Patriarchy and Colonialism: Making the Links

A few months ago, JoanMcAlpine caused huge amounts of controversy with her first column for the Daily Record.  The unionists went into a tizzy over it, calling for her head on a plate.  The article in question likens the situation of Scotland to that of a woman within a traditional marriage.  Starting….

WOMEN understand independence instinctively. They know the alternative is dependence – and who in their right mind wants that?  Dependence leaves you vulnerable and exposed.

It was immediately attacked by Unionists who suggested that the comparison that Joan McAlpine drew was offensive and trivalising domestic violence.  Men, such as the Times journalist Angus McLeod and Labour afficionado Ian Smart, neither known for their championing of women’s issues rushed to condemn, with Smart in particular making a far more offensive and personal remark describing McAlpine as “Salmond’s mini-me” and calling for her resignation.   As Mike Small pointed out, this huffling had far more to do with a female national liberationist achieving a high profile and speaking out about power in a column in the Scottish tabloid that the the Labour unionists liked to consider their own.  Further criticism came from feminist quarters, most notably from Kate Higgins, who considered the idea of comparing an abusive marriage to the situation of Scotland within the union offensive.

One critical factor, is that Joan never suggested domestic violence, or indeed what would commonly be considered abuse.  She described a traditional marriage in which the husband controlled the purse strings.  Although she does identity it as an abuse of power, she does not describe marital abuse as we commonly understand it, it is only the extrapolation that others have made in seeing the power structure in the marriage pointed out in black and white terms, that led them to make that association.  And so too with the situation of Scotland.  The disparity of power that exists within the Union, whereby resources are gleaned from Scotland and then handed back to us grudgingly are as McAlpine points out, exactly the same as a patriarchial marriage….or indeed other forms of colonialism, where the resources of the country are snaffled and then as a generous gesture some are returned under oversight from the colonial masters.

The identification of Scotland as a victim of colonialism sits uncomfortably with some.  Recognising Scotland’s role in the development of Empire and the damage that our participation did to indigenous populations throughout the world is important and should not be forgotten, but at the same time, there is no other way to describe the current situation that Scotland finds itself in within the Union – where our coastline is stolen, our monies are collected by UK state and then then doled back out to us, and our young men are shipped off to illegal wars without our agreement.

The association made between patriarchy and colonialism has been written off as a rhetorical trick, both my supporters and detractors.  That either it was an analogy which shouldn’t be taken too seriously and that the controversy that it stirred up was a storm in a teacup, or alternatively that it was a deeply offensive comparison for which she should be “forced” to resign.  In reality however, the link between patriarchy and colonialism is an important one and one which should be made explicit.  They are the two strongest power structures which support the kyriarchy, and used tojustify exploitation.

Another link which is sometimes made and which also often gives rise to feminist ire is when rape is used in the context of colonialism.  The term “rape” is frequently used inappropriately – in a joking or lighthearted manner to denote something unpleasant happening to someone “I got totally raped at poker last night” for example.  While those kind of comparisons are not appropriate they are quite different to when links are made between the exploitation of women and the domination and exploitation of the resources of a people.  Rape has an older, broader and non-sexual meaning of “to plunder”, and has been used in this manner in a non-sexual sense. For those living in certain parts of the world rape is exactly what has happened to their habitat, their environment and their resources.

Women and land are both means of reproduction and as such their control is central to domination of resources.   The control of women’s wombs and native land is critical to the existence of a people.  Rape – in a sexual sense – is used as a tactic of war not only as a tool of individual domination over an individual woman, but as a group violation to exert dominance over the linage, to implant the seed of the colonisers into a fertile environment.  Rape is individual, but when performed systematically – in war situations, in prisons, under slavery or bonded labour, it becomes a tool of reproductive control and coercion.  The less power women have the less access they have to contraception and abortion and the more vulnerable they are to forced impregnation.

Colonialism and patriarchy are deeply intertwined.  Both involve the domination of one set of people over another, sometimes using a benevolent justification, sometimes using force.  We should not be afraid of making the links between them.  On the contrary it is those who seek to use colonialism and patriarchy to uphold their domination who should quake when we make those links.


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