2022-06-01

The making of Scotland or simple prostitution?

As the article in the latest Economist suggests “the European map is outdated and illogical”.1 The fixity of national borders should no longer be taken for granted as it is natural for nations created from arbitrary parts “to fracture and to reconstruct the relation between parts and parts and parts and the whole”2 aiming at ideal arrangement. The new shape of Europe may appear at odds with natural boundaries but it is thought to abandon cultural and political distortions. Abstract and absurd as it may seem to most European, from the perspective of the United Kingdom it could be read as a symbol of victory of Scottish national movement. What is interesting, though, is the process leading to such arrangement and the extent of its violence. Conceptualizing the body as a metaphor for a country it comes as no surprise that “bodies like countries are sites of struggle, conflict and accommodation.”3 Scottish literature and art of the XX th century uses people's (predominantly women's) bodies, grounded in personal circumstances and with socially allocated roles to illustrate political struggle for freedom of the marginalized country. The purpose of this essay is to show how gender of the body determines the means of the fight and the perception of national identity. In order to do that I will examine the cases of three women to show examples of first hybridyty of the body versus country and then depreciation and objectification of body for the price of seemingly free mind. In the latter case the body will stand for the country and the mind for the inhabitants of the country.


The first to be presented is Rima from the book Lanark by Alasdair Gray a patient of the Institute that deals with people who succumbed to some strange diseases like 'dragonhide'. Rima does no longer resemble a woman. She is a hybrid creature of woman's flesh and monster's limbs and other parts so burdensome that she suffers all the time. Rima does not know who she is and she is also tired of those who try to find out and fail. Having lost her will to fight with the disease she gets irritated learning that Lanark came to cure her. Lanark was also afflicted with 'dragonhide' but he managed to reject the disease by entering the Institute through the mouths4; another disease “the symptoms of which involves mouths opening like wounds over the body which then speak independently of the sufferer.”5 Lanark is fascinated by Rima's monstrosity but at the same time he tries to convince her to free from the monster, to reject parts of the body that do not belong to her. They both know that if she fails to do it she will explode changing into energy used in the Institute to feed its workers. Curiously neither of them is certain about what happens to her when she frees herself from the disease. Rima gets hysterical and impatient when Lanark talks about freedom: “Yes, it's a comic word. [He says] We're all forced to define it in ways that make no sense to other people.”6 The treatment is long and arduous but Lanark is persistent as he needs Rima to have a companion to escape from the Institute.


Rima's deformed body is an allegory of Scotland that does not exist in a “pure form” but is a part of some “monstrous creation” that is the United Kingdom. Four hundred years of such cohabitation (1603 – crown union) is long enough to forget or to develop a false image of the identity which to a great extant is based on unreliable historical sources or native writers' imaging.7 Notably Rima asked about her name says: “I'm done with names. Names are nothing but collars men tie round your neck to drag you where they like.”8 The very fact that Rima is presented as a hysterical monster finds its explanation in the imaging political theory presented by Moira Gatens in a series of essays referring to imaginary bodies:


Women who step outside their allotted place in the body politic are frequently abused with terms like harpy, virago, vixen, bitch, shrew; terms that make clear that if she attempts to speak from the political, about the political body, her speech is not recognized as human speech. [...] The [...] strategy of reducing woman to her 'sex', involves treating her speech and her behaviour as hysterical. The root of 'hysteria' is the Greek 'hystera', meaning uterus.9


On that ground imaging Scotland as a woman's body in the context of national movement, aiming at separation from the United Kingdom, could be read as a hysterical voice that will never be taken seriously. Scotland may stand as an independent country, as Rima eventually stood, but Lanark's help, driven by egoistic impulse, exemplifies another dependence and manipulation it may succumb to.

The following example illustrates a woman who “steps outside her allotted place” and marginalizing her body, which has literal and metaphorical significance. Lilly, a girl from slums in Glasgow stood against a motto of her compatriots: “Expect nothing and you will never be disappointed!”10 She went great lengths to qualify herself as a professional accountant, studying at night and rejecting, at least to some extent,11 a socially imposed role that she was to have played as a woman. But hers was not a pure fight on a professional ground. Lilly decided to use her body as a vehicle to get promoted and gain financial independence. She deliberately depreciated her mind and made a sacrifice from her body to a man and the ruler of the world she lived in, which curiously did not appear to be an act of surrender, as being in the possession of the body one does not necessarily own the mind. The mind body dualism could be transferred into socio-political situation of Scotland whose body / land is owned by the United Kingdom and as an embodied entity is governed by its rules, but its mind / people develops independently cultivating its own identity and fights for the independence of the body / land. However, if, as Albert Memmi, a Tunisian essayist on the processes of colonization, suggests, a land / body stays under an alien's control for a longer period of time it inevitably influences its people / mind, enslaving it just the same as the land / body, due to a belief that colonial system determines and controls mental attitudes.12 Such an understanding of the matter questions the concept of mind body dualism and points to an alternative concept of physicalism where mind and body are united entities.13 That is why enslaving the land / body equals colonization of the mind. Hence the two unions of Scotland with England first the crown union and then the parliamentary union proceeded by years of boarder wars have two dimensions, political and psychological as inferior position of Scotland imposed by the union permeated to the system of behaviours of the Scots. Coming back to Lilly, who thought that her body was a means of exercising power over men with her mind free to control it, but it was her enslaved by social circumstances mind that determined her immoral behaviour. Her behaviour could also be understood as a fight to reject an enslaved mind which had to take its toll. Therefore, on the one hand she got everything she wanted, namely professional career and financial security, but on the other hand she got it at the cost of two abortions and family happiness. Here we come to the problem of decolonization of the Scottish mind and the possible consequences of such act. Will it come naturally within the separation from the United Kingdom or some crippling price would have to be paid for freedom that is not of everyone's interest.

The last to be analysed is the case of a dancer from No Mean City, which seems to be much more than just a confirmation of the existence of social patterns forming the identity of the country. The same as previously it illuminates the changing role of women in the society. The girl and her dancing partner were very successful, for slum standards, being champions in one of the most popular pastimes of the time and place and still keeping their “proper jobs.” With little education they knew how to stay focused on their goal and get to the best dance halls in Glasgow. Especially Lilly who constantly reproached Bobby to stay away from troubles, which for her, among other things, implied not getting pregnant. Little was known at that time about birth control, therefore sexual intercourse would usually mean having a baby.14 Although we can talk about general prudery of the European society, slums had its own politics about sex. First of all, Gorbals girls grew up in the conviction that getting married was a social advancement. It was not important whom they married, but if they were able to get a man at all. Men's superiority, stemming from the upbringing, gave them the right to satisfy their lust on their conditions. Slum girls knew that a refusal would be perceived as an insult to a man and that no sympathy would be found in other tenants. On that ground, try as she might, Lilly was not able to allow Bobby to be her partner and at the same time keep him at a distance. Still, it was not the birth of their child that led to the break of the couple that in the long run resulted in their failure. Their dream about a house with a bath away from the Gorbals did come true, but they fell victims of the politics of the place and times, with too weak minds to face it. They failed in a scuffle with a “booking out”system which meant that “[...] men and women with money could hire many of the professional dancing stars [...] for purposes far beyond the limit of professional instruction”,15 and neither Lilly's idea of making the most of it without getting harmed nor Bobby's non-conformism could prevent it. They were sucked in by a more powerful force that first used them and then spat out as useless. Objectification of Lilly's body and treating it as a tool of a weak mind is analogous to the system of behaviour of Ralph's sister from Growing up in the Gorbals and the same as previously a parallel to a situation of Scotland can be drawn. McGrath who depicts the problem of the three phases of the clearances of the Highlands, points that in many cases these were Scots themselves who willingly sold their lands believing that the deal was lucrative for them and not for their business partner.16 Just like Lilly who would not see that in certain establishments a dance partner was merely an euphemism for a prostitute and she would keep thinking that she was using her “patrons” to achieve her goals, that by offering her body she did no harm to her mind. However, in the same course as with Scotland the patron (read: an economically and politically stronger opponent) took advantage of them.


Lilly was a sought-after dancing partner until she was independent and without children and emanated with lightness, spontaneity and youthful joy. But as soon as she was burdened with preoccupations of everyday life and got more and more dependent on her patrons they abandoned her seeing nothing in her but a drained body. Taking the Lilly's situation to the national level we can see SNP members' fight for separation of Scotland from its patron (Union) to prevent having been drained from its resources and then marginalized as economically useless. There are however two sides of the coin. According to the Scottish Minister of Environment Roseanna Cunningham, MSP, whom I had a chance to talk to on my visit to the Scottish Parliament, Scotland is economically strong enough to live on its own resources and what is more its real prosperity is hindered by staying in the United Kingdom. This opinion is in marked contrast to a point of view of another MSP and a member of conservative party Murdo Fraser who is convinced that being in the United Kingdom is beneficial for both sides and on equal terms, and that breaking this, so well- balanced, cohabitation would be politically and economically unwise.

As the three examples from Scottish literature indicate the native writers seem to form an alliance with nationalists, emphasizing marginalization of Scotland on cultural and political level. Their discourse employs images of marginalized woman's body, first, to show the place of Scotland in the world, and second, to point out its incapability to lead a political struggle. According to Moira Gatens' assumptions: “Those who are not capable of the appropriate political forfeit are excluded from political body except to serve it as its most basic and material level.”17 Marginalized position of Scotland and objectification of its land influences the behaviour of people living there, the same as objectification of body, which is sexually burdened, has an impact on its mind. Hence the fact that the mind tells a women to use her body or literally speaking to prostitute herself to achieve a political goal doe not stem from moral corruption, but from the imaging of political theory where female embodiment is not taken seriously. “It is still the exception, the deviation, confined literally to the margins of man's representations.”18

date: 2024-07-14 16:35:36
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