Helen Robertson Column: Floats the raven banner o’er us …

“Donald Trump can grab my pussy any day.”

What kind of experiences and education do you need to get to a place where this is an acceptable slogan for you to wear across your chest?

Maybe the women who wore it at an American election rally had been raised and educated that their needs were second to the needs of the men around them.

Maybe they had reason to disbelieve and dismiss other women’s tales of violence against them. Or maybe, given more evidence of corruption, they had been paid to wear it.

But wear it they did, thus proclaiming that they denied their own rights while simultaneously mocking the victims of sexual abuse.

And, of course, he got in. I don’t understand the optimism that naturally comes with the turning of the year. The calendar is a manmade thing. As far as nature is concerned we are not in year 2017 at all – it is a manmade construction.

The fight for equality must be stepped up if we are not to slip back and lose the political rights already achieved.


Despite this it does generate a kind of collective optimism that “things” can only get better. However, the changes started in 2016 are only going to be implemented this year and “things” are going to get much worse.

With a blatant bully in power in America the fight for equality must be stepped up if we are not to slip back and lose the political rights already achieved.

If we are not willing to alter an aspect of our culture then why should we expect any other culture to alter theirs? By refusing to change this aspect of our culture we give fuel and validity to other communities across the world that use culture as an excuse for much more serious and dangerous practices.

A recent Junior Jarl’s Squad roars its support during festival. Will girls ever get a chance to join in? Photo: Dave Donaldson.

Up-Helly-A’ is our veil; it is our not being allowed to drive, it is our not being allowed to vote. Culturally, historically and internationally it is the same; it comes from the same place, and has the same effect – sending a message to women and to girls that they are not good enough or important enough to be accorded equal rights.

A recent National Geographic magazine investigates gender and its effect on individuals across the world. One Canadian girl was quoted as saying: “There isn’t anything I can’t do because I’m a girl. Everyone is equal.” If only we could say the same here.

Being in a Junior Up-Helly-A’ squad is great for your education. You can learn group skills and team building. Your creativity can be developed as you explore ideas for squad themes.

Your research skills can be developed as you look to history to find a character to represent. You can learn to design your costume, creating original shields and tunics.

Not only are the girls excluded from taking part in the main event, that their place as not so important as boys is reinforced through the school.


There’s a chance to learn sewing, woodworking and metal working skills. Sounds great! What a great thing for the school to support.

Oh, but wait, that’s only if you’re a boy. The educational opportunities available to girls are somewhat more limited; you can learn to apply make up, you can learn to dress attractively and you can learn sitting at the side of the hall looking pretty. Girls need to be valued for their skills, no their appearance.

Not only are the girls excluded from taking part in the main event, that their place as not so important as boys is reinforced through the school. This is a matter for the education committee.

The Junior Up-Helly-A’ should reform or die. The coming of the new Anderson High School is a perfect opportunity to introduce change to the festival.

No child, male or female should be discriminated against because of their gender. It is so basic that I can’t believe it even has to be said, never mind fought for.

What good do you think it does to girls not allowed to take part? What good to boys to have the privilege of full participation granted purely due to their gender.

The lead-up to Up-Helly-A’, the events afterwards, and the parading of men at every community event just reinforces this message.

If you are a female reading this then you, me, we are second class, not good enough to take part either because of historical, cultural or (get this) economic reasons.

According to the written guidelines for the Up-Helly-A’ committee it has a duty to continue upholding the traditions of the festival.

At the risk of coming over all James Stewart – what has been written by man can be altered
by man. Fly the flag, be the change.

We need to teach our girls that they are equally important to boys and that Donald Trump cannot grab their pussy any day.


Add Your Comment
  • Michael Mouat

    • January 14th, 2017 20:56

    No problem… you can start another Lerwick UHA open to everyone! Shetlanders aren’t going to say no to another foy – we love a good spree! You speak as if it’s some state implemented policy which I don’t really get tbh. It’s like complaining that men aren’t allowed to be Miss Universe. There’s nothing to say you can’t start another festival, and then, if the free market of public expression dictates that the old festival dies out, then so be it…

  • Geoff Leask

    • January 14th, 2017 22:12

    Helen, Your periodical diatribes are thought provoking and to the point. Period. (As the yanks would say.)
    However I don’t feel your pain. I can’t think of any event more inclusive than UHA and rest assured that no
    cats have been skinned for that purpose so you can be sure that all pussys are in safe hands here in Shetland. Tally ho – 2 weeks to go. Geoff Leask, Lerwick.

  • Gavin Anderson

    • January 15th, 2017 14:36

    Does this mean that every girl, and boy for that matter , that doesnt go to the Anderson High S2 are losing out on education because they too cannot be in the Junior Jarl Squad?

  • Aaron Moison

    • January 15th, 2017 19:42

    I feel that this is a tad over the top – you have likened blatant rampant sexism to a gender segregated group. Is the author also against the Boys brigade? If so, what about womens hour at swimming pools, gyms? What about Brownies, the Womens Institute? I am not critising the desire or usefullness of any of the above, I am merely wanting to point out that males do not seem to be allowed to ever want to meet without allowing women there either.

    Is there nothing that men and boys are allowed to look at any more and say “this is ours, this is something for us to be part of and be proud of”? The response will probably be to this along the lines of “but why is it only men that could/should be proud of this – why can’t women be as well?” It is a fair question, and on any individual topic impossible to answer without sounding like a chauvinist pig; but when taken collectively, why is the feminist movement, which is so proud of women, their talents, skills and benefit to society (and rightly so), so insistent on taking any last vestage of male culture and making it unisexual? Doing so leads to a push back, in the form of the “lad culture”, being a “bro” and instead of giving boys a role model of “A man is X,Y & Z”, there only recourse, without suidance is to go down the route of “A man is not a woman, so is not X, Y & Z” – leading to repressed emotions, less useful social interaction and empathy.

    Can I honestly ask as well, is there a class, group or society that actively promotes girls education ” you can learn to apply make up, you can learn to dress attractively and you can learn sitting at the side of the hall looking pretty.” If there is, I agree that that is a disgrace. If not, this is vitriol and spin – the type used by the aforementioned and (rightly so) vilerated Donald Trump.

  • i tinkler

    • January 16th, 2017 11:42

    Somewhat strange and bizarre! A large group of openly hairy men take on the roles of Viking Warriors for a night, yet appear afraid to let the fair sex participate in their strange rituals. Even more disturbing, part of the ritual involving, many frequently, “cross-dressed”, men forming squads taking on odd roles, as they move around The Town… What a shame no ladies can take part, some of Europes greatest warriors were females. Joan of Arc, Boadicea and our fair Lady Godiva. They would be worth a second look as squads (traditional dress only), beat a bunch of cross-dressers any day!

  • Sandy McDonald

    • January 16th, 2017 16:41

    This does seem to be the last bastion of open chauvinism in Shetland. I would be interested to hear the UHA committee view on the subject as well as their reasons for not opening it up to people who only have x chromosomes. If the sole reason is “it’s tradition” then I will be pretty disappointed. Just because something is traditional doesn’t mean it’s the right way to do things. The abhorrent practise of FGM is traditional in some cultures!

  • Haydn Gear

    • January 16th, 2017 18:28

    I quite understands where Ian is coming from regarding the exclusion of women from the Viking enactment and no doubt those hardy play acting warriors would have their reasons for it to be a men only pantomime. He mentions three well known females who were ( he claimed) to have been involved in fighting but I think some doubt exists. Jeanne d’Arc, known as the Maid of Orleans certainly used her sword and became St. Joan and Boudica , to spell her name correctly, was also eager to fight but Lady Godiva is only( ONLY!!) renowned for riding a horse whilst naked around Coventry for a dare to persuade her husband, the local, powerful nobleman, to reduce taxes and she won the dare. All legendary of course. Maybe Thatcher and Bessie Braddock should be added to the list !!

  • Haydn Gear

    • January 16th, 2017 19:04

    Aaron Moison seems to have become a little overexcited in regard to the gender gap which appears to irk him so much. For more years than I can remember there has been and still is Woman’s Hour on the radio. Is he hankering after something called Man’s Hour? How many women go to sea fishing from Shetland? Any? The fact is, for generations women were repressed by men and even unmarried female teachers had to resign from their positions if they walked down the aisle. In a way, the worm has turned. My present dentist ( female) is the best I’ve ever had and all manner of jobs and professions are open to women and why not? To some extent extreme feminists of yesteryear ( the big boots, dungarees and roughly cut hair types) have shot themselves in the foot but we now have a breed of women who are moderate, ambitious and are well able to have their women only groups. Let them. If Aaron takes a closer look he’ll see that men too have their groups. Not all men are macho bombasts any more than all young women are drunken tarts.

  • John Irvine

    • January 17th, 2017 13:52

    Helen, I agree totally with what you say and feel that the inclusion of girls in the junior squad and women in the senior squads would be of benefit and would enhance the festival, all the other UHA`s include women and are much better for it.
    The only thing I cannot understand is why anyone would want to celebrate anything to do with the Viking`s in the first place, they were inhumane, vile and horrible, which makes me wonder….. will in 1000 years for example, someone somewhere have a festival where they celebrate the third reich? there`s not much difference.

  • David Spence

    • January 17th, 2017 22:29

    When does a tradition NOT become a tradition for the sake of Political Correctness?

    Women play a vital and highly important role in the Lerwick Up Helly Aa, as they do in all UHA’s. Just because they do not take part in the ceremony does not, I think, belittle their valued contribution.

    Even if you reversed the roles, in all honesty, would it attract more people to Up Helly Aa from further afield than Shetland or would it waterdown the Festival until it disappears into the mists of time?

    Shetland’s first female Guiser Jarl in UHA was from the south part of Shetland, but one could have questioned whether we were celebrating the character she played as a Christain or as a Viking? It is my understanding that the character she played was Ode, and it was this character who was the first Christain Viking to introduce Christianity to Iceland, I believe?

    The founder of UHA, looked upon UHA, as a way in which Shetlander’s could celebrate their Nordic Heritage and connections to Scandinavia. I think it should be this which plays the part and promoted even moreso than what it is just now. Using the original Nordic Place Names.

  • Andy Hayes

    • January 31st, 2017 21:23

    I would be more than happy to see more equality in Up Helly Aa and life in general, so why not start with women moving into professions normally undertaken by men: refuse collecters, cesspit emptiers, mining, oil rigs, the military (on the front lines dying with the men). Let’s make it compulsory to have a proper gender balance in the workplace. I think that women would be great at cesspit emptying. Any volunteers want to leave their overheated office for a life of cesspit pumping? Don’t all rush at once.

    Female genital mutilation? Big hoohaa. Male genital mutilation? Not a word to be heard.

    The problem is that when women get equality they really don’t like it, look at the WASPI (Women Against State Pension Inequality) women moaning about having to retire later. Men have been retiring later and dying earlier than women for decades and we continue to do so.

    Women, you get it easy. Please stop your moaning.

    • Stuart Hannay

      • February 1st, 2017 15:56

      As a man who has worked in a role predominantly done by women (health and social care) for many years, I can assure you that most of my colleagues have never been afraid of a bit of poo. Cesspit pumping doesn’t sound too hard. Caring for someone and treating them with dignity and respect, usually not in a cosy office, sounds a lot harder to me.

  • Johan Adamson

    • February 2nd, 2017 9:54

    I have nothing but admiration for the men in squads who did an amazing job this year with their outfits and their acts, thanks for all that entertainment, but still think it a little sad that girls are not in the Jarl squad but boys are. If it was a country (more progressive) UHA, you could have all your family members in the squad with you, come on, make a start with the Lerwick jarl squad and junior jarl and allow women and girls. Also employ women musicians as well as men to go round the halls.

    And any other squads – all squad members need to try to produce a partner or friend (of any gender) to help in the halls and become hosts and hostesses so that this continues for all – or there will be no halls to go to.


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