Changing the Maps

“My silences had not protected me. Your silence will not protect you.” – Audre Lorde

The question of ‘voice’ and how we communicate and how we organise has dominated online discussion in the last few days.

‘You are trying to silence me’ is one of those accusations that is thrown around and it is used because it has much weight.

In her collection of essays The Mother of All Questions Rebecca Solnit writes:

“Silence is the ocean of the unsaid, the unspeakable, the repressed, the erased, the unheard.”

She distinguishes ‘silence’ as that which is imposed and ‘quiet’ as something that is sought. They sound the same but feel very different.

“Quiet is to noise as silence is to communication. The quiet of the listener makes room for the speech of others, like the quiet of the reader taking words on the page, like the white paper taking ink.”

She points us to libraries as repositories of all the stories that have been told, all the voices that have been heard and privileged enough to be published and recorded but suggests there are ‘ghost libraries’ of all the stories that have not, arguing: “the ghosts outnumber the books by some unimaginably vast sum”.

The reasons for exclusion – for being silenced – are many and varied and as we try and develop understanding that is a valuable thing to remember.

“Poverty silences”.

Time, or lack of it, silences.

“I’m sorry I can’t get a babysitter” is probably the single most common response to a request to participate in a public event you will ever hear. But being responsible for someone else takes other forms than being a dad or a mum, and the internal domestic dynamics of parenting arrangements shouldn’t be assumed to be static or uniform. People are carers for their elderly or ill relatives. People can’t imagine public speaking. People are exhausted. People are untrained, unsure, people lack confidence.

Discussing voice in political movements for democracy is crucial and we need to develop better ways to exchange views and to develop. But the starting point has to be acknowledging the systemic and structural exclusion of women from the public realm, historic economic inequality and sustained contemporary violence. Feigning ignorance of these realities or deciding they are peripheral isn’t really credible for adults operating in a political movement.

You shouldn’t really need examples but here’s two. An everyday account of sexual assault – and an incident this week where  a woman reports rape to police – and is then arrested on immigration charges.

Much of the discussion about equality and representation has now turned to attacking those who raise these issues, accusing them of being part of a secret communist cult. There is talk of the need to ‘stamp them out’.

When people say that you have an “agenda” what they mean is you have an understanding of power.

When people talk of ‘social justice warriors’ they are using the language of the alt-right. When people deride ‘identity politics’ they are almost always from a section of society that already lives in privilege.

The independence movement will either reconcile itself or it will allow its vocal right-wing to engulf it and it will become a parody, a sub-culture operating only on the fringes of the online community in entirely sealed groups where people gather daily to enthusiastically agree with one another.

The Yes movement needs to be built on self-organisation and participation. The huge success of the independence movement in 2013-14 was the recognition of the need for new models for change, for multiple leadership, for mass participation, for doing things differently. The emergence of young people, of the women’s movement, of the disaffected was the major success of the campaign. That needs to be reclaimed and reasserted.

“The struggle of liberation has been in part to create the conditions for the formerly silenced to speak and be heard” writes Solnit.

There is huge good energy and goodwill and practical engaged and innovative people working together to get ready for the moment when we can find a way out of the nightmare that is being part of the British state.   To do that we need to innovate and find new routes and map a better course.

Solnit quotes the sci-fi writer Ursula Le Guin “We are volcanoes. When we women offer our experience as our truth, as human truth, all the maps change. There are new mountains.”

Changing the maps is the point of the independence movement, not just changing the flags.

Comments (15)

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  1. Kevin Williamson says:

    Timely article. Read the new books by Rebecca Solnit & Mary Beard. Listen to women. Include women. Consult with women especially on how to organise. These are win-win ABCs for any liberationist movement.

  2. Jim Stamper says:

    In the third last paragraph is the statement “we need to innovate and find new routes and map a better course.” There is a tool which exists and is being further developed which I believe could become a great help in achieving this. It is currently specifically with the Scottish independence movement in mind but I believe it can continue to do much more beyond Scottish independence. Look at https://nationalyesregistry.scot/

  3. Rummlie says:

    The problem is no longer the lack of women on the panel, the problem is the sexism that has been unleashed in response to the question of representation being raised. It’s not surprising to see some of the men’s responses, but the depressing part is the way many women deferred to the men, and joined in with the anti-woman rhetoric. The Othering of women who spoke up that has perpetuated on social media is quite depressing, especially since the people doing it think they are best placed to win IndyRef2.

    1. p says:

      The sexism came for the feminist harridans who attacked any man who dared to question their self-righteous fury. The sexism came from the feminist bitches who hate men. Despise men. Loathe men. Wish that men didn’t exist. the sexism came from the feminist cunts who attacked the woman who organised the meeting for having her own mind and not bowing down before their almighty cult

      The sexism comes form feminists who insist that women are weak little delicate flowers who can only understand things told to them by other women. Who can only ever be inspired by women. Can only believe anything told to them by women and not men. That’s sexism.

      The sexism comes from pathetic emasculated wanks like Mike small and his caderie of White Knights who come riding to the rescue any time one of their overladies is being humiliated by the truth. They still won’t fuck you, no matter how often you grovel and perform your lickspittle duties. Didn’t you learn that at your SWP meetings in college?

      BTW Social Justice Warriors as a term of abuse long predates the alt-right. Claiming that it belongs to them is just another way the cult of the right-on PC brigade shuts down and silences all dissent. Just like they use Manels, Mansplaining,crying Sexism,Racism, or fucking Transphobia to intimidate and abuse the 99% of the population who don’t belong to their gang.

      1. Oh my ‘P’ this is just lovely … thank you …

      2. Rummlie says:

        You are absolutely right P, you said:

        “The sexism came for the feminist harridans”

        and it did, didn’t it?

        1. You two misogynists can go play-out your sexual neurosis somewhere else now.

          The only thing that’s matched by your own personal difficulties is your moronic political analysis.
          I suggest a combination of quiet contemplation, followed by some quality therapy followed by reading up on the world for several years. After that you’d be very welcome back.

          Now. Off. You. Fuck.

      3. Dear Mr P,
        a misogynist like you can go play-out your sexual neurosis somewhere else now.

        The only thing that’s matched by your own personal difficulties is your moronic political analysis.

        I suggest a combination of quiet contemplation, followed by some quality therapy followed by reading up on the world for several years. After that you’d be very welcome back.

        Now. Off. You. Fuck.

  4. SleepingDog says:

    Perhaps you can provide maps for people to walk in these women’s shoes.

    For a wide modern audience, I suggest that means computer game. I would base it on something popular with an ironic twist like Call of Duty. There would be a series of (say, 4) female characters, each with a set of everyday missions, but in different times, cultures, age, personal circumstances and locations.

    One character (for reasons including a direct follow-on from Call of Duty) might be a French woman in 1946 Paris trying to get home from work to her child, through streets thronging with gangs of US deserters and the like.

    Another character might be an Afghan girl trying to get to school. And so on.

    Each mission should allow a choice of strategies, using stealth, wits, negotiating skills, or carving a bloody swathe through a pack of sexual aggressors to stand triumphant over a mound of dead patriarchs. Appropriate organisations can advise on effective real-life strategies and score accordingly.

    To represent that women are often faced with particularly stressful moral choices, this should also be reflected in the game. For example, to obtain a weapon for self-defence in Paris, the character may face a hard choice between attempting to charm then rob a thug, or using another woman as bait to attack her would-be rapist from behind, timing her assault to save his victim.

    The game would need to be made with high production values and be of tested quality for widespread take-up. Possibly some famous actors could provide voice talent.

    At critical junctures in the game, the player could choose how their character would express themselves, giving them voice, agency, and hopefully a sense of accomplishing something in a hostile, virtual yet recognisable world. Sequels might allow competitive and cooperative play.

      1. SleepingDog says:

        Indeed. Gaming provides a platform, a collective environment big enough to contain the world, yet as it holds out the promise of a digital level playing field with one hand, the other closes into a fist as female players and developers are sexually harassed and threatened with violence. They are silenced not only in participation, but in representation.

        In the mainstream, Lara Croft as represented in the 2013 Tomb Raider reboot is supposedly a whole new woman, but really is just the same slice off the upper crust of white privileged wealth. Not only that, but (I contend) an unsympathetic character: a kleptomaniac, risk-taking animal-slaughterer who pillages and massacres her brutalizing way through the story, supported by father figures, often running on as fixed rails as characters of traditional fiction. Sure, she gets to kill an army of aggressive bearded men in anoraks, but the plot tends towards nastiness and surrealism and wider societal issues are unresolved.

        Tomb Raider 2013 sometimes wears its scholarship like badges, collected one artefact at a time. Games can use scholarship far more powerfully. For example, feminist-inspired narratives can retell history more convincingly by painting in the agencies of silenced women. Overall, the glaring gaps in game themes can be addressed: where are the slave revolts and oppressed colonial people uprisings, sometime led by women like Nanny of the Maroons, classic underdogs fighting on the right side of history?

        There is a generation of young women growing up today that play are not fully participant in game culture and representation:
        https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Women_and_video_games

        My little vignette above draws on game culture themes and feminist-inspired scholarship, and employs both deep strategy and sharp tactics; that is what you need to interpret and make use of the map that leads to victory in this struggle.

  5. w.b.robertson says:

    Or you can play your games in the real world!…

    1. SleepingDog says:

      @w.b.robertson, I am not sure I understand your point, or if it is directed at my comments.

      Being harassed, excluded, silenced, misrepresented online, in social media, in games or in print *is* being harassed, excluded, silenced, misrepresented in the real world. These mediums can be pervasive to the point of reaching into physically secure locations, and have real world, even tragic effects, as teenage bullying suicide figures attest.

  6. View From Europe says:

    I thank the author of the article, who appears to be the blogger leftwingnobody; and am dismayed by the openly abusive nature of some comments, setting a tone that dominates the thread. First my question to leftwingnobody. When you write:

    “The independence movement will either reconcile itself or it will allow its vocal right-wing to engulf it and it will become a parody, a sub-culture operating only on the fringes of the online community in entirely sealed groups where people gather daily to enthusiastically agree with one another”

    I am ready to believe that the independence movement has this “vocal right-wing” — which is, the article implies, anti-feminist / misogynistic, at least in part — but would it not be more efficacious to name who takes part in this “vocal right-wing”, at least names of organisations / platforms, if not names of people? And to critique the forms of political communication & political action this “vocal right-wing” gets wrong? I appreciate people may not want to name names, because of the real fear of experiencing online / verbal / other forms of abuse as a result; but if names are not named, the claim has something of the quality of a slur: impossible to disprove, impossible to prove. For those in Scotland it may seem self-evident who this “vocal right-wing” is; for thousands of others living outside Scotland, like myself, it is not. Would “Wings over Scotland” be an organization that the author would categorize as belonging to the “vocal right-wing”? I have no personal interest in either attacking or defending WoS at this point; but would like the author to clarify their position.

    @ the Bella Caledonia editor: while it’s ultimately your decision how to manage the thankless task of deciding which comments to permit, the comments from “p” should not have been posted at all / should have been deleted immediately after posting. They are openly abusive in a misogynistic way, and are personally abusive against Mike Small. As Laura Waddell was introduced on Nov. 25th as one of the new guest editors, and this article is dated Nov. 29th, I’m unsure which BC editor is responsible for this post; but in terms of principle, it doesn’t matter. When someone’s got to the stage of using language like “feminist cunts”, and launching personal attacks using sexual vocabulary, they’ve gone past the stage where you can negotiate with them, and have started behaving criminally. This is when the police should be phoned. If the police react sluggishly to such a blatantly misogynistic attack, then this too would be worthy of report.

    Of course people have the right to strike back verbally, when facing a gendered / sexualised verbal attack. In that sense, the way the BC editor dealt with the abuse in the thread above is entirely justified. Nevertheless, I think there should be unequivocal parameters regarding language-use in what people are allowed to post in the BC’s comments: if these are not enforced, these will affect BC’s long-term reputation, and reach. To give an analogy: there is no way that BC would allow categorically anti-Semitic or other forms of racist comments to go online in the comments section of their page. And they’re correct in enforcing that ban. Allowing misogynists online space, perhaps because, if you don’t, you’ll get accused of being an “almighty cult” who “silences debate”, is the equivalent of allowing someone to get away with giving you a hefty kick in the kidneys, while you attempt to debate a complex issue from a live, offline platform.

    Let’s not let them get away with it.

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