Women Speak Out About Sectarianism

Mixing The Colours: Women Speaking About Sectarianism is the result of a project conducted by Glasgow Women’s Library as part of the Scottish Government Action on Tackling Sectarianism. Told in the stories and poems of fifteen women, including specially commissioned pieces by Magi Gibson, Denise Mina and Eleanor Thom, the book provides a remarkable insight into the experiences of women that have historically been overlooked.
Women’s historical and contemporary experiences of the traditionally male-focussed issue of sectarianism have, until now, been marginalised and excluded from the social history of Scotland. Frequently, women are seen in a stereotypical way as passive ‘victims’ of sectarianism; the casualties of domestic abuse after football matches.
Seeking women’s voices has widened our awareness dramatically, empowering women in the communities where we have worked and making us reassess everything we previously knew about the impact of sectarianism on the people of Scotland.


In These Transgressive Spaces
By Denise Mina

Katherine was coming out of the anesthetic when she heard the accent from home. She was groggy, she thought it was the nurse speaking but it wasn’t. It was the only other woman in the recovery room.

“Not too bad,” the woman had said. “Thanks.”

The nurse looked at Katherine and smiled with practiced kindness, “And how are you feeling?”

Befuddled, Katherine considered doing a Birmingham accent as a disguise but she didn’t really know that one. Or London? The nurse was waiting for an answer, eyebrows rising slowly, watching for complications from surgery, bubbles on the brain. Maybe a mad, badly delivered accent was a bad idea.

Katherine spoke in her own voice, “I’m awful sore.”

The other woman twitched in recognition. They were from the same place. Not here, not Guildford, but Glasgow. And they were from very near each other, the same small mining village, judging from the peculiar rounding of the vowels.

“Where is it sore, darling?” The nurse was from Guildford or London, not home anyway. “Does it feel like a period?”

Katherine nodded, “But times ten.”

The nurse tipped her head sympathetically, “That’s normal. It will be sore. We’ll get you some paracetamol when we get back to the ward.”

“I’m the same,” said the other woman, a little breathless from the throbbing pain.

“We’ll get you some too.” The nurse went off into the next room.

Katherine ordered herself not to look at the woman but then she did.

No one in here made eye contact. There was no idle chat in this clinic on the outskirts of suburbia. The only people who wanted to talk were the campaigners outside and they really wanted to talk. All the patients were women and they all kept their eyes down. The exception was the woman who was months gone, showing. Something wrong with the baby. She wasn’t shy at all and neither was her husband. They were angry. In a small room of six beds, all getting ready, stowing their belongings in paper bags, changing into paper gowns and hats, all the while listening to them tell the cleaner, the nurses, the doctors, that they didn’t agree with abortion but they actually needed a termination for medical reasons. They stopped short of calling the rest of them feckless whores but the implication was there. No one objected. Even when the wife started crying loudly about being put in this predicament, they all just kept their eyes down and pretended that they weren’t there. They were each in their own bubble of shame, wishing the day past.

But this woman in recovery did meet Katherine’s eye and she smiled, “Ye all right?”

“Aye, not bad. Yourself?”

“Not bad, aye. Glad it’s done.”

“God,” said Katherine, almost savouring the confirming waves of pain, “Me too.”

They were whispering, as if the whole village, the whole West of Scotland was there, arms crossed, pinched-mouth, watching them both, lying there in their gall, not dying of shame.

The hospital gowns and caps were made of paper and they rustled as they moved. Their outfits made Katherine think of them as temporary things, throw-away things that would melt in rain.

The woman smiled. She was handsome, older than Katherine by a good ten years. She had round cheekbones and long lashes.

“Anybody from home here with you, pet?”

Katherine balked at the mention of home. But maybe not. The woman was here for the same thing as her and she might just want to know whether Katherine’s mother and father and fiancé were going to be upstairs when they got back to their beds. They made you take off your jewelry, Katherine’s crucifix was in her shoe upstairs, and so the woman couldn’t know the impossibility of Katherine telling anyone where she was or what she had decided to do.

“No. I’m just down myself.”

A distant clang down a corridor ricocheted against the outside wall and Katherine suddenly thought, what if she was in for a medical one? Maybe her family would have come to offer their support? And then, when they got back home, Katherine would be seeing them in the street, in the Co-op, in the chapel, maybe, even–

“You?” She asked anxiously.

“No! No, no. Nor me,” the woman shook her head reassuringly. “It’s okay.”

Exhausted, they lay back and looked at the ceiling of the recovery room. There was nothing to look at.

“I’m actually a bit surprised,” said the woman, “Because they’re so sensitive. I’m surprised they put us together. I mean–” she glanced at Katherine, “Well, we know . . .”

Their accents were so close that, through the slowly lifting anesthetic fog, if felt as if the woman’s voice was in Katherine’s own head.

Katherine told the ceiling, “Ah, but – I lied on the form. I said Paisley.”

“Being secretive?’

“Yeah. That went well, didn’t it?”

They looked at each other and had a little chuckle. The door opened. A porter came in and said a few pleasantries as he kicked off the brakes on the other woman’s bed – hello – just moving you upstairs now – it’s a lovely sunny day outside – back in a bit for you, my love – then he rolled the bed out through swinging double doors into a bright corridor. The woman’s face came past her bed and she looked at Katherine.

“Goodbye,” she said, blinking slowly and nodding, as if she was making a solemn vow never to see her again.

You can download the full publication from Glasgow Women’s Library.

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