by Ariadne and Lizzie Cass-Maran
A friend of Lizzie’s on Twitter remarked on the prevalence of the language of abuse in the No campaign, in particular in the shockingly sexist Better Together video. On being challenged to defend this accusation, the two of us wrote the following.
What is the ‘language of abuse?’
First, it might be handy to define what ‘the language of abuse’ means. ‘Language’ is communication; it doesn’t boil down to simple vocabulary. It’s not the same thing as vocabulary of violence; it’s not saying ‘I’m gonny chib ya’. In fact, quite the opposite. The language of abuse is emotional abuse, and blackmail. There are a few articles below giving a bit more detail on this.
- Healthy Place: Emotional abuse – definitions, signs, symptoms, examples
- Health Central: 10 signs you may be in an emotionally abusive relationship
- Helpguide: Signs of abuse & abusive relationships
In fact, I’ll use some of these common signs to break it down:
Humiliation/degradation/treating an individual like a servant or child
This relates to the incredible sexism in the video: Woman enters kitchen, and sits down at table holding a mug. She’s a house wife with the full burden of looking after the children and keeping the house tidy. She’s so overworked that having two minutes with a cup of tea is the highlight of her day. We have been given the archetype of an oppressed, 1950s’ style housewife as Better Together’s idea of the ‘ordinary woman.’ They could have given us a professor, or a CEO, or an artist. But no, they have given us a wee Scottish wifie.
The message: You, the Scottish electorate (the target audience of this advert) have neither the time nor brain power to fully understand the issues here.
Woman: He started again first thing this morning: Have you made a decision yet? I was like, ‘it’s too early to be discussing politics. Eat your cereal’.
The biggest political decision Scotland has had to make in centuries is being discussed on television. Her husband, is talking about it. Her aggrieved tone suggests she is not happy about this. It’s breakfast, she has the opportunity to have an interesting conversation, but no, she shuts it down, with the only power she has in her arsenal; control over the cereal.
The message: Don’t engage. Don’t research. Keep yourself to yourself. DON’T GO OUTSIDE, IT’S DANGEROUS!
Woman: “So he starts to ask the kids, I mean honestly, like he’ll get any sense out of them, they never have their heads out of their phones.”
I know kids seem to get given technology younger and younger these days, but if they’ve got a phone, and the Dad is trying to engage them in political discussion, they’re probably teenagers. 16-years-olds with the right to vote, perhaps? These ‘children’ *could* be seen as intelligent beings with the ability to control their own destiny, but we’re encouraged to think so little of them that the woman cannot begin to fathom why their father would want to discuss politics with them.
The message: The opinion of young people is worthless. Careful not to discuss it with them; they might use their vote.
Woman: I mean it’s my country, of course I want what’s best for it. Most of all, I want what’s best for my children, and their children. There’s no way you can change our mind in four years’ time. They have to live with the decision I make. I suppose that’s why all this uncertainty bothers me so much.
Democracy is by its very nature unpredictable and uncertain. You want utter certainty all the time? Go and live in a dictatorship. Just try not to actually talk to anyone when you do, as people who live in fascist regimes tend to be terribly interested in politics and freedom for some reason.
The message: Just do what you’re told, or we’ll be after your family.
Name calling or insults/degradation
Woman: And there’s a lot to weigh up. I mean, could we keep the pound? The guy off the telly promises us we can. It’ll all be fine, he says. Yeah, right, I’ve heard that one before.
‘The guy off the telly?’ You mean the democratically elected First Minister of Scotland? In what argument is ‘Yeah right?’ an acceptable comeback? Only one in which you are pointlessly arguing against idiots.
The message: The main representatives of the Yes campaign are unworthy of even being named and certainly not of being listened to.
Furthermore, this woman in the kitchen character is not a fully realised human being, but an offensive caricature of what a man thinks a woman is. It is an insult to intelligent, engaged women in other sectors, and it is especially insulting to women who do look after their children all day, because those women are not stupid, they are not too weak, cowed or stubborn to debate and have robust conversations, and they are certainly not so mean that they don’t understand the importance of getting children thinking and talking about weighty topics which affect their future.
The message: Half an ear on the telly is probably all the research the electorate’s puny little brain can cope with. Don’t possibly consider Googling this stuff. It’s not like The Financial Times, the Economist are easily available online. You’re stupid.
Withholding important information
Or in this case, encouraging the electorate to not seek such information.
Woman: Don’t get me wrong, I know how important this vote is. There’s not much time left for me to make a decision, but there’s only so many hours left in the day…The more I think about it, the more independence seems like one big gamble, like it’s not been thought through.
The slow process of devolution over the last 15 years, leading to the referendum on whether we’d like to assume full financial control over our stuff has been a total thoughtless car crash, you’re right. If only a massive manifesto of what independence might look like existed.
The message: Don’t use these hours to, say, divert some of your laundry time to do your own independent research on this important issue.
Instilling of fear/Making someone fear that they will not receive the food or care they need
Woman: Oil will pay for it all. So you can rely on oil for everything can you? Your kid’s school, our local hospital, mum and dad’s pension?… I’ve heard plenty of promises, but straight answers? They seem a little bit harder to come by.
Ironic, given that there are no straight answers here either. There are no facts to back up the implications that oil won’t pay for it all. It’s only playing on people’s fears.
Google will give you the stats on how much oil is out there, and what percentage it will contribute to an independent economy. You might also like to look at other money makers in Scotland, such as whisky, food, tourism and finance. You might further investigate Scotland’s pioneering eco-friendly alternatives to oil and projections for how much of our energy will be made like that in future, and what other political parties are looking at doing if Scotland becomes independent.
Woman: If there’s one thing I do know, I will not be gambling with my children’s future… So that’ll be a no from me.
There’s no actual logic behind her final decision; just ‘I don’t know; I’m too scared’
The message: If you care about your family, you’ll vote No. We have their pensions.
Telling an individual that they are too much trouble
Or in this case, that their plans are too much trouble.
Woman: ‘Time to get to work.’
I know they mean that as a metaphor for ‘Let’s build a better country, together’ or something, but all we’re left with is the bleak knowledge that she’ll return to her fucking ironing, subjugated and hopeless, leaving her husband to do all the thinking while she stomps as hard as she can on her children’s ability to think critically for themselves because she never learned how and doesn’t intend to start.
The message: Stop thinking you can possibly try to assert control over your own future.