Archives for category: Gender inequality


Our Celtic Connections columnist, Anni Donaldson, explores the politics of gender in Scottish traditional music

WITH the chants of a women’s anti-Trump demonstration booming outside Glasgow’s Royal Concert Hall, it was an auspicious moment to start a new conversation about gender and Scottish traditional music. 

Judging by the audience’s response to the lively discussion during the ‘Exploring Gender and Music’ event on the second afternoon of Celtic Connections 2017, this apparently last minute addition to the festival programme billed this year as “a celebration of inspiring women artists” is long overdue.

The craic, as they say in ceilidh circles, was mighty. An impressive panel of female doyennes of the traditional music scene got down to it. Kicking off the discussion, Rachel Newton (main picture), harpist and vocalist in The Shee who organised the event, talked about the moment she became aware that almost all of the bands nominated for the 2016 Scots Trad music awards were male and there were only three women out of 39 band members in the whole category.

Newton hesitated before going public on Facebook but felt “overwhelmed by the amount of all-male and more importantly very masculine bands that are dominating the Scottish traditional music scene”.

Newton hesitated before going public on Facebook but felt “overwhelmed by the amount of all-male and more importantly very masculine bands that are dominating the Scottish traditional music scene”.

Newton found there was a growing band of women Trad musicians and artists who felt the same. They were staring into the cavernous depths of a newly discovered Scottish gender gap. The artistic gap may now be added to all the other fissures in Scottish society which add up to gender inequality (pay, care, income, representation, power, freedom).

The musicians, journalists, agents and publicists on the panel and in the audience were full of examples: of festival and gig programmers not booking enough women artists, of women being paid less than men.

Agent Lisa Wyttock talked about festival organisers rarely booking more than one so-called ‘girl band’ and how women simply do not headline Trad Scottish festivals. Journalist Sue Wilson had also observed a level of discrimination against women artists by festival programmers which just does not exist for all-male bands: “Turn it around the other way and that type of discrimination just does not apply.”

Expectations also differ. Whereas string-driven, or air blown, seriously fast and furious sets are what is expected from guys, women are more often favoured for their vocals over their instrumental skills.

Expectations also differ. Whereas string-driven, or air blown, seriously fast and furious sets are what is expected from guys, women are more often favoured for their vocals over their instrumental skills.

Guitarist and singer Jenn Butterworth was less than flattered by being told that her all-woman band had “balls” and “played like men”. According to Jenny Hill, double bass player, publicists and record labels often expect women to dress prettily and be ultra-feminine.

Hill and Butterworth were involved in a unique collaboration of women trad musicians from across the UK. The exquisite and critically acclaimed Songs of Separation (pictured) successfully premiered at last year’s Celtic Connections and was unusual not least for the fact that the sight of 10 extraordinarily gifted women composers, musicians and singers solely occupying a Scottish stage was in itself highly unusual.

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Funding is also an issue. Hill was unequivocal: “There’s a need for some positive discrimination for women to equalise the grants available.” Butterworth and Sandra Kerr, both also teachers agreed that while young women outnumber young men on folk music degree courses, this is not reflected in the numbers going on to sustain professional musical careers.

Michaela Atkins, press officer at Celtic Connections, described an industry which favours “those who shout the loudest”, and there was a consensus among the women and men in the audience that overall, women’s voices, ironically, were not being heard in the folk scene, that this conversation was long overdue and in need of oxygen and, above all, data.

To the sounds of the throng of protest still ringing from outside, the discussion ended with email addresses being shared, calls for more discussion, research and mutual support and in a firm resolve that women artists needed a fairer shout.

Guitarist and singer Jen Butterworth was less than flattered by being told that her all-woman band had “balls” and “played like men”.

Traditional music is, by its nature, well, traditional. Scots and Gaelic culture reflect the totems of Scottish identity which have always been essentially male with some outdated attitudes to women.

Our national story is a graphic boy’s own comic with its heroes and villains, emigrants, martyrs and the odd fruitcake queen or dead lover. It tells of blokes bonding in battles fought in factory, field or far away, of disasters and drams, triumphs over adversity, poverty, the English, other Scottish guys, the ruling classes, etc. Even with the soundtrack down low it is easy to detect whose voices are the loudest.

The folk singers and working class troubadors of the 1960s and 1970s Scottish folk revival did a fine thing – truly. However, that Sandy Bells culture of late night, drunken music sessions was full of hairy fellows with no visible means of support, who got the breaks and went on to successful professional careers as performers and national treasures – wizards of box and bow. There are not so many women among their number.

There’s an old joke that neatly sums up the gender politics of those times – Q: What do you call a folk musician without a girl friend? A: Homeless.

Q: What do you call a folk musician without a girl friend? A: Homeless.

Is it time for Scotland’s women musicians to wrench the trad scene away from its 1970s attitudes? Let’s call time on that old story: 21st century Scotland needs to pay a new piper, call a different tune.

Celtic Connections continues until 5 February 2017.

Picture courtesy of Celtic Connections


This article was written for The National Saturday 29 August 2015

I was delighted, and genuinely surprised, to be announced the winner of the inaugural Write to End Violence Against Women Awards in 2013.


Since then, Scotland has witnessed a dramatic shift in its political landscape which included some devastating critiques of mainstream media and its messages. Civic Scotland brushed off its ideas, flexed its debating muscles as the independence referendum campaign warmed up and new voices began to emerge.  Among those who  ‘dared to dream’ that ‘another Scotland was possible’ were women ready to challenge a deeply macho culture once described as ‘cold and hostile to women’s lives and values’.  Bloggers, freelance journalists, writers, artists and commentators created a new estate of citizen journalism.  The bandwidth broadened, women’s space for debate and critique opened up and all of a sudden it was open season on Scotland’s gender architecture.  What the referendum started now stubbornly refuses to go away and the momentum has not diminished one jot.

Groups like Women for Independence offer online and village hall platforms for women’s concerns and safe places to discuss them. What most Scottish women have known for years is now part of the national conversation: women are still not equal, get paid less than men, do most of the caring and have less political and economic power than men. There is now growing public concern that children are growing up in a culture full of inequality, everyday sexism and all forms of violence against women.  The scandal of high reported rates of these forms of violence has now entered public debate, is a focus for Government action and placing new demands on print and online media to bring their news values into the twenty first century. The Write to End Violence Against Women Awards cleverly caught the zeitgeist in 2013 when they demanded the media raise the bar in its coverage of violence against women.

Now in 2015 there is a growing public appetite for debate on these issues and the old dismissals no longer wash.  People are joining the dots between women’s persistent inequality and the many forms of violence against women such as domestic abuse, rape and sexual assault, child sexual abuse, prostitution and pornography.  The prevalence of these crimes is a national scandal with no place in modern Scotland.  Their roots lie in laws only repealed in the nineteenth century whereby wives and children were the property of husbands or fathers who had the right to ‘chastise’ them.   While these laws were eventually repealed, unfortunately the attitudes to women which went along with them display remarkable longevity.   None more visible than those in much of our popular culture which continues to demean women, treat them as sex objects in ways which subliminally reinforce women’s second class status.

The good news is that some surprising heavy hitters are now joining the fight back.  A recent controversial media campaign against rape #WeCanStopIt had Rape Crisis Scotland and Police Scotland joining forces to get the message out. #EndProstitutionNow, a campaigning coalition which aims to do what it says on the tin is fronted by a fully on-message Glasgow City Councillor.   Clever PR is now unleashing these issues on an utterly changed Scottish media landscape.  Two years down the line gender is on the national agenda and violence against women is emerging from behind those closed doors to where it should be – right up front in the public eye.

Sun competition ban

This article was originally published in The Conversation on 10 December 2014 by Anni Donaldson

The contortions of The Sun newspaper against mounting opposition to its notorious Page 3 topless women would be laughable if they did not represent a much wider problem. With even glamour queen Katie Price apparently throwing in the towel and having her breast size reduced, you wonder how many senior Sun executives seriously want to keep it going. Even they can’t have entirely missed the dawning of the new millennium and 40 years of advances in women’s equality.

Page 3 dates from a time when Benny Hill, Les Dawson and Jimmy Savile were the acceptable faces of a male-dominated culture where women just needed just to “calm down dear” and take a joke. As the No More Page 3 campaigners say, this isn’t just about getting rid of a sexist image in a newspaper. This is part of women’s “wider struggle for better representation, equality and human rights”.

Everywhere you look …

British society is slowly wakening up to pervasive everyday sexism, rape culture, the normalisation of pornography and epidemic proportions of sexual exploitation, gender-based violence and sexual abuse – both here and across the world. Post-Leveson, how long can fair and balanced journalism co-exist with the continued stereotyping and objectification of women? You don’t have look far beyond Page 3 to see the Ched Evans row, the Grand Theft Auto Rape Mod, the Fairlife milk adverts and countless more.

The wider picture? It certainly won’t help that this is a country that was recently described by a senior UN official as having an “in your face sexist culture”. Fewer than one quarter of reporters on national dailies are women. Research has shown that men outnumber women as television and radio experts by four to one. The TV industry’s unwillingness to put older women in front of the cameras is meanwhile legend.

An imbalanced society. PandaVector

Light amid darkness

Yet if this is the mountain still to climb, we are arguably at a slightly higher altitude than we once were. Part of this is changing times – The Sun’s management at least sounds awkward defending Page 3 these days, and it ditched the page in Ireland with little effect to circulation. Its UK days also look numbered.

The atmosphere has also arguably been changed by the slew of sexual abuse scandals that have hit the media in the last two or three years. Operation Yewtree, Rotherham, Rochdale and the Westminster affair have all created a sense in which practices that used to be tolerated are now being confronted. The media has been shamed by its own past acquiescence and has not shied away from full coverage that gives the impact on the victims its proper due.

So how do we make these steps forward permanent? Unrelenting campaigns from No More Page 3 to Everyday Sexism are obviously part of the answer. Scotland might also have something to offer here, through the work of anti-abuse charity Zero Tolerance. In 2013 it launched the first Write to End Violence Against Women Awards and published a media guide to promote responsible journalism and reporting of all forms of violence against women. The group also awards an annual wooden spoon for the worst examples of sexist reporting. The 2014 award winners will be announced on the evening of 10 December.

It is a reminder that we could do with a high-profile version of these awards for the whole of the UK. If we can give large amounts of coverage to Bad Sex Awards in writing, we need exactly the same approach for writing that degrades women. To give others a chance of course, Page 3 would need a category all of its own.


Shocking levels of child poverty are affecting the lives of over 200,000 Scottish children.   With numbers set to rise by 100,000 in the next five years, figures compiled for the Campaign to End Child Poverty reveal a disturbing UK-wide Child Poverty Map. Across Scotland one in five children are living in hardship while one in three children in Glasgow live in poverty.

 “Too many children are missing out on what most of us take for granted, like healthy food, clothes and shoes, birthday treats, school trips or holidays.”

Children live in poverty when their family income from benefits, wages and in-work tax credits are below 60% of the national median income (less than £364 a week for a couple with two children or less than £269 per week for a lone parent with two children).

Anti-poverty campaigners blame low wages and benefits, welfare sanctions, rising housing, fuel and child care costs. The adults in six out of ten families in poverty are working. Neill Mather of Save the Children was clear, “Too many children are missing out on what most of us take for granted, like healthy food, clothes and shoes, birthday treats, school trips or holidays.”

Children’s poverty is closely linked to women’s poverty.   Twice as many women as men rely on benefits and tax credits.   Lone parents make up a substantial number of those in poverty and are 95% of the lone parents who receive benefits.   Scottish women earn less than men overall and female-dominated sectors of the workforce, like the care sector, remain largely low-paid and undervalued.   Scottish women do most of society’s paid and unpaid caring. When women are poor, children are too.

Child poverty is preventable. Anti-child poverty campaigners are calling for increased benefits and the introduction of a national hourly living wage of £7.20.   Recognizing women’s role in Scotland’s caring economy would give them a decent income and could help consign the child poverty map of Scotland to history.


With three maybe four sleeps to go before we know the result of the Scottish referendum I can barely contain my excitement. I am finding it difficult to concentrate on anything else – and like most people, most women especially, there is much to be got through in a day.  However there is no other topic, no other decision, no other prospect that is as important as this referendum right now – no wonder concentration drifts out of the window.

Family Politics

Although I grew up in a politically savvy family, amid fiery debates about huge worldly topics around the kitchen table, annual May Day marches going back as far as I can remember, I have never felt so close to something which could result it huge positive social change.

Aye we’ll have they capitalists shaking in their boots the day!

mayday pipers

Glasgow May Day Parade 1960

Despite Grandpa Alex’s May Day exortation  “Aye we’ll have they capitalists shaking in their boots the day!”, the revolution never seemed to happened. There were moments of hope for capitalist boot-shaking, ban the bomb marches, the poll tax campaign, the Miners’ Strike, the anti-Iraq war demonstrations, but generally it was business as usual.

ban the bomb   Ban the Bomb, Glasgow CND March 1960s

As a child I gradually saw the gulf between how my family made sense of the world (Marxist dialectical materialism mostly) and the actual world outside of our lefty bubble.

robeson at may day

Paul Robeson at Glasgow May Day, Queen’s Park 1960

Symbolic annihilation

What was on the BBC, what I learned in school (kings and queens, endless rote learning of dates, wars and acts of parliament) and read in my comics – (boarding schools, more kings and queens, plucky little orphans, brave Cavaliers and poor Marie Antoinette) did not look familiar – aka symbolic annihilation.


Scottish Socialist Sunday School Naming Certificate

I became intellectually and culturally bipolar in my efforts to reconcile my life, ideas and understandings with ambient reality.   Even as a child marching along in those May Day columns, in my Socialist Sunday School best, heading through Glasgow city centre I was always puzzled by the seeming indifference, bemusement and occasional hostility of the people watching us from the pavement . The two tides were running in parallel but I always felt I was running against the prevailing current.  The tide eventually proved too strong for me and I stepped out.

Caledonian antisyzygy

Scotland’s symbolic annihilation was commonplace and the country struggled to resolve its own bipolarity. In 1919 (the same year the tanks rolled into George Square, and the forces of capitalism were maybe a wee bit shaky in their boots), G. Gregory Smith named it: in the Caledonian antisyzygy, he remarked, ‘we have a reflection of the contrasts which the Scot shows at every turn… which is the admission that two sides of the matter have been considered…Oxymoron was ever the bravest figure, and we must not forget that disorderly order is order after all”.

Oxymoron was ever the bravest figure…we must not forget that disorderly order is order after all”.

Disorderly order just about covers it. Even the anti-establishment politics I grew up with no longer seemed adequate to explain the reality of my life, now seriously out of kilter even with the comforting yet ever contradictory certainties of dialectical materialism –(another antisyzygy of sorts). Cast into an analytical wilderness by the late 1970s I shrugged my critical shoulders and walked away, unable to connect the dots between my now adult life and any kind of analysis which made sense. Foolishly, I was searching for simplicity. I didn’t find it.

woman car run you down

The Women’s Movement

The women’s movement provided early promise, but, full of its own complexities, lost sight of the enemy outside and struggled to survive in Thatcher’s Britain. However, as the movement matured, so too did I and gradually filled in the blanks in my understanding of how the world works, how change happens and what part I, as a woman could play.

women's lib  in scotland book cover

By the 1990s I had found a practical focus for my politics by working on gender equality in education and onward from there working against prevent domestic abuse and all forms of violence against women.

                                                      women hold up half the sky

Another Scotland is possible

With only three days to go I think I am swimming in the same political tide as so many others. We’re all off the pavement now and thousands are marching along the same road. Inequality and social injustice are there for all to see in the unionist establishment’s grand plan. But party politics are no longer the only show in town. The split between the lives we are living and the parallel universe being devised for us by the Westminster establishment has become too wide. Working closely with their allies in big business and in the fourth estate, the dominant UK political parties have lined up as one to threaten us with disaster and by doing so confirmed for many of us just why we need shot of them. Their virtual reality democracy game is over.

disorderly order is order after all”

Scottish people are learning how to break the establishment machine code and are poised to reprogramme the whole jing bang.

sunday times Another Scotland is Possible!

#indyref has revitalised a nouveau Scottish antisyzygy but Friday morning may see a new synthesis. The establishment might just be shaking in their boots. Alex would be pleased. Another Scotland is possible. I’m voting YES!

qq66fdds-1404320685 Equally Safeconv

This article first appeared in The Conversation 2 July 2014

Read the full article  here


The March of the Undecideds?  Scottish Women #indyref

Another Post from A Women’s Place

Recent polls suggest that a woman’s place is rather further from the ballot box than is good for them ahead of September’s independence referendum. By all accounts, they could be spending more of their precious time studying political form and making up their minds. While some claim that women voters hold the key to Scotland’s future if they turn out to vote in equal numbers to men, other surveys suggest women are among the many ‘undecideds’. Cue some old chestnuts: women are not natural risk takers, are more pessimistic, don’t like rocking the boat, are worried about the future, are unable to make up their minds….blah blah. More childcare ladies?   Are women being offered anything more than the same old same old?

Women are skilled commanders of perpetually rocky boats. The work they do is invisible until it stops, their unpaid contribution to the Scottish economy rarely included in high-end budget calculations and economic forecasts. Without all that free childcare, parenting, cleaning, cooking, house-keeping, homework, elderly care, health care and transport services…..phew….the whole economy would probably grind to a halt. And that’s before women get to their paid work, organised around THEIR childcare responsibilities (not Daddy’s). Watching the clock, afraid to miss the school bell they have probably done the food shopping in their lunch hour. Ask any woman. One glich in the system – a sick child unable to go to school that day or that 8.30 meeting your boss insists you attend – and the whole system crashes.

Scottish women may be aye working, but they are making up their minds.   With many turning out to local meetings, those without babysitters are on social media or blogging, chipping in their tuppenceworth when the weans are in their bed. Doing nothing is not an option – positions are being considered.

Scottish women still have a long way to go in the equality stakes, there are acres of unequal territory still to cover and the politicians need to know it according to Engender (   Women are listening for proposals which acknowledge the immense value of their contribution to keeping Scotland working, learning and healthy and to mothering the future workforce. Tangible proposals for a more equal future can transform indecision. Women need a hand – politically, economically and practically – More childcare isn’t the half of it.



GlasgowAnni passes up chance to appear on Channel 4’s Strippers

Walking with friends on Sauchiehall Street on a Saturday night recently, we were stopped by two enthusiastic young people, one shouldering a heavy video camera, asking if they could interview us for a new Channel Four documentary about lap dancing clubs in Glasgow, Edinburgh and Edinburgh.

My friends pointed and said ‘Interview Anni!’. They were filming a number of vox pop interviews to get a feel for Glasgow city centre at night. I agreed to be interviewed, the young man took my name and telephone number and the young woman started the interview.

Channel 4 interview We’ve been filming in lap- dancing clubs and interviewing the lap-dancers.  

What do you think about those clubs?’

I told her she might regret asking me, that I work in services for women and children affected by all forms of violence against women and also as a researcher; that there were many like me who considered lap-dancing clubs to be a form of commercial sexual exploitation; that women and their bodies are not commodities to be sold for profit and that such exploitation is a function of women’s inequality… She caught my drift.

 ‘What about women’s choice?’

‘Do you think women are free to chose that if they want?

‘What about women’s choice?’, she asked. ‘Do you think women are free to chose that if they want?’. ‘Sure,’ I replied, ‘but how many other choices did they have before choosing to work as a lap dancer?’ I went on to say that, as with prostitution, women mostly get involved through economic necessity.

‘The young women enjoy their work”

‘The young women enjoy their work’ she replied. I said , ‘It is not for me to say what women can or cannot do, it is their decision and I just wish there were other ways they could make a living. Did you talk to the men who use the clubs too?’ I asked, and she said they had. We finished the interview and went our separate ways, they were off chasing their next interviewee, quickly swallowed up by Sauchiehall Street’s joyous Saturday night pavement crowds.

I immediately begin to have doubts about participating as I had no idea what their approach to the subject would be. I am no fan of Channel 4’s relentless output of reality shows and know that skillful editing can skew content to fit a particular narrative. Caught up in the moment, I had rushed into participation based on skant information with my friends thinking it was a great wheeze. So what was I consenting to? In truth, I had no idea.

Television reality shows offer ordinary folks a brief moment of celebrity but the unintended consequences can be risky in the longer term. The world is full of post-reality show casualties unable to dismount the carousel and further multiplying the media capital being made of them. A life lived however briefly on television or exposed on social media can end in regrets about that naïve personal disclosure, unfortunate facebook post or embarrassing selfie. These things can come back to haunt older, wiser moments.

Appearances on reality shows are fixed in time and offer a one dimensional snapshot of a life fitting only the programme makers’ agenda. However, it wasn’t my own random vox pop I was worried about but the atmosphere of the whole programme itself. I wasn’t sure I liked the smell of it. A few weeks after the interview, I withdrew my consent to take part. Part one of ‘Strippers’ aired on Channel 4 last week.


Channel 4’s Strippers –  The reality of Glasgow’s Lap-dancing club scene

Episode 1 of ‘Strippers’ focused on the dancers and customers in Glasgow’s Diamond Dolls lap-dancing club, one of the biggest in Europe. The film itself, showing young women dancing for the male customers was commercial sexual exploitation masquerading as… I don’t know if it was masquerading as anything, a programme called ‘Strippers’ is hardly posing as serious critique… and is not even about ‘strippers’. 

The film clearly showed where the power lay in the whole business. Working through its formidable ‘house mother’ and manager, herself a former dancer, the skill and beauty of the women dancers were schooled and repackaged in the club’s house style as writhing untouchable sexual avatars. The male customers, including many young men, at whom the whole sorry business is aimed, was also exploited as the ‘house mother’ openly admitted. Like automatons they are primed to spend substantial amounts of money being sexually and very publicly aroused on cue and having to pay extra if they wanted a more ‘private’ experience. One lonely divorced regular took sweeties for the ‘girls’ and referred to them as being like his ‘family’.

The commercial exploitation of sex and sexuality dehumanises everyone involved. The women are not paid for dancing but for any ‘private’ booth dances requested by the customer. The men choose who they want and pay extra. Although they could make good money, the young women competing for those lucrative opportunities spoke about disassociating and having to think of other things while they are dancing, of putting their own sexuality on hold, of having to hide their job from their family and how it changed the way they thought about themselves. If it is a legitimate career choice, as the manager implied, it is certainly having a profoundly negative effect on the young women working there.

To its credit, ‘Strippers’ let the women and men tell their own stories, offered a rare glimpse into the ambiguities going on behind those blacked-out, windowless city shop-fronts and left viewers to make up their own minds. However, by avoiding any critique it effectively normalised an aspect of our increasingly sexualised popular culture, further entrenched negative attitudes towards women and treated the men like jerks. The impact on young people, like the young dancers and customers in the programme is particularly worrying.

Recent research carried out by Zero Tolerance in Scotland found that young people are regularly faced with some toxic choices about sex and sexuality. Expectations placed on young women to conform to unrealistic beauty standards and to act sexually are high, yet they are denigrated if they go too far and get that delicate balance wrong. Similarly, young men are pressurised to conform to a heterosexual masculinity focussed on the relentless pursuit of sex, on watching and approving of pornography and sexualising women and girls. Damned if they do and damned if they don’t.

Happily, the young women dancers featured in the first programme have since chosen to give up lap-dancing and are moving in new and altogether different directions. One finally told her parents where she was working and disappeared from the second half of the programme…. thereby may hang a difficult sequel to her tale. Another packed up and went back to her nursing career in Estonia having failed to earn the money she had hoped for – glad to get away from negative effect the work was having on her personality. Another, a former champion gymnast, is making a new career and future for herself a world away from lap-dancing. With luck, the media’s memories of them all will fade.

Will those men caught getting aroused on camera by the women above their laps (not on…never on…no touching allowed) ever live it down? Will they take a tumble to themselves, stop going there and start living real lives, in real intimate relationships where there is love, affection, genuine sexual freedom and equality? That appearance on Strippers might just check that particular reality.

“He’s the stud, she’s the slut”: Young people’s attitudes to pornography, sex and relationships report.

Part Two of Strippers – 10.00 p.m. On Channel 4, Tuesday 4 March 2014.


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