MICHAEL MARRA once wrote a great song called Hairmless. ''Hairmless, hairmless,'' it goes, ''There's never nae bother wi' me./ I go to the lib'ry and take out a book/ And then I go hame fur ma tea . . .''

It's a recognisable portrait of a certain kind of Scottish maleness; but it's not one that's much in evidence in any of the prose works short listed for this year's two major Scottish literary awards, the Saltire Society Book of the Year Award, and the Stakis Prize for the Scottish Writer of the Year.

It's not quite the done thing, of course, in literary circles, to go on too much about what these books actually say; at this season of award ceremonies people tend to wax eloquent about the quality and range of modern Scottish writing, the vibrancy of the language, perhaps the powerful evocation of time and place. But themes, preoccupations, actual subject matter - no, that's perhaps a bit to close to home.

For the truth is that of the five prose works which appear on these short lists, four are largely concerned with men's violent and controlling impulses towards women, and women's attempts, pathological or creative, to escape from them. The locus classicus of the theme this year is Bernard MacLaverty's beautiful novel Grace Notes, which last week won the Saltire Book of the Year award. It's a book written by a man, of course. But its magnificently-imagined central character is a young woman - born in Northern Ireland, living in Glasgow - who uses her brilliant creativity as a musician and composer to invent a route of escape, both from the grimmer tribal imperatives of the society into which she was born, and from an increasingly abusive relationship with the father of her baby daughter, a charming but mindless drunk who, in a striking echo of Jane Campion's film The Piano, tries at one point

to crush her fingers in a door so that she can no longer sit at the keyboard and compose.

But then, A L Kennedy's novella Original Bliss - which, with its attendant collection of short stories, is the other book to appear on both 1997 short lists - also touches on the same undercurrent of violence; it is, in many ways, a book obsessed with the element of sado-masochism which Kennedy sees in most relationships between men and women. The hero of the title-story has a pathological addiction to violent and humiliating pornographic images of women, which he struggles - perhaps successfully - to overcome; the heroine, known only as Mrs Brindle, has for years been tolerating a marriage in which she is routinely bullied, threatened, and brainwashed by her boor of a husband.

Ali Smith's two-part novel Like is preoccupied with women's escape from the grip of patriarchy through gay sexuality, and the celebration of each other. And Kathryn Heyman's powerful novel The Breaking - set in the Australian outback, but still profoundly influenced by the stern Protestant culture of the migrants who settled there - clearly traces the anger of the young heroine, Sarah, and her difficulty in forming peaceful relationships, to the routine domestic violence of her policeman father, and his louring, unpredictable presence in the house.

So what are we to make of this preoccupation with women's struggle to get out from under something dark, profoundly oppressive, and essentially male? First, that it is perhaps inevitable that writers of both sexes should find such endless layers of violence, annihilation, and sadism to unwrap, in trying to write about women as the true emotional and intellectual equals of men, after so many thousands of years of patriarchy.

Secondly, that despite 25 years of noisy ''second wave'' feminism, it seems that basic feminist ideas have as yet made so little impact on mainstream thinking that young women are still taken by surprise when they put themselves in the power of men, and then find that the men who say they love them may in fact only want to own and control them; decade after decade, it seems, women have to learn the same lesson, reinvent the wheel, and write the books that express their rage and disappointment. And thirdly, that all of these writers, without exception, write about these issues of sex and power with great subtlety, and without dogma. Their male characters are complex and credible, their compassion is large; above all, they avoid easy pessimism, and are courageous enough to write about the possibility of redemption and rebirth, through love, creativity, grace.

But my problem is this: that although all of these books are passionate and persuasive to the last word, still I do not really recognise in them the Scotland where I grew up, and in which I have lived all my adult life. For the fact is that I come from that neck of Scottish society where the men were largely ''hairmless'', in the true Mike Marra sense; where if there was a problem with them it lay in their passivity rather than their aggression; where all the virility seemed to have drained out into the women, mighty matriarchs who had never seen a man to match them; and where religion was a gentle, do-gooding affair dominated by the Woman's Guild, rather than a roaring patriarchal nightmare of hell and damnation.

And at the moment, that mild-mannered Scotland barely seems to figure in the books that come to judgment. Maybe there just wasn't enough fear and loathing there, to inspire the greatest of writing. But I think there was, somewhere under the skin; otherwise, why did I feel such a sense of appalled recognition at the fifth and last of the short-listed novels, Iain Banks's fierce future-fantasy A Song Of Stone, which conjures up the landscape of a Scotland riven by class and ethnic hatreds, sliding back with humiliating speed into the tattered barbarity of civil war, starvation, rape, and pillage. Perhaps the rage and loathing of

outwardly peaceful, matriarchal Scotland is only the more explosive for being buried so deeply; in other words, perhaps I should write a novel about it.

n Joyce McMillan was a member of the judging panel for the Saltire Scottish Book of the Year Award, which was won last week by Bernard MacLaverty's Grace Notes. The winner of the Stakis Prize will be announced in Glasgow on November 29.

n Ann Donald interviews Kathryn Heyman in tomorrow's Herald.