In England in March of this year, in the wake of the murder of Sarah Everard, a small feminist victory was quietly advanced.
After years of campaigning by organizations such as the Fawcett Society, the Home Office announced that going forward, misogyny — hostility towards women based on their gender — is now to be recorded and treated as a hate crime. Police forces are now to specifically record data from crimes suspected to be driven by misogyny.
And, if a corresponding Law Commission proposal becomes law, offenses motivated by misogyny will join homophobia, disability discrimination, and racism as formal hate crimes. They will carry higher sentences and be treated more seriously, partly in recognition of the fact that hate crimes have a wider impact than that felt by individual victims and can affect whole classes of people.
This development certainly feels like a step in the right direction in terms of keeping women safe. But not everyone sees it as a victory. When the matter was discussed in Parliament earlier this month, a (male) MP reacted furiously.
“I believe in equality, and I think these hate crimes ought to be treated in the same way…I think there is serious under-reporting of misandry — I’d be interested to see the official Government figures. I appreciate the intent of [the “misogyny as hate crime”] Bill but I’m afraid it just reflects huge gender bias, and I thought in Parliament we were meant to be for equality and against gender bias.” — Philip Hollobone
Misandry, of course, is man-hating — contempt for, or prejudice against, men based solely on their gender. In language terms, although it is used far less often, it is the reverse equivalent of misogyny, which is the term used to describe hatred of women based on their gender.
Mr. Hollobone is not saying anything that women have not heard before. Far too often we are told that feminists don’t want real equality and that in fact, we want special treatment, to be treated better than men. That must be it. We must want privilege. We want our own special laws, laws that men can’t use.
If we are to be treated the same, Mr. Hollobone and his companions argue, then shouldn’t we accept that there are man-haters just as there are women-haters? Can’t we accept that men can be attacked and abused by women, just as women can be attacked and abused by men? Surely, argue proponents of this “equality”, only a man-hating misandrist could deny that we should be as equal on this playing field as we want to be in boardrooms and in classrooms and in the home.
But this thinking is badly flawed.
All things are not equal here
To demand a position where misogyny and misandry are both recognized as hate crimes with equal standing — to suggest that men and women will be brought level in this way — ignores the fact that women are nowhere near equal to men, to begin with.
We live and breathe within a patriarchal society where men already hold primary power in political leadership, moral authority, and social privilege: simply, women and girls are exploited and oppressed by men and boys in a systematic way that underpins Western society and keeps men at the top (even though there are parts of the structure that are actively harmful to men). The feminist movement seeks to create more equality in this already unequal framework, but equality has not yet been reached.
Hate crime legislation exists in the first place because all things are not equal. Hate crime legislation exists to protect marginalized groups. Social hierarchies are a fact of life, and although some members of the oppressor groups (such as men or white people) may suffer from side effects of being within that class, these examples of suffering do not mean they are entitled to the same protection as members of the oppressed groups (women, or people of color).
Misandry vs. misogyny — the facts
It is not OK to hate men or to attack men based on their gender. Of course, that’s a ridiculous suggestion. But even when defined in its strictest terms — simply as “man-hating” — it’s difficult to see how misandry can possibly be bracketed with misogyny as a genuine hate crime. Here are some examples:
- Misogyny intimidates and is used as a tool to control women within society. Misandry…just doesn’t. It can’t, because men as a group are not physically afraid of women as a group.
- Misogyny limits women’s freedom and opportunities. Misandry does not do this for men.
- Misogyny hurts and kills women all the time. Two women a week are killed by a current or former partner in England and Wales alone. Misandry does not do this. There’s a saying that “when men hate women, they kill them; when women hate men, they’re afraid of being killed” and there is a germ of truth in this simplification.
- Misogyny is a form of oppression. Misandry is a reaction to that oppression.
Put simply, the statistics at our disposal do not bear out any suggestion that misandry results in fear and death in the way misogyny does. And shouldn’t that be enough to remove it from any serious consideration as a crime of equal weight? Must men oppress us and also appropriate and wield the tools we are given to fight back at that oppression?
The best example I can think of to illustrate why misandry can never equal misogyny and become a hate crime on the same footing is to think of a hen party and a stag party; imagine two distinct groups composed of men and women, separately celebrating an upcoming wedding, out on the town.
Imagine those separate crowds at the end of the night when the vodka shots have piled up and things have got loud, messy, and are teetering on the edge of disarray. (We’ve all been there). Now imagine those separate groups out on the dark streets, perhaps turning a corner onto a road in which a single member of the opposite sex waits at a bus stop.
As a group, a cluster of extremely drunk women approaching a man on his own might amuse him. They might perturb him, or make him wish he’d picked a different bus stop. They might be annoying, embarrassing, infuriating. They might make him feel overwhelmed with irritation; they might make him look round for a place to hide to escape their catcalls and whooping and lascivious “banter”. They might make him want to walk quickly away.
What they will not make him is afraid. He will not thread his keys through his fingers, dial the first two digits of the police emergency line, covertly send a WhatsApp pin of his location to a friend, or look around frantically for a police car or nearby friendly face in case the mood of the group changes and he becomes a target of their focus. He will not wonder if choosing to wait at this bus stop is the most foolish decision he will ever make in a life that will perhaps end, as he knows it at least, tonight.
But a loud group of visibly drunk men approaching a lone woman, when their moods are teetering on a knife-edge and any one of them could overpower her if they wanted to? Regardless of whether any perceived threat is real or not, the one thing I can guarantee is that — even if it’s only for a second and even if it later seems a laughably ridiculous impulse — for a moment, she will look at them approaching her and she will feel a flash of the purest, blackest fear.
And that’s why misandry and misogyny are not the same.
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