Misogyny – A Human Rights Issue

The Working Group on Misogyny and Criminal Justice's independent report on their findings and recommendations.

Section 7: Conclusions from the evidence

7.1 Sex, power, rejection, escalation, shame and blame

In addition to the clear evidence that misogyny is a routine blight on women's lives, there are three themes that are notable from the evidence:

7.1a Sex and power:

It is notable, and may not be in any way surprising, that much – although not all – of the language of misogyny is the language of sexual violence. When asked in the Working Group's survey about the behaviours that women perceived as misogynistic, women did not provide examples of men saying "You f***ing woman, I hate you and your kind" or "you women are destroying our country…". They provided instead examples of what men had said they wanted to do to them [sexual acts] or what they deserved…[to be raped / punished / kept at home / kept quiet or in an inferior position, e.g. in the workplace]. The behaviour suggests a dehumanisation or degradation of all women and their role in society, and it illustrates the sense of entitlement and upholding of power that the Working Group's definition of misogyny seeks to capture. It is not about excluding women, it is about their inclusion, on patriarchal terms.

7.1b Rejection and escalation:

In its definition of misogyny the Working Group refers to 'a sense of male entitlement'. This sense of entitlement speaks not just to goods, property and sex, but to attention, to care and even to love. A common feature of the evidence of misogynistic behaviour submitted to the Working Group is the escalation in the degree of ugliness of the ensuing behaviour if this entitlement is challenged; if the attention, care, the expected service of whatever form, is denied. A 'compliment' rejected becomes an aggressive remark, which if ignored becomes a threat, which if ignored becomes following the victim home or into a shop, an invasion of space, or even physical violence. This escalation is all too familiar to women and puts a different context around the experience of 'one off' incidents.

An insult to a girl walking home from school, "you ugly bitch," is not a trivial, one off to her. It is experienced in a context in which she does not feel safe or secure and in which she is likely to be all too aware of the potential for escalation if male entitlement – to attention, a response, a reaction – is denied. High profile 'incel' crimes have brought this context to life for women everywhere.

This escalation of ugliness need not be limited to a single episode. During the recent trial of Sarah Everard's murderer, it came to light that that he was believed to have been involved in misogynistic discussions with colleagues via a digital platform and to have been linked to two allegations of indecent exposure.[74] The murder of Sarah Everard could be seen as a tragic, dreadful example of the process of escalation described above.

7.1c Shame and blame:

It is notable that women often feel the need to explain their harmlessness or blamelessness when they are the victims of misogynistic behaviour. 'I accidentally moved my trolley [near a man's car]' 'we didn't have the option to wear trousers' 'I politely told the man [who was chatting me up] I was married.' What comes through is an assumption that men have the primary entitlement to feel comfortable, confident and must not be shamed nor blamed. It seems women take it upon themselves not to trigger misogynistic outbursts, another example of the Safety Work described in section 4.1.

7.2 The spectrum of behaviours covered by the working definition of misogyny

The Working Group's working definition of misogyny

Misogyny is a way of thinking that upholds the primary status of men and a sense of male entitlement, while subordinating women and limiting their power and freedom. Conduct based on this thinking can include a range of abusive and controlling behaviours including rape, sexual offences, harassment and bullying, and domestic abuse.

covers behaviours revealed by the evidence (see Section 4) that include, but are not limited to:

  • Pervasive abuse and harassment, offline and online, often of a gendered and sexualised nature.
  • Issuing threats of harm – often on-line – or invoking harms (specifically rape, sexual assault, disfigurement) to cause fear, distress, humiliation or degradation. The Working Group noted the prevalence of the use of the language of male violence as a means to make women feel degraded, subordinated or to silence them.
  • A rapidly growing global 'incel' culture that advocates misogynistic thinking and action, including promoting rape and sexual assault.
  • 'Normal' criminal behaviour (such as criminal damage, assault) that is more damaging to the victim, and to women as a group, because of a misogynistic tone or intention, demonstrating prejudice, malice or contempt towards women as a group.

in addition to the domestic abuse and sexual violence specifically mentioned in the definition.

Notably, each one of these behaviours is very specifically gendered. It happens to women because they are women. This point is brought into stark relief when considering threats to rape and disfigure. Rape has been used, and is still used, to devalue women and girls as property, making them less attractive to future prospects. The threat of acid throwing, or disfigurement, follows a similar logic. By disfiguring a woman, who is, in this logic, objectified and thus valued for her appearance, she is less likely or able to participate in social and economic life, less likely to exercise her voice, less likely to achieve. It is difficult to imagine a similar ingrained logic being applied to the threat to disfigure men.

7.3 Additional themes

  • There is a clear lack of reporting. This issue cannot be a problem laid at the door of women, particularly in the light of the evidence outlined in Section 5.4 relating to confidence levels in the police and other authorities. The Working Group is aware that many Police Scotland staff are wholly committed to the aims of Equally Safe and to Police Scotland's own purpose and values. However, it appears that there is a long way to go for women to feel that their safety and freedoms – and the end of misogyny in Scotland – is an adequately resourced priority of the Force.
  • The evidence suggests that there would be public support for a range of interventions to address misogyny (as defined above), including public awareness raising, education and prevention alongside well as criminal sanctions. Education and public awareness raising on what misogyny is, and the damage it causes, is critical. One could also infer from the evidence that there is public understanding that there has to be a 'reasonable' threshold for criminalisation. It could also be inferred that public understanding is nuanced, and that the support for multiple interventions (see Section 5.2) suggests that the public realises that there is no 'silver bullet' or simple answer to addressing misogyny.

7.4 Conclusions from the evidence on the experience of misogyny in Scotland

In addition to validating and reinforcing the findings from existing evidence across the UK, the Working Group's survey and oral and written evidence provided to the Working Group underlined that:

  • Being on the receiving end of misogynistic behaviour is the routine experience of women and girls in Scotland. LGBTI+ and minority ethnic women and girls' experiences tend to be even worse than those of their straight, white counterparts.
  • The experience of these behaviours has a corrosive effect on women – on their spirits, their senses of belonging and belief in their rights to occupy spaces. These experiences make women angry and uncomfortable and they make women dwell on their own instincts and choices – to second guess their outfits, their routes home, their modes of transport, their educational and career aspirations and their participation in public life. Furthermore, these experiences and effects are not limited to adult women. It is abundantly clear from the evidence presented to the Working Group that being subject to misogynistic attitudes and behaviour is the routine experience of girls – in schools, on public transport and even within the educational community charged with their care and progress.
  • As a result, women change their behaviours, goals and become at greater risk of poverty, ill health or isolation and exclusion and have lesser access to political power.
  • Women do not appear to believe that the 'powers that be' are invested in reducing or eliminating this discomfort, fear and anger. Women are not sure what is and is not illegal – and therefore are unsure about what is condoned or condemned by society – a grope on the bus, a catcall, a pull on the bra-strap at school, an on-line rape threat? – and the women surveyed appear to have almost no confidence that the police or agencies in authority would take seriously any experiences that, in their accumulation and omnipresence, are so corrosive to their quality of life.
  • As one woman witness to the Panel commented "it's as though all your experiences are invalidated, you are not enough – you're too young or too old – or too bossy or too passive. And you're not believed when you point out that you've been undermined or humiliated or made to feel afraid…"
  • All of the experiences of misogyny are unique to women. They happen to women because they are women.

The corollary of this evidence is, in the words of a Working Group witness, "enough is enough; something must be done."

This 'something' needs to be, in fact, many things. As the evidence shows, misogynistic behaviour is an ugly problem. And "ugly problems do not always have pretty solutions."[75] There is a role for the law – to make it absolutely clear what society does and does not accept; a role for law enforcement – to ensure accountability and (possibly) act as a deterrent; a role for training across the criminal justice system; and, a role for campaigning and education, that helps men and boys understand the difference between harassment of a stranger and a kind compliment to a friend or lover and that teaches them to stand up for what is right in public spaces – and that helps women know their rights, exercise their rights and encourage others to do the same.

In the next section, this report discusses existing law and the degree to which it protects women from the misogynistic behaviour that falls within the Working Group's working definition.


Email: bill.brash@gov.scot

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