misogyny hate crime sadiq khan tweet
Civil Liberties

Misogyny is to be outlawed. Excellent. Now, what does it mean?

Misogyny is to be incorporated into ‘hate crime’ legislation, which is very good news for women. No longer will they have to endure physical violence, emotional abuse or psychological manipulation at the hands (and from the minds) of men. Nor will they have to put with being raped or otherwise sexually assaulted.

Hang on.

Sorry, all those things are already against the law.

Start again.

Misogyny is to be incorporated into ‘hate crime’ legislation, which is very good news for women. No longer will they have to endure… well, what, exactly, at the hands (and from the minds) of men?

The Domestic Abuse Bill, which is currently wending its way through Parliament, coincides with the murder of Sarah Everard and the police crackdown on the vigil in her name which was organised to highlight violence against women (indeed, not just violence, but the everyday experience of women nervously walking down the street with keys clasped tightly in their fists). This Bill is seen as an opportunity to outlaw misogyny once and for all, and so an amendment was proposed to do so.

The problem is that Sarah Everard was murdered not by a misogynist, but an evil psychopath. The murderer may, of course, have been a misogynist as well, but one rather suspects this attack was not really motivated by “the hatred of, contempt for, or prejudice against women or girls”, or else he (and we assume it is a ‘he’) would have murdered quite a few women and girls. But that doesn’t seem to matter: misogyny needs to be outlawed urgently, or else more women and girls like Sarah will be murdered. And so Parliament rushes something through, because it can, and it must.

It’s interesting how swiftly misogyny as a ‘hate crime’ segues into misogyny as an ‘attitude’, as Sadiq Khan’s tweet evidences. Does a wolf-whistle in the street constitute misogyny? Is it to be outlawed? It certainly suggests a certain attitude, and there are many women who believe it is linked to violence and rape. But not every wolf-whistle ends in rape, and not every woman is offended to be the object of one. Indeed, some may be quite flattered to receive the attention: one woman’s harassment is another’s blush of embarrassment. It is sexist, certainly. But is all female-directed sexism misogyny? Are the police really to be expected to record every wolf-whistle as a hate crime?

And aren’t women all different? Or are they now an homogeneous “community” of oppressed victims, like the BAME community and the LGBT community, who are all expected to adhere to the orthodoxies expounded by their community leaders, and where there is no place for heretics? Is there now to be a prescribed, infallible apprehension of ‘toxic masculinity’, and if you don’t subscribe to it, you’re “no sister“?

If we are to eradicate “misogynistic attitudes”, we must begin with patriarchy. Augustine of Hippo was of the view that “Woman does not possess the image of God herself, but only when taken together with the male who is her head”. Two millennia of Church misogyny, where man has been “the head” and women are subordinate, have certainly resulted in some appalling abuses, but some of those abuses (which may also be perceived as blessings) are prescribed in Scripture. If a woman may not preach (or even speak) in church, and some traditions hold literally the the letter of this, where is the gospel of emancipation which decrees ‘there is now neither male nor female… we are all one in Christ‘? As Barth observed: “Different ages, peoples and cultures have had very different ideas of what is concretely appropriate, salutary and necessary in man and woman.”

The (post)modern age demands the recovery of the dangerous memory of women’s oppression by the male patriarchal culture and the Church. God as father, husband, king and warrior most now extend to God as pregnant woman, mother, midwife and mistress, in order for our doctrine to be complete, complementary, and truly Christian. If it does not, the abuse of women will be perpetuated. There is an urgent need for alternative biblical and extra-biblical traditions that support women’s personhood, her equality in the image of God, her equal redeemability, and her participation in prophecy, teaching and leadership. How can anything less be just or fair? And isn’t anything less simply a manifestation of misogynistic attitudes?

And what of the mosques and gurdwaras? Do they not reify misogynistic attitudes? If women have to cover themselves while men do not; if women have to be separated in a ‘lower’ room while the men worship in the best room, the holiest room, doing the important work of Allah or Waheguru, is that not a manifestation of misogyny? Why is Sadiq Khan concerned to call out misogynistic attitudes “wherever they are found – in the workplace, school, on the streets or public transport”, but seemingly content to leave them festering in certain places of worship?