We fought for years to prove we’re not the weaker sex: Making misogyny a hate crime would be so self-defeating, writes SARAH VINE
Misogyny has many faces, all of them ugly. Like all women, I’ve encountered my fair share of knuckleheads, and like all women I’ve had to learn to deal with them and their casual, often unconscious, disrespect of my sex.
From the man who told me aged 15 that I was a ‘frigid bitch’ for not wanting him to put his hands on my breasts, to the American Vogue writer – one Hamish Bowles – who while smearing me with preposterous accusations of racism over the word ‘niggling’, chose to condense my entire career and existence into the phrase ‘wife of…’, there are no shortage of chauvinists, driven by a sense of male entitlement, an innate sense of superiority and, more often than not, politics.
In 2017, Observer columnist and alleged comedian Stewart Lee wrote this about me: ‘As a student, David Cameron is rumoured to have put his penis into a dead pig’s mouth. To outdo him as an adult, in an act even more bizarre and obscene, Michael Gove put his penis into a Mail journalist.’
As an example of misogyny, it’s fair to say that’s pretty impressive, all the more so since it appeared (and continues to appear – the full article is available on the Guardian website) in a publication that considers itself a model of feminist principles.
These are the kind who kill women such as Sarah Everard, whose death is a monstrous injustice and a tragedy that has touched us all. But they are not all men. Flowers are seen above at Clapham Common
So men who hate women come in different guises, even – in this case – achingly politically correct comedians. But I’ve learnt that their behaviour, like racism and other forms of irrational loathing, is more to do with them than me.
It derives from a deep-seated sense of fear and insecurity. They are essentially inadequate, and so they self-aggrandise by demeaning others.
Most of them are harmless fools, easily defused with a sharp word or, in extremis, a kick in the shins. But there is a small element who are actually dangerous.
Capable of translating their pathetic, deranged fantasies into reality. These are the ones we need protection against – the ones who rape, murder and abuse us. These are the criminal, and the criminally insane.
These are the kind who kill women such as Sarah Everard, whose death is a monstrous injustice and a tragedy that has touched us all.
But they are not all men. Which is why I am deeply uncomfortable with the notion – put forward last week in Parliament and supported by many women’s groups and individuals for whom I have a great deal of respect but with whom I must, respectfully, disagree – of making misogyny a hate crime. It’s not just that I don’t believe it will deter those who hate women and wish to cause them harm.
It’s that I think it turns what is essentially a question of individual criminality into a blanket vilification of the male sex, creating endless scope for the professionally offended, blowing admittedly crass but essentially harmless behaviour (wolf-whistles and the like) out of all proportion and burdening the authorities, who are struggling to contain real criminals, with even more bureaucracy and paperwork.
Men will feel even more threatened by us, and that will not achieve the desired effect. It will only amplify existing prejudice.
Much like the absurd idea put forward in the Lords – that there should be a 6pm curfew for men to allow women to walk the streets in safety – it would take us back to the Victorian notion of women as the weaker sex, incapable of looking after themselves
Men who already hate us will only hate us more because of it, and ultimately that will put more women’s lives in danger. It will also fan the flames of a dangerous culture war between the sexes which, aside from a small number of radical feminists, no one wants.
When I wrote last week that I felt Sarah’s death had been hijacked by those with a certain political agenda, I found myself the subject of considerable abuse on social media, most of it, ironically, from women.
But I stand by that assertion. Knee-jerk legislation is the absolute worst kind of legislation, driven not by sound, sensible principles, but by emotion and pitchforkery.
If there is to be a legislative response to the death of Sarah, it must be a properly considered one, not something forged in the agony and heat of the moment.
Sarah’s friend from university, Helen Edwards, echoed this sentiment when she wrote: ‘Her abduction and killing is not, in my opinion, a symptom of a sexist, dangerous society.
‘When something awful like this happens, there is a rush to look for reasons and apportion blame.
If there is to be a legislative response to the death of Sarah, it must be a properly considered one, not something forged in the agony and heat of the moment
‘If the suspect police officer in custody is eventually found guilty of her murder, then I will hold him alone responsible. I will not be blaming ‘men’ or ‘the police’ for the actions of one individual.’
Ms Edwards added that her friend ‘knew many wonderful men’ in her life, several of whom had played key roles in the efforts to find Sarah, and added: ‘I don’t think Sarah would have wanted them, or men in general, to be smeared with the same brush as her attacker. Most people, and indeed men, are good.’
If misogyny becomes a hate crime, that principle would be fundamentally undermined. Not only would it be the case that all men would find themselves cast as potential offenders, but all women would be characterised as potential victims. And this, perhaps more than any, is a notion I fundamentally reject.
For decades, women have fought to show the world that we are not the weaker sex. We have, rightly, demanded a seat at the table of men. We have become soldiers dodging bullets on the frontline, scientists, politicians, surgeons and more.
And we have done all this while still having babies and bringing up families and enduring the put-downs of those who would much rather we stayed at home and warmed their slippers.
To make misogyny a hate crime would be a reversion of this principle. Much like the absurd idea put forward in the Lords – that there should be a 6pm curfew for men to allow women to walk the streets in safety – it would take us back to the Victorian notion of women as the weaker sex, incapable of looking after themselves.
It would enshrine in law the wrongful and insidious assumption that we are not strong enough; that we require special protection from the uncontrollable urges of men.
None of which is true. As women, it is right that we come together in support of each other, to share our experiences and give each other the strength to counter abuse. But that does not mean indulging in misandry. That does not mean retreating into victimhood or giving in to misplaced paranoia.
What we need is more understanding between the sexes, not less. More subtlety and nuance, not less. Fewer blanket assertions and assumptions, not more.
Above all, let us not polarise and over-politicise the most vital relationship on the planet, the one that ultimately keeps our race alive – that between man and woman.
BBC Breakfast presenters Naga Munchetty and Charlie Stayt found themselves in hot water after Stayt joked that Robert Jenrick’s Union flag was ‘not up to standard size’ and ‘just a little bit small’. Honestly: this is the BBC, not some sixth-form YouTube channel. Besides, hasn’t anyone told them it’s not the size of your flag that matters, it’s how you wave it?
The PM’s father, Stanley, has awarded his son a ‘B+ or maybe A-‘ for his handling of the pandemic, saying he couldn’t give him more because of the death toll. Fair enough. That said, unlike Stanley, at least Boris doesn’t go around breaking his wife’s nose, as revealed by The MoS last year. On that basis, Stanley would be lucky to get anything higher than an F.
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