It’s un­ac­cept­able and can be of­fen­sive and creepy, but will it help to try to make it il­le­gal?


“If I said you had a beau­ti­ful body, would you hold it against me?”

Even when fresh, it was a line women were more likely to re­ceive with a gri­mace than a grin but, to­day, in the here and now, the men who show their great ap­pre­ci­a­tion of women by wolf whistling, leer­ing or telling us to smile re­main an un­wanted pain for half the pop­u­la­tion.

The con­stantly think­ing about what to wear, which build­ing site to avoid, how to ig­nore the winks, the ges­tures, the com­ments, avert­ing your eyes from the bloke man-spread­ing on the bus or brush­ing off the shop­keeper whose hand lingers just a lit­tle too long on yours as he gives you your change.

Far, far too many men do this kind of stuff but is it misog­yny and should it be a crime?

Jus­tice Sec­re­tary, Humza Yousaf, has an­nounced a con­sul­ta­tion on whether to cre­ate a new hate crime of misog­yny in Scot­land.

We are all strug­gling right now to un­der­stand some of the blur­rier lines of what is ac­cept­able but do I want to see men crim­i­nalised for con­duct that is of­ten so nu­anced that it can spark a de­bate among women them­selves?

Take Jane, for ex­am­ple, who, sit­ting on a train home, was left a note by a man who had been sit­ting op­po­site. The mes­sage said that if the world was get­ting her down, she should smile more and added, “a face as pretty as yours was not meant to frown”. For some, he was in­dulging in a ran­dom act of kind­ness. To oth­ers, he was a creep. But what mat­ters here is how the woman her­self felt and she felt alarmed.

Jane told her story to BBC Scot­land on­line and in­stantly sparked huge de­bate and di­vi­sion of opin­ion. For me, her main point was about the cu­mu­la­tive ef­fect of that con­stant, un­in­vited in­va­sion of women’s space, of our heads, and of our lives.

Men need to learn it’s wrong, but I don’t want to marginalise them or risk en­trench­ing their of­ten un­savoury or even ham-fisted at­tempts at so­cial dis­course, by la­belling their be­hav­iour pos­si­bly crim­i­nal.

It does not seem in­tel­lec­tu­ally or legally sound to im­ple­ment a gen­der-based law that ap­plies to only one gen­der, and, while we are liv­ing in febrile times when the def­i­ni­tion of ac­cept­able be­hav­iour is be­ing rewrit­ten, there are al­ready laws to pro­tect women from vi­o­lence, dis­crim­i­na­tion and un­wanted sex­ual ad­vances.

They may not be per­fect but try­ing to de­fine misog­yny’s shades of grey in black and white statute may not bol­ster that pro­tec­tion, and could, po­ten­tially, deepen the di­vi­sion be­tween the sexes.

There is a race on to prove our cre­den­tials as an open, in­clu­sive and tol­er­ant na­tion but let’s not rush into bad laws reek­ing of virtue sig­nalling.

Let’s change men’s at­ti­tudes through ed­u­ca­tion and ex­am­ple so to the next man that taps me on the shoul­der and tells me to ‘smile, love, it may never hap­pen’, I can tell him it al­ready has.

Jane tells her story

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