What is misogyny? Meaning, is it a hate crime in UK law - how does it compare to misogynist and misogamy?

The word misogyny has Greek roots, and comes from ‘misein’ (meaning “to hate”) and ‘gyne’ (meaning “woman”)

In England and Wales, misogyny will now be considered a hate crime, following a vote of 242 to 185 in the House of Lords.

A spotlight previously had been shone on the topic following the release of the report from the Law Commission in December last year which actually recommended against making misogyny a hate crime.

But what exactly is misogyny - and what was said about it during the debate over whether to make it a hate crime or not? This is everything you need to know.

What does misogyny mean?

Misogyny refers specifically to women, and is a form of sexism identified as a hatred or contempt of women and girls.

Cambridge Dictionary defines misogyny as “feelings of hating women, or the belief that men are much better than women”, and Merriam-Webster dictionary also adds that it is a “hatred of, aversion to, or prejudice against women”.

A misogynist is therefore someone who harbours these feelings towards women and perpetuates the belief that men are superior to women.

Misogynistic actions can include things like harassment, bullying, offensive jokes, verbal abuse, sexual assault, violence, intimidation and other controlling behaviours aimed at women.

A picture shows messages and floral tributes to honour Sarah Everard (Photo by Daniel LEAL / AFP) (Photo: DANIEL LEAL/AFP via Getty Images)

The term “internalised misogyny” refers to when women themselves exhibit misogynistic behaviour, having learned to do so due to society perpetuating misogynistic beliefs.

The definitions of words like misandry and misogamy are often confused, but it’s important to know the different meanings of these words.

Misandry is essentially the opposite of misogyny, as it refers to a hatred of, or contempt for, or prejudice against men or boys. Misogamy means an aversion or hatred of marriage.

Is misogyny a crime in the UK?

Until recently, misogyny was not considered a hate crime in England and Wales - however, following a vote in the House of Lords, it has officially been voted to be recognised as one.

The amendment passed with 242 peers backing it, versus the 185 who voted against. The vote came amid a debate in the House of Lords on the Police Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill, during which the Government lost 14 divisions.

A person holding a placard that reads “Stand together against misogyny” (Photo: Polly Thomas/Getty Images)

The change in the law will see judges able to deal out stronger penalties if it can be proved that prejudice against women acted as a motivation in a crime. It would also require the police to record if crimes were motivated by a person’s sex or gender.

The debate regarding whether sex and gender should be added to the protected identity list, and whether misogyny should be made into a hate crime, reached new heights following the murders of Sarah Everard and primary school teacher Sabina Nessa.

The murder of Ms Everard specifically caused outrage as she was kidnapped, raped and murdered by serving a Metropolitan Police officer, Wayne Couzens.

Following Couzens’ sentencing, for which he was given a whole life order, activists and MPs lobbied to make misogyny a hate crime, stating that such a change would allow women extra protection against the violence of men.

Flowers surround the Clapham Common bandstand memorial to Sarah Everard (Photo: Dan Kitwood/Getty Images)

Leading the drive to amend the bill to include misogyny as a hate crime was Conservative peer Lady Newlove.

She said: “It is perverse that, despite 3 million crimes being committed against women in just three years, our legal and policing systems do not routinely recognise what we all know is blindingly obvious: the deep-rooted hostility towards women that motivates many of these crimes.

“As a society we have rightly taken steps to acknowledge the severity of racist or homophobic crimes, but have not yet acted on crimes driven by hatred of women.

“Too often when it comes to violence against women, society demands the perfect victim before we act.”

The chairman of the Commons Justice Committee, the Tory MP, Sir Bob Neill, said that the Government should consider making misogyny a hate crime in the same way that racism was following the Macpherson Inquiry into the killing of Stephen Lawrence.

Sarah Everard was murdered by serving Metropolitan police officer Wayne Couzens (Photo: DANIEL LEAL/AFP via Getty Images)

Earlier this year in October, Prime Minister Boris Johnson actually ruled out making misogyny a hate crime, and instead said that existing laws should be enforced.

At the time, Johnson said that “the anger over Sarah Everard’s murder is a symptom” of a “wider frustration that people feel”.

When asked if he thought that misogyny should be a hate crime, Johnson told BBC Breakfast: “I think that what we should do is prosecute people for the crimes we have on the statute book.

“That is what I am focused on. To be perfectly honest, if you widen the scope of what you ask the police to do, you will just increase the problem.

“What you need to do is get the police to focus on the very real crimes, the very real feeling of injustice and betrayal that many people feel.”

Keir Starmer spoke out against Boris Johnson regarding his stance on recognising misogyny as a hate crime (Photo: Ian Forsyth/Getty Images)

Following these comments, Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer responded on Twitter, writing: “Boris Johnson is wrong. We need a victims’ law to protect victims of crime. We need tougher sentences for rapists, stalkers and domestic abusers.

“And we need to make misogyny a hate crime.”

As it stands, misogyny is not considered a hate crime in Scotland and Northern Ireland, as the result of the vote in the House of Lords only applies to England and Wales.

In Scotland, a group led by Helena Kennedy QC on whether misogyny should become its own distinct crime will release its report in February 2022.

Why did the Law Commission recommend against making it a crime?

Prior to the vote, the Law Commission published a report on “Reforms to protect disabled and LGBT+ victims, criminalise extremist misogynist “incel” hate material, and safeguard free speech” on Tuesday 7 December 2021.

The commission at the time recommended that “sex or gender” should not be added to the protected characteristics list.

It explained that the change would be “ineffective at protecting women and girls and in some cases, counterproductive”.

The report added that it could also create “hierarchies of victims” and could make rape and domestic abuse prosecutions more difficult to come by.

The Law Commission said it did “not believe that making misogyny a hate crime will provide tangible results” (Photo by Dan Kitwood/Getty Images)

The Law Commission said: “We recognise that many people will disagree with our conclusion and find it difficult to understand given the prevalence of sex and gender based violence and abuse.

“We have made our recommendations in this regard on the strength of the evidence and policy considerations before us.

“While attractive on the surface, we do not believe that making misogyny a hate crime will provide tangible results in the way that many campaigners have suggested.”

While the commission has not recommended making misogyny a hate crime, it states that it is “making a number of recommendations to protect women and girls”.

“This includes extending the offence of stirring up hatred (behaviour that incites others to hate entire groups) to cover sex or gender and has recommended that the Government consider the need for a new offence to tackle public sexual harassment,” the Law Commission said.

Members of the public protesting against the The Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill (Photo: Dan Kitwood/Getty Images)

The Law Commission also said that existing hate crime offences should be extended to cover hatred on grounds of sex or gender where “stirring up” – or incitement – is involved.

Professor Penney Lewis, Law Commission spokesperson, said: “Hate crime has a terrible impact on victims and it’s unacceptable that the current levels of protection are so inconsistent.

“Our recommendations would improve protections for victims while also ensuring that the right of freedom of expression is safeguarded.”

What was the response to the Law Commission like?

In response to the Law Commission report from December, a joint statement from the Fawcett Society and other leading women’s rights and hate crime organisations and campaigners, including Citizens UK and former constable of Nottinghamshire police Susannah Fish, said that the commission had failed to address “widespread concerns about lack of action by the criminal justice system”.

The statement said: “The commission’s review is too narrow and doesn’t recognise the value of including misogyny to enable recording of incidents, which are currently invisible.

Vigils were held across the United Kingdom in memory of Sarah Everard (Photo: Hollie Adams/Getty Images)

“By not joining together hate crime legislation, it especially ignores the experiences of women from minority communities who experience hatred based on multiple factors yet all too often are let down by the criminal justice system because they do not fit their tick boxes.

“This report must not be used by the Government to kick action on violence against women and girls into the long grass and instead should support proposals for legislation now, including urgently rolling out the recording of misogynistic crimes to all police forces.

“Women and girls have waited too long to be equally protected and will continue to fight for this.”

Is misogyny a crime elsewhere?

According to draft plans seen by Politico, the European Commission is looking to amend one of the founding text’s of the EU to more actively tackle violence against women, the LGBTQ+ community and other minorities.

These new rules would allow the Commission to put forth laws which target misogyny and anti-LGBTQ+ abuse, both in real life and online.

Misogyny could soon be made into a hate crime across the EU (Photo by Polly Thomas/Getty Images)

The draft communication on hate speech said: “In the last decades, there has been a sharp rise in hate speech and hate crime in Europe.

“Hate is moving into the mainstream, targeting individuals and groups of people sharing, or perceived as sharing, “a common characteristic” such as race, ethnicity, religion, nationality, age, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, gender expression, sex characteristics or any other fundamental characteristic, or a combination of such characteristics.”

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