In September, Stella Creasy successfully campaigned for the government to review whether offences motivated by misogyny should fall under hate crime legislation. Today, it was announced the Law Commission will also look at whether other groups of people should be considered and covered by hate crime legislation – including the elderly, goths, and men.
The government is not telling the Law Commission to recommend misandry be included. At this stage, the Home Office is merely asking for the Commission’s views on whether hatred against women, men, the elderly etc. should be considered an aggravating offence in crimes committed against that group.
Among those calling for misandry to be considered a hate crime is the organisation Fathers 4 Justice. The group argues that calls “to make misogyny a hate crime risks stereotyping men as perpetrators and women as victims” and state that “abuse has no gender”.
The problem with this analysis is it simply does not match the facts. Of course, some men are victims and survivors of gender-based violence, and those men absolutely deserve support and justice.
But when you crunch the numbers, it’s impossible to ignore that violence and abuse is gendered. The majority of perpetrators of violent crime against both men and women are male. According to the Office for National Statistics Crime Survey for England and Wales in year ending March 2017, 78 per cent of perpetrators of violent crime are men.
For domestic abuse, 89 per cent of those experiencing more than four incidents are women and the vast majority of perpetrators are men. When it comes to sexual offences, the majority of victims are women, and perpetrators men. So to say that “abuse has no gender” – as those calling to make misandry a hate crime do – is inaccurate.
Hate crimes – which can include verbal, physical and sexual abuse – are considered to be “aggravating offences”. This means they attract longer prison sentences than offences not motivated by hate, and this is a reflection of how these crimes spread fear among the group to which the victim belongs. According to the Home Office, hate crime can “have an impact beyond individual victims and lead to increased feelings of isolation and fear across whole communities”.
This is arguably true of misogyny.
Acts of violence against women influence the way women across society feel free to live their lives, in the same way hate crimes motivated by ethnicity or sexuality have a repressive impact on an entire community. The threat of male violence restricts women’s freedoms in a way we simply don’t see when it comes to violent crimes committed against men (the vast majority of which is perpetrated by other men). At the same time, the abuse of women online has been condemned by Amnesty International as an attempt to prevent women “from fully exercising their right to participate in public life.”
Unconvinced? Try a simple experiment. If you’re a man, ask the women in your life what steps, if any, they take, to make sure they are safe walking at night. A Buzzfeed article collected 28 different responses to that question, Huffington Post: 34. They ranged from holding keys in our hands, to not getting drunk, and taking alternative routes home.
These rules and suggestions are drilled into us from childhood, from even before we get harassed on the street in our school uniforms. When a woman is violently attacked in our neighbourhoods, warnings appear telling us to get taxis, not to walk home in the dark, not to listen to music on the street. Girls are brought up with endless warning to “keep ourselves safe” from male violence, and learn early on to restrict our freedoms to do so – even at risk of our own physical health.
Now ask a man what he does to keep safe.
Even though men are more likely to be attacked by a (male) stranger on the streets, those attacks aren’t motivated by misandry. They don’t lead to curfews against men, a societal-wide restriction on men’s freedoms, or violently enforce gender inequality.
Of course, there are some incidents when men are harassed by women on the street. We all know guys who have been hassled by drunken hen dos. This behaviour is unpleasant and inappropriate and needs to be called out and condemned.
But when it comes to hate crime, it’s important to look at the motivations and the impact this behaviour has on the victim. When a man I know was harassed by a hen do, I asked him what he felt. He was embarrassed, annoyed, and angry. What was striking, though, was he wasn’t frightened. He didn’t fear the women’s behaviour would escalate into physical violence. Most women harassed by a group of men can’t say the same.
Another important aspect when defining hate crime is that victims are more likely to suffer repeat victimisation.
We can see this from the statistics cited above, and by how misogyny is all around us. Women are harassed on the street, in the classroom, at work. We’re assaulted in clubs, on the tube, on the bus. We’re raped in our bedrooms. We’re murdered in our homes.
While no one would seek to deny or diminish the impact of violent crimes and harassment against men, before misandry is considered a hate crime, serious questions need to be asked about whether it fits the definition. Does misandry intimidate, instill fear in, and seek to control men in a community? Are men repeat victims of misandry? Is misandry a tool used to prevent men from living their lives freely, and from taking up public space? Is a violent crime against men an incitement to commit violence against all men? Does misandry limit men’s opportunities, and stop them from enjoying the full benefits of our society, leading to segregation and isolation?
Misogyny succeeds in repressing women’s freedoms in all sorts of blatant and insidious ways. We shall have to see whether the Law Commission agrees, and whether it feels the same can be said about misandry.