The government should not rush to criminalise misogyny

19 March 2021

Carys Moseley comments on the recent events in Clapham Common and the government’s proposals to criminalise misogyny as a hate crime.

Last Saturday night’s events at Clapham Common have revealed a culture war over many issues including women’s safety, policing and the freedom to protest. At the heart of this is the desire in many quarters to make ‘misogyny’ a hate crime. The same people who are out protesting want to criminalise speech and define ‘women’ and ‘misogyny’ in gender-neutral terms. We need to stand back and evaluate the wisdom of all this.

Lockdown has bred fear

Lockdown policies are the framework behind the events. Lockdown has led to near-empty streets. It has also led to higher rates of domestic violence. This has in turn led to greater fear among some women. It has also led to spiralling mental health problems across the board. The rise of conspiracy theories since the lockdown one year ago is evidence of increasing paranoia among a large minority of the population.

Lockdown has led to inconsistent policing

By now, it is evident that inconsistencies in policing have characterised the last year of lockdown. Some protests have been policed in a stricter manner than others. Related to this, some types of protest have been reported more or less favourably in the press. Police officers now feel they are ‘damned if they do, damned if they don’t, because politicians appear to change their policies according to how the wind blows.

Many people have criticised the Met Police for not allowing the vigil requested by Reclaim These Streets to go ahead. Many have also criticised the Home Office for not allowing protests at all. At least we know that across the UK there were peaceful vigils to mark the death of Sarah Everard. However the culture wars spilling over from London affect us all.

Media bias on illegal vigil

I followed Saturday’s unfolding events live on Twitter. At 6pm, a group called Sisters Uncut announced they would organise a vigil anyway. Sisters Uncut is a feminist and transgender activist group with anarchistic leanings. It is very hostile to the police and uses disruptive protest tactics such as ‘die-ins’.

Sisters Uncut is in fact the group that kept on disrupting events run by Woman’s Place to discuss the problems with reforming the Gender Recognition Act. Their activists were among the people who physically attacked women who wanted to debate the Gender Recognition Act in Hyde Park Corner in 2018.

Police Federation claims vigil was hijacked

Unfortunately, a lot of the press did not report that Sisters Uncut had organised the illegal vigil. Photos show they were very much at the heart of it. Certainly their hostile attitude to the police attracted other activists. This is why the Police Federation chief could later claim that the vigil was ‘hijacked by extremists – Antifa, Extinction Rebellion and Black Lives Matter’.

Whilst there is evidence that supporters of these organisations were there, it is difficult to agree with this claim of hijacking. By all accounts Sisters Uncut is not a mainstream organisation. Its unorthodox and disruptive protest tactics, its anarchism, its hostility to the police are noteworthy.

Women = ‘people of all genders’

Both Reclaim These Streets and Sisters Uncut play fast and loose with definitions of women and gender. When asked who is a woman, Reclaim These Streets welcomed ‘all women’ including ‘trans women’. Sisters Uncut don’t allow men to their meetings yet on Twitter they said ‘all genders welcome’ to the vigil. The result was predictable. Video footage from the illegal vigil later showed men scuffling with both male and female police officers. The irony was not lost on social media users. Also a video surfaced of people ‘of all genders’ (bearded cross-dressers wearing boots) aggressively skipping around a town square, ‘reclaiming the streets’.

This nonsensical redefinition of women was promoted as ‘women of all genders and none’ by the Green Party from 2018 onwards. Ironically, last week Baroness Jones, a Green Party peer, suggested there should be ‘a curfew for men’ after 6pm if women are murdered.

Presuming misogyny

Even before Saturday, some feminists were campaigning on the back of Sarah Everard’s death. They want misogyny to become a ground for prosecution under hate crime laws. This is something the Law Commission has proposed for England and Wales. The Scottish Parliament rejected it last week.

A senior police officer in the Met has been arrested and charged with the murder of Sarah Everard. He is now to stand trial. The Attorney General warned the press and social media users that sharing information about him or assuming he was guilty could count as contempt of court, and that there was a need for a fair trial. Unfortunately some news sites had already published his name and photo. Worse, the photo included his then female partner, fully identifiable. Few people noticed that the police had also arrested a woman charged with being an accomplice to murder. Instead, the Twitter mob went after him. Why? They were convinced that this was a case of motivation by ‘misogyny’. This is dangerously presumptuous.

Guilty until proven innocent

Many people on social media seemed to assume this police officer was guilty. Certainly a lot of those attending the vigil in Clapham Common did. Many of them shouted ‘arrest your own!’ at police officers, as if police officers were part of a secret plot against women. In fact, the Met had already arrested one of their own!

What we have here is the coalescence of an incriminating mentality, paranoia and disregard for the rule of law directed in general at men and the police. It is completely crazy. It does absolutely nothing at all to ensure justice for female victims of crime. Indeed it jeapordises it. This is a complete disgrace.

Politicians egging on the mob

You would think that politicians would want to stand back from all this, but no. Many took to social media to voice their feelings. Several MPs egged on the Twitter mob. Many journalists were little better. The very same MPs who support the new RSE and want a ‘conversion therapy’ ban did so. This is how we know that these are the MPs – many of them women – who can’t even say who IS a woman. They are more interested in being radically anti-police and anti-government.

Part of the reason so many politicians and journalists egged on the mob was to build up opposition to the Policing Bill which is now going through the House of Commons. The government had introduced it last week. As it is over 300 pages long, it admittedly feels rather unfair that there wasn’t enough time to read it all, plus all the accompanying materials.

The nature of protest is at stake

One result of Saturday night’s events was that Keir Starmer announced that Labour would oppose the bill rather than abstain as it had originally intended. The catalyst for this was concern that the Policing Bill would erode the right to protest by hedging around it with conditions.

Clearly the proposed changes to policing protests are a serious matter, and for this, MPs and Lords need plenty of time to scrutinise and debate. Campaign groups and churches also need time to be able to voice their views. The irony is that many who blindly supported heavy-handed lockdown policies are now alarmed by the government’s crackdown on protest. Should we be surprised? Protest is not the prerogative of any one political, social or religious group. There is a long history of Christian involvement in protest. However the mood stoked up last weekend has led to the widespread perception of polarisation. On the one hand we have Labour defending the right to protest and motivate by intersectional feminist/trans activism. On the other we have the Conservatives pushing a more controlling law for policing whilst making noises about defending women from predatory men.

Sneaking in a gender identity law through the back door

This week some Lords tabled a highly questionable amendment to the Domestic Abuse Bill which would redefine women. It is an amendment that makes ‘women’ and ‘misogyny’ both gender-neutral terms. Again this is gender identity ideology being sneaked in. It is an amendment coming from Stonewall. Thankfully it was withdrawn.

However the government threw out a concession that it should not have done. It announced that police forces will have to record crimes as motivated by misogyny on request of alleged victims from this autumn. Although this is an experiment, it looks like a way of mainstreaming the idea that misogyny should be criminalised. Nottinghamshire Police has already done this. This is pre-empting the Law Commission’s response to its own consultation on reforming hate crime law in England and Wales.

Dangerous Hypocrisy

Labour meanwhile is suddenly complaining that the word ‘woman’ is not in the Policing Bill. Yet as its recent history shows it cannot be trusted to be honest about who is a woman. Labour politicians are riding the bandwagon driven by Sisters Uncut. By Sunday and Monday much of the press was reporting the latter as the organisers of a march against the police in Westminster. Suddenly a bunch of thugs were champions of freedom of assembly and free speech!

To make things worse, some commentators started to allege that ‘the police’ in general have a problem with ‘institutional misogyny’. There is a clear attempt here to taint the entire police. If we assume misogyny is everywhere we are no longer able to discern it properly.

Misogyny should not be criminalised

The government is under pressure to criminalise misogyny. It is busy consulting on violent crimes against women. To serve women’s interests and build a society that tackles such crimes, the last thing it should do is criminalise ‘misogyny’ when that is undefinable. Ultimately it is undefinable because those pushing for this define women as ‘people of all genders’.

The government should take a different approach altogether. We have recommended that the government should define sex in law. This would help women. We have also opposed plans to make sex a protected characteristic in hate crime law, as this won’t help women. Criminalising feelings (misogyny) whilst playing fast and loose with the facts (sex) isn’t going to help women be safe. The law has to be objective otherwise public order and safety collapse.

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