2007 - 2021

Women Beyond Silencing – Miss PunnyPennie, Janey Godley and the art of self-repair

“Well the day’s a wee bit ae a wash oot. Cannae thole this ony mair. That’s me away, see you’s the morra”.

It’s been a long time since a tweet has made my heart sink like that – which is saying something in such bleak times.

The early, democratising promise of social media seems a long, long way off, these days – the Arab Spring, like the neiges d’antan, forgotten by all but a few. And yet, amid the prophecies of doom that have rained down on Scotland these long, dark months we’ve been locked inside, hidden away from each other like whispered secrets, voices of hope have emerged, and those voices have (mostly) been women, and those voices have (often) been Scots. Janey Godley. Devi Sridhar. Nicola Sturgeon. In these most difficult of times, their voices have sounded out – brave, reassuring, resilient. Beyond all silencing.

But such voices will always form a challenge to some of us – well, perhaps not always, but that has been the way of it up until now. And this weekend saw another attempt to wheesht the voice of someone who has spoken out on behalf of a vast spectrum of the most consistently marginalised – women, Scots speakers, the young, the alone. Attacked not by the pandemic, not by Brexit, not by cancel culture, or the dwindling economy, but by the careless use of words.

She was silenced not just by a man, but by a paper, that should have both known better. For nothing. To fill a page. To get an easy story.

Most of Scottish Twitter will have seen one of @Lenniesaurus’ videos by now. She presents her “Scots Word of The Day” with the kind of style, energy and enthusiasm that only a person filled with hope can muster. And to have seen that hope flicker out, however briefly that may be for, due to the lack of empathy of another human being, makes hard watching indeed.

Hopefully, Pennie will be back to her wonderful self tomorrow. Continual, wearying self-repair has long been the prerogative of women. But if she isn’t okay, if today’s attack on her use of Scots was one too many, and she lets go of that precious hope us aulder yins all remember having at her age, this world will feel like a dour place indeed. Smaller. Darker. That bit less lovely.

That words should be used against Pennie is especially ironic. She is a lover of words. Scots words. Words that light up the hearts of the folk who used to use them. Words that bring smiles to the faces of people who have forgotten them. And for the past wee while, despite her own isolation, despite sharing in the hardships that Covid-19 has brought us all, she has given those words back to us, lovingly crafted, as daily gifts, out of a seemingly inexhaustible well of kindness.

If you’re over a certain age, you might remember a moment in your life when you realised something about the world you could never quite recover from. Maybe someone let you down for the last time. Maybe you tried and failed one time too many. Maybe someone’s words cut that bit too deep. Whatever it was, part of that hurt stays with you for the rest of your life.

Can you imagine what it would be like to try to push someone to that point? To be happy to do it? To see it as part of your job? If you can – if you have, it’s time to say sorry.

Pennie. We love you. You are a beautiful human being. You are making a difference. You matter. Haud forrit. When you’re ready to return, we’re here for you, Quine.

Comments (28)

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  1. Graham Ennis says:

    wonderrful

    1. Sara Clark says:

      Thanks, Graham!

  2. Cathie Lloyd says:

    Very moving. I hope she’s back tomorrow

    1. Sara Clark says:

      Me too, Cathie. Thank you for taking the time to comment ☺

  3. BSA says:

    Great ! Haud forrit indeed.

    1. Sara Clark says:

      Thanks so much.

  4. George Farlow says:

    So wonderfully
    Refreshing like mountain burns
    Smoothing yoon hard rocks
    Probably not my best haiku. The British media – and I include The Herald, The Scotsman in that – just think they can spew out any keech from the worsest of minorities, without fact checking, without corroborating, without balance, and just put it down to free speech. It’s actually all geared to undermine all Scots, especially those who are really lovely at heart and charms me when I get to enjoy their poyums, their humour, their spirit. As someone who was brought up in East Kilbride before being cleared to London when Rolls Royce was shut, I can only say that I retain many schoolfriends from then, each very supportive of Scots dreams in their own way. All of us deserve understanding and consideration. For those who open their mouths and let their bellies rumble, we have understanding and understanding by the pail when you are ready.

    1. Sara Clark says:

      Well said, George! I hear ya!

  5. Craig P says:

    What’s the background to this story?

    1. Tom says:

      exactly, please could someone name the paper, and tell us in round terms (without adding to the offence) what’s been said that’s so offensive. I guess everyone who’s on twitter and perhaps facebook will already know, but as a matter of principle, I will have nothing to do with either. So for those like me who are twitter and facebook-phobic, (there are a lot of us about), this article is meaningless without some background. Cathie (commenting above), you could always let me know separately, but for everyone else’s benefit, an explanation here would be better!

      1. Sara Clark says:

        Hi there! I wrote this article in support of Pennie, but don’t feel it’s my place to point fingers at individuals, as I know the damage that can do, even to someone who has made a mistake. Sure you will understand! Many thanks and hope you both have a lovely day! Sara

  6. John S Warren says:

    “Mais où sont les neiges d’antan!” From Francois Villon (1431?-1463), from ‘Ballade des dames du temps jadis’. Villon was the definitive poet as outsider. Rossetti apparently created the word ‘yesteryear’ to translate Villon’s word ‘d’antan’; but that remark is outwith my purpose here.

    Tom Scott and Sidney Goodsir Smith probably carried out the first translations of Villon into Scots, which is a particularly appropriate language (not least to catch the directness and immediacy of Villon’s genius), and I am confident Villon would have heard Scots widely among students and staff at the University of Paris in the mid-fifteenth century; and throughout Louis XI’s France.

    1. Sara Clark says:

      Love this!

    2. Tom Hubbard says:

      Excellent comment! Scots poets have had a way with sharing French poetry in our idioms.

  7. Blair says:

    Aye,

    There are many who dream of a life, living Scot Free, but they will never achieve anything through serving their own self interests. Women are multitaskers, beyond silence, underrated and were the first, though Eve in the Garden of Eden to learn.

    The biggest kept secret… is safe with Bella.

    -CVB.

    1. Sara Clark says:

      Thanks so much, Blair!

  8. Alasdair Macdonald says:

    These appalling attacks on this young woman are the kind of misogynistic hate speech which many women – especially witty women – suffer from some nasty men. However, there are also elements of antiScottish bile in it, coupled with doses of Scottish ‘cringe’ ( which, happily, has declined markedly in recent years) and elements of class snobbery.

    I remember many years ago, when BBC Scotland took on a young woman, called Helen Liddell as economics correspondent. She spoke in a distinct West of Scotland accent, but, what she said was grammatically correct, succinctly expressed, factually accurate. However, she was assailed by some snobs from places like Morningside and Kelvinside (I live there myself!) fir having someone as ‘common as this, assaulting my ears. She sounds like a Coatbridge bus driver’s daughter’ ( which is what she is.)

    The BBC, of course, took her off air.

    The same woman became an MP and Cabinet Minister and, is currently a member of the House of Lords. Sadly, she did submit to these criticisms and, gradually gentrified herself, to the extent that she now strikes herself Baroness Lid-DELL. She foes, however, still have a Scottish accent, still expresses herself succinctly, but sadly for the British Nationalists and neoliberal economics.

    So, let’s all send Pennie our support and encouragement. Don’t let the bastards grind ye down, hen!

    1. Sara Clark says:

      Thanks for sharing your thought on this in such depth, Alasdair! It really does my heart good to hear men speaking up on this issue! Best wishes, Sara

      1. Alasdair Macdonald says:

        Sara, although I have on occasion been excoriated by some feminists for saying it, some of us have wives, daughters and mammies and do not want to see them disadvantaged or discriminated against, or more importantly abused and threatened. As well as the filial reason (and patriarchal) some of us elderly white males also believe in justice and equity.

  9. Morag Burton says:

    Thank you Sarah Clark for writing this article, for without it I wouldn’t have been introduced to the work of Len Pennie.
    Whilst I can understand how being the target of trolling could wear you down, Gorge Galloway and his ilk are distasteful parodies of men, not worth any attention, far less those vinegary specimens of our own sex who indulge in this kind of deeply nasty behaviour.
    Len Pennie’s work is such a breath of fresh Scottish air, I just love her work and have recommended it to all my family this morning.
    Gaun yersel hen (both you and her!)

    1. Sara Clark says:

      Thanks, Morag, she really is just wonderful! Hope you and your family enjoy! Best wishes, Sara

  10. Foghorn Leghorn says:

    The ‘democratising promise of social media’ is alive and well. Everybody can chuck in their two pennies’ worth, however wrong, offensive, or distressing those two pennies’ worth might seem.

    What hasn’t caught up is our ability to have our opinions and sensibilities challenged by those who transgress the niceties of bourgeois standards of behaviour. Thus, we’d prefer those transgressors to self-censor rather than cause upset.

    The democratising promise of social media won’t be fully realised until we learn how to accept and deal with offence.

    1. Time, the Deer says:

      Problem is, Andrew, that the offensive comments are disproportionately directed towards certain sectors of society, with others seemingly permitted to express themselves freely without harassment, no matter how much rubbish they talk. A man gets away with cocking his leg and pissing over each and every comments section with his often foolish, irrelevant and self-indulgent comments, yet a woman taking up as much online space with their opinions would be hounded off the platform by men who probably couldn’t even look them in the eye IRL. I find it staggering that this is the case in 2021, but here we are.

      1. Foghorn Leghorn says:

        Do you have any evidence that offensive comments are disproportionately directed towards certain sections of society?

        I’ve been writing in the margins of a wide range of virtual communities for almost a quarter of a century now, and in all that time I haven’t detected any disproportionate direction of offensive responses to any of the various voices in which I’ve written. My male voices have received just as much threat and insult as my female voices.

        There’s certainly evidence (from research in the US) that the violence directed towards female voices is much more likely to be gender-based than that which is directed towards male voices. Hardly any of the violence directed towards male voices is because they are male, while a lot of that which is directed towards female voices is clearly and more frequently because they are female.

        Another thing I’ve found is that it’s nearly always male voices that utter the threat and insult to be found in virtual communities. Most of the name-calling on Bella, for example, is perpetrated by male voices. I’ve always presumed (though this is just surmised on my part – I’ve no evidence to support it) that this is because this violence largely about the assertion of dominance and the silencing, scaring, and punishing of those voices that express dissent or otherwise resist that dominance.

        My original point, however, had more to do with the virtuality of social media and the fictive nature of the agents who inhabit its communities. The fact is that the virtual reality of those communities is almost perfectly democratic; we can participate in them as anonymous, impersonal citizens, untouchable by violence. Unless one chooses to disclose one’s real identity, one can say what one likes with impunity, safe in the knowledge that, however offensive or dissenting one is, one’s safe from being beaten, scared, shamed, guilted, or otherwise coerced into silence.

        So, my advice to anyone who’d avail themselves of the limitless freedom of social media is: maintain your anonymity as a citizen of the communities in which you participate, and bear in mind that, if you do choose to waive your privacy, that privacy will be violated.

        1. Time, the Deer says:

          My evidence is what I have experienced and observed, as is yours. Essentially what you are saying is that if I ‘disclose my real identity’ or any aspect thereof, I should brace myself for whatever personal insults come my way as a result. For example, as in my comment below, I ‘disclose’ that I am female, it being relevant to my experience of social media. By your ‘logic’, if I don’t wish to be on the receiving end of misogynistic abuse, I should keep my opinions and experiences to myself. By revealing anything about myself, I am asking for it. Thanks for proving my point.

          1. Foghorn Leghorn says:

            No, what I’m saying is that, if you choose to waive your privacy in the virtual communities in which you participate, then, whatever the rights or wrongs of the matter, it will as sure as death and taxes be used in attempts to scare, shame, guilt, belittle, or otherwise coerce you. Anonymity enables you to express your opinions and experiences through social media impersonally, without waiving your privacy.

            Pseudonymity works even better. Pseudonymity enables you to deflect any violence that’s directed towards ‘you’ onto what some psychoanalysts call a ‘fictive alter’ – the ‘other’ in whose voice you’re writing – thereby dissociating the violence from yourself and onto this fictitious other. The offender might then appeal to ‘your’ sympathies of fear, pity, guilt, etc. as much as they like; you, yourself, will remain untouched.

            An associated strategy you can use exploits the pathetic fallacy. The pathetic fallacy is a term used in informal logic to denote any attempt to manipulate consent to some proposition by emotional appeal rather than rational argument. Attempts to elicit consent by arousing feelings of fear or compassion can thus be dismissed as substantially irrelevant and insignificant.

            None of this is easy. It’s difficult not to be affected by emotional manipulation. But the impersonal, democratic nature of virtual reality – the fact that we exist in our virtual communities only nominally, as names – makes it potentially easier.

            What alternative strategies do you propose to neutralise online abuse? My proposal is thus to use the medium itself.

  11. Time, the Deer says:

    I only ventured into the world of social media for the first time during last year’s lockdown, and lasted less than six months. The abuse and harassment faced by women who dare to express and opinion in a public forum is an absolute disgrace. I got rape threats in a Facebook group for suggesting the Highlands didn’t need any more tourism, and the male members who harassed me didn’t even get a ban – I was told I had brought it upon myself for ‘arguing’. Know your place, woman! I got out before it made me any more misanthropic. I hate to think how it affects the confidence of young women these days who grow up with the internet in the background of their lives.

  12. Graham Ennis says:

    Totally agree with this.
    Graham

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