This week marks National Hate Crime Awareness Week in the UK and with it has come the announcement that an upcoming Law Commission review is to consider, among other things, whether offences motivated by misandry should be treated as a hate crime. The news comes after a sustained campaign by feminist activists and politicians such as MP Stella Creasy for the inclusion of misogyny under hate-crime legislation, which currently only covers five of the nine “protected characteristics” recognised in equality law: disability, race, religion, sexual orientation and transgender identity.
In a nutshell, hate-crime legislation exists to recognise where a criminal offence has been motivated by hatred towards a particular group. In many cases, this can result in harsher sentences for perpetrators – a homophobic assault or racist graffiti, for example, might be treated more severely than other types of assault or graffiti. ”Someone who repeatedly targets women faces no such sanction,” writes Creasy. “Women who go to the police to report harassment repeatedly get told that it was ‘just a bit of fun’ and that ‘it’s not a crime to be chatted up’.”
A Law Commission review into hate crime in England and Wales was announced last month following Creasy’s attempt to amend a draft law to include misogyny as a motivating factor in hate crime. The move was welcomed by politicians including justice minister Lucy Frazer, with Creasy commenting: "For the first time we are now saying as a country that misogyny is not a part of life, it is something that shouldn't be tolerated, and it is something we are going to tackle.” But, a month on, it has emerged that the review will consider misogyny and misandry equally, without “prioritising one over the other”.
Speaking to the BBC, Home Office minister Baroness Williams explained that the government has not recommended to the Law Commission that misandry be included, but simply asked for their view on the basis that the government always acts on what "the public and other organisations are telling us”.
We are currently masking a problem when we should be tackling it
On the one hand, it might be encouraging for feminist campaigners that the inclusion of misandry is not set in stone – but, on the other, it highlights a widespread societal belief that the hatred of men is a real problem, on a par with misogyny. Ironically, this is exactly the myth that Creasy and her supporters had aimed to expose with the specific inclusion of a misogyny hate crime, which would recognise that women as a group have far less structural power than men, and are vastly more likely to be the victims of gender-based hatred and violence.
In fact, analysis from pilot areas that are already treating misogyny in this way have highlighted the widespread nature of such incidents. In Nottingham, where police began recording offences targeting women as hate crime in 2016, an evaluation showed that 51.8% of survey respondents had experienced threatening, aggressive or intimidating behaviour, and 46.2% had been victims of groping. And 74.9% of those who had witnessed or experienced harassment felt that it had had a long-term impact on them afterwards.
Of course, misogyny exists in many forms and the widespread nature of violence against women raises particular challenges in how to legislate against it. For example, crimes such as rape and domestic violence are surely underpinned by misogyny regardless of the context in which they happen. And other sexist behaviours that affect women – street harassment or unwanted sexual advances, for instance – aren’t always criminal under existing law, so wouldn’t be affected by hate-crime legislation. These are just some of the reasons why women’s organisations in Scotland have called for a standalone misogynistic hate crime, rather than one that is attached to existing legislation.
While there might be nuanced discussion about how best to legislate against misogyny, though, what is clear is that its existence shouldn’t be up for debate. Luckily, the Law Commission’s review is wide-ranging and set to consider many possible changes – so this discussion about misandry may yet prove a needless distraction from the important work it could ultimately do. “It is about acknowledging and responding to what women encounter in our everyday lives,” says Stella Creasy. “We are currently masking a problem when we should be tackling it.”