the female in the construction of national identity’. Engaging with the partialities of the historical record, Breitenbach speaks about the historical elision of women and takes Hugh McDairmid to task for his claim that “Scottish women of any historical interest are curiously rare. Our leading Scotswomen have been almost entirely destitute of exceptional endowments of any sort”.  On Joan's issue of football, I thought you might be particularly interested in this paper by Dr Irene Reid, published in 2004, which examines the issue much more concertedly, entitled ‘“What about the flowers of Scotland?” Women and sport in Scottish Society’.  In the second edition of his Understanding Scotland: the Sociology of a Nation (2001), David McCrone reiterates Alice Brown's argument, but draws on different opinion-research to rebut her central contention. There is, he suggests:

‘a general assumption that women have a different relationship to national identity from men, that the iconography of Scottishness is so overwhelmingly masculine – war, work, football, tartan and so on – that being Scottish is not open to them … analysis of the survey data does not support this. In each case, more women than men opt for Scottish identity if asked to choose’ (p. 168).

We could exchange figures all day and invest our doubloons in study after study. For myself, I find McCrone more convincing, not least because the differences Brown outlined don't always strike me as particularly significant (a word used here in a resolutely unstatistical sense). Indeed, what seems to me to be the more interesting question is how people conceive of the ‘alternative ways of being Scottish’ (McCrone 2001, 144), rather than asking them brute binary questions demanding affiliation one way of t'other. This more nuanced, contextual, qualitative approach towards gender analysis is still in a nascent stage in Scotland. Academically speaking, whether researching the social lives of contemporary Scotland or its historical worlds, Scottish gender analyses are transdisciplinary, unfocussed, scattered. 

'A constant feature of writing on women in Scotland is a lamentation of the fact that there is so little work on the subject. It would indeed be true to say that many studies of Scottish society, history and culture have been gender blind, and that it is only recently that this is beginning to be remedied through the development of a feminist analysis’ (Breitenbach et al. 1998, 44)

I am equally conscious that a pro-feminist male writer ought to be cautious about how he engages with these discussions. Some feminist writers go further, arguing that "the authorisation of men as critics and speaker for feminist concepts indicated the victory of a male feminist perspective that excludes women" (Modleski 1991, 14). There is something deeply paradoxical about men who adopt a feminist analysis who then employ this analysis to recover the patriarchal dividends and recommence lecturing women on what they ought to be. In short, they forgo a chauvinist theory but not their chauvinist practice.  This character has innumerable clones in other settings and movements. Consider the  phenomenon of the alfalpha males of the political left, who may talk about emancipation and freedom from oppression, but in the aggressive, lecturing accents of tyrants.  This is at its most problematic when one meets (often) young women, conceptually thirled to a post-feminist story, who often prove highly resistant to the discussion of any social phenomena in terms of gender.

However, in the interests of brevity, I thought I'd pick up on one issue raised in all of the pieces at Bella - the male, Scottish masculinity and "its" relationship with national identity and constitutional attitudes. My case is it is useful to recognise that the concept is no less problematic and in trying to understand why women may think differently about these issues, we should be exceedingly cautious about rebuilding and maintaining the hackneyed stereotypes about masculinity which dominate our public discourses about gender and Scottishness. The issue first struck me particularly strongly in the reading of a Scottish “glass-ceiling” article, first published in the Sunday Times in 1996. The discussion focussed on “high powered” classically bourgeois occupations and the relative absence of women promoted into such circles. Barbara Littlewood afforded this analysis which neatly captures many of the problems about talking about masculinity in a Scottish context:

Scotland’s culture is very macho, the images of working-class culture are masculine and don’t portray women very positively. There is an admiration for machismo that’s difficult to break through.” (My emphasis) 

What was striking about this analysis is how impertinent it seemed to the issues being discussed. The article concerned commercial executives, higher-echelon professionals. More pointedly, in a single sentence, Littlewood (presumably somewhat unconsciously) suggests that Scottish masculinity can be unproblematically located in (or conflated with) working class masculinities. Others have noticed this phenomenon before. Joan and Caitlin’s references to manhood, masculinity, being very male – can be read as drawing precisely on this ‘prevalent Scottish myth of an aggressively dominant masculinity, played out against an industrial backdrop’ (Scullion 1995, 179).

Interestingly, the idea of a hegemonically masculine Scottishness and hegemonic conceptions of masculinity seem strongly connected. Christopher Whyte has described the ‘representational pact’ of the Scottish middle classes, manifesting as the ‘demand on the part of the Scottish middle class for fictional representations from which it is itself excluded; a demand, in other words, for textual invisibility. This would connect with the widespread perception of the Scottish middle classes as ‘denationalised’ as less Scottish in terms of speech and social practice than the lower classes. The task of embodying and transmitting Scottishness is, as it were, devolved on the unemployed, the socially underprivileged, in both actually and representational contexts’ (Whyte 1998, 275). McMillan writes specifically about the bourgeois Scottish man, ‘encouraged through schooling and convention to anglify his speech, such distance from the ideal proletarian type results in feelings of both denationalisation and feminisation. He may be economically empowered, but if he has any investment either in national identity of a sense of manhood, or both, he must disavow his lack through identification with working-class forms’ (2003, 69 – 70). For myself, I think this assessment is too extreme. Although subordinated as part of the national story, there are many male historical figures who furnish resources by means of which the questing effete bourgeois Scotsman, without any passion for sport (for the avoidance of doubt, this is a fair description of yours truly), can resist this logic of denationalisation, drawing strength from the memory of David Hume, Adam Smith, Robert Louis Stevenson and so on. Equally, by unweaving this ideological woof and questioning the absurdly stereotyped way we talk about masculinities at a Scottish level, we're alerted to the other questions we ought to be asking. What about the role of place in the construction of gendered and national identities? How might this differ in Scotland's different "city states"? What about the masculinities of rural Scotland, fishing Scotland, islander Scotland, gay Scotland? - and so on, and so on.

So Joan's question recurs. We know the figures. We know that fewer women vote for political nationalism than men. To be clear, I'm resolutely not suggesting that this subject should be exclusively or primarily addressed as an issue of masculinity. However, if one conceives of gender concepts as being related to one another and mutually transformative, it is important to recognise that the maleness invoked in these discussions on independence and women is not in itself unproblematic, unambivalent, easily universal. Nor should I be taken to imply that it is the suffering, white, bourgeois, heterosexual Scottish men who we should really be feeling for. Women's subordination in the semiotics of Scotland is undeniably far more radical and consequently demands much more attention and emphasis. My point is that we shouldn't take the analytic turn of imagining this as a women's issue which reifies rather than subverts "hard man Scotland". If we look beyond the tropes of Scottish masculinity - not as uninteresting or invalid in particular parts of the nation, but as a wildly skewed representation of the whole - we can pose exactly the same questions Joan, Lena and Caitlin ask about women and independence. We can try to understand the many different ways in which folk theorise, imagine, negotiate, reject or escape the connection between Scottish national identity and gender and  the struggles of definition and self-definition involved.


  1. LPW

    Some years ago, perhaps not too many, I might have found it easier to accept the conflation of maleness with nationalism but now I think this notion explains too little and leads us down a blind alley. I do recognise LPW’s lefty males who often just miss the point in their discourses about feminism so earnestly constructed and I agree wholeheartedly that we must be cautious about reinforcing perceived male/female stereotypes in an attempt to explain behaviour. Can we separate out this approach from the all too prevalent negative epithets applied to Scots in all manner of discussions which are largely aimed at men but not entirely: hard, mean, aggressive, drunken, unhealthy, lazy, blah, blah, blah?

    Rather than becoming depressed by the reported disparity between male and female notions of nationality I find the figures close enough to warrant optimism for the future of Scotland. This is not to doubt the validity of Caitlin O’Hara’s original piece and it’s good that she has got a debate going and I look forward to observing how events turn out over the coming months.

  2. Yes I do feel the debate keeps getting skewed towards an attack on Scottish masculinity. I personally have no problem with manliness ;-) I tried to make clear in my piece that football as cultural nationalism led men more easily to political nationalism. That's a good thing. I just wondered what the catalyst was for women. And I also pointed out - something you didn't mention LPW - that women are under more pressure to become anglicised. But thanks for the piece Mr Worrier. It was extremely scholarly, as per usual, and very useful to be reminded of arguments in a historical context.

  3. Lena,

    These things change of course, in bizarre, unnoticed ways. Certainly the quantitative picture implies something curious. Namely, that in bare numerical terms, women identify with Scottishness more or less to the same degree as their male fellow citizens. The interesting question becomes about the constellations of ideas which this is associated with - the distinctions drawn or not drawn - and the ways people reimagine their national identity in the context of their own life, oeuvres, environments and so on.

    As you suggest, there is also the tricky question - what is the relationship between attitudes and behaviour?

    I entirely agree with you that this is a matter for discussion - for drawing on resources, imagining, re-imagining, bearing our particular witness and mapping out a more complex, shifting totality.

  4. Joan,

    I wasn't interpreting your analysis as an assault on men - not at all - but it does strike me that if we focus on women, the question - why do men seem more "independence-minded" - risks becoming the untheorised, straightforward counterpoint to the ambivalent, complex, divided perspective of women. I was mostly trying to spread the uncertainty about a bit, along egalitarian gender lines! That said, I suspect the impression may have been generated by my "..." around your comments. This is simply an academic referential style I've been unable to shake off - rather than scarequotes suggesting that I was radically disagreeing with your assessment as harpyish or whatnot.

    An exceedingly interesting argument that, about the pressures of Anglicisation telling more significantly on women via cultural media. I wonder if you could flesh it out a bit? In particular, why you think

    Its implication, curiously enough, might be that the most emancipatory activity might be to compose a snazzy and swish Scottish script for the telly with, contrary to usual practice, a number of interesting female characters of all ages!

  5. I suspect we're about to see an illustration of why women are less inclined to vote for independence than men, following today's announcement. There will be a - doubtless carefully-timed - frenzied debauch of nauseous red-white-and-blue nonsense, and it will be disproportionately women who lap it up, buy the revolting china and the simpering coffee-table photograph books. It gars me grue already.

  6. Am Firinn,

    Neglecting the familiar folderol of the Queen's Speech, it was inevitable, eventually, that we'd be faced with a conjunction of Royalist-British Nationalism. It remains to be seen to what extent the wedding might provoke partisans to indulge in a civil religious, Durkheimean analysis along the lines of Edward Shils & Michael Young's (1953) "The Meaning of the Coronation", which claimed that Lizzie Windsor being awarded her jaggy jewellery bunnet represented "an act of national communion".

  7. Hmmm. Just notice in my reply to you Joan, I seem to have dropped off mid sentence. For clarity, although I think the general sense is clear, I was wondering why you think that observation particularly applies to women.