The misogyny as a hate crime debate
The debate around misogyny as a hate crime runs on .... and on..
If people treat misogyny as a hate crime, will it encourage women to weaponize it, or will it just show up the true extent of misogyny in our society?
Some say to consider misogyny as a hate crime will encourage women to weaponize the situation. Well surely men have been weaponizing their positions of power against women since the plough was invented. These offences fall in the range of mild everyday sexism to violent abuse, coercion and harassment. Will they really struggle to cope with false or exaggerated claims after millennia in a dominant position? I doubt it.
In the U.K., Nottinghamshire Police recently started treating misogyny as a hate crime. Their pilot scheme launched two years ago intended to "shift misogynistic attitudes", rather than increase convictions. What has been shocking is the number of incidents now reported. There has only been one conviction but the police force say that attitudes are indeed changing. This is because they created an atmosphere where women feel comfortable stepping up to report and discuss incidents.
Misogyny hate crimes are defined as:
‘Incidents against women that are motivated by the attitude of men towards women. This includes behaviour targeted at women by men simply because they are women’.
The impact of misogyny
The research from the Nottingham Trent University shows the percentage of the population experiencing misogynistic behaviour include:
- sexual assault (24.7%),
- indecent exposure (25.9%),
- groping (46.2%),
- taking unwanted photographs on mobiles (17.3%),
- upskirting (6.8%),
- online abuse (21.7%),
- being followed home (25.2%),
- whistling (62.9%),
- sexually explicit language (54.3%),
- threatening /aggressive/ intimidating behaviour (51.8%),
- unwanted sexual advances (48.9%).
The police maintain that the pilot scheme receives strong public support, even though some police forces are critical. These stats are in line with reports from other geographies where women testify to similar levels of harassment, sexism and abuse. However, one male commentator suggested: "To involve the police in complaints about wolf whistling is a waste of time and resources. The woman should feel complimented."
This comment was met with derision by anyone I mentioned it to. One 3Plus writer describes wolf-whistling as the broken windows of sexism. We have to start sweating the small stuff.
Gender and generational perceptions
There are strong generational and gender differences in perception of what constitutes harassment. The biggest divide is over wolf whistling and looking at a woman's breasts .
In France they are taking sexual harassment claims more seriously. Quartz magazine reported the results of a recent survey which found that 80% of French women had experienced at least one form of sexual assault or street/public transportation harassment. According to the same survey:
“41% of French women have suffered from forced sexual contact in a public place.”
Anja an activist against street harassment in Paris said "If men experienced the daily sexism of groping, dirty comments, predatory looks and cat calling that women do - there would have been laws years ago. Men harass women because they can. Women shouldn't have to worry about taking public transport with a man grinding his crotch against her hip in crowded metros or walking in the street and being harangued or having their ass grabbed".
Marie Laguerre posted a video of her experience in Paris this summer. That video has now had 6 million views. "Last night, as I was coming back home in Paris, I walked past a man who sexually/verbally harassed me. He wasn't the first one and I can't accept being humiliated like that, so I replied "shut up". He then threw an ashtray at me, before rushing back to punch me, in the middle of the street, in front of dozens of people. This is an unacceptable behaviour. It happens everyday, everywhere and I don't know a single woman who doesn't have a similar story. I am sick of feeling unsafe walking in the street. Things need to change, and they need to change now."
Unwritten male code
In France the Secretary of State in charge of Equality between Women and Men, Marlène Schiappa stated:
“The situation is serious. It is about the freedom of women to move freely in the public space. This is why it’s a priority.”
Schiappa’s legislation, which aims to change the way the country punishes different forms of violence against women and gender inequality, will be introduced this autumn.
Women live with an unwritten male code that this type of sexism is just a bit of fun and banter and they should suck it up and deal with it. But they also know that, as we saw in the Paris video, it can become violent at any moment. Although Marie Laguerre defended the bystanders, she received very little direct and immediate support. Women have learned that if something happens to them they can't rely on anyone to intervene. If they defend themselves the situation could deteriorate and they suffer a physical attack.
So men have to learn that it's not OK to behave in this way. They need to police themselves and support women being harassed in this way, instead of feeling they are letting down their own gender if they protest. Maybe occasionally there will be a false allegation, but these will be very rare. Set against the level of harassment that women experience on an every day basis, considering misogyny as a hate crime is the best way forward.
Sexism is not limited to physical harassment; it can occur in many different forms. Make sure that your company is actively preventing sexism by taking part in our Unconscious Bias Training Workshops.
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