What would the world be like if the state took men’s violence against women seriously? For the past three years the Law Commission for England and Wales has been pondering this idea in its review of Hate Crime legislation. At present the state is ambivalent about the safety of women, but a proposal to classify misogyny as a hate crime has sought to rectify this — to shift the state away from its tolerance of male violence. However, upon completion of its review, the Law Commission is not so sure, arguing in its report that men’s hatred of women is too complex for the state to effectively police.
In October, when Boris Johnson was asked about this proposition he gave a different, but related, response: “If you simply widen the scope of what you ask the police to do, you’ll just increase the problem.” For Johnson it is volume that provides the barrier; the state lacks the resources to address men’s hatred of women. Instead, women simply have to live with a certain amount of male violence.
For no other security problem would volume and complexity be deemed acceptable reasons to avoid solutions. If Islamist extremists or white supremacists were murdering someone every three days — as is the current rate of femicide in the United Kingdom — there would undoubtedly be a whole-of-government emergency to confront it. So why is the hatred of women different from other forms of hatred?
As acknowledged by the Law Commission, the answer lies in where most violence against women takes place. While recently we have seen the emergence of online misogynist groups like Incels gravitating to making public attacks, and there are vicious random attacks by men on women, like that on Sarah Everard, it is the household where the vast majority of violence and abuse of women is perpetuated.
This presents an obstacle because the state is still sympathetic to the idea that the household is a domain of male authority. Nowhere is this more obvious than in the behaviour of the family court. This is a court that reveals what the state really thinks about men and women and the roles it expects of them. It is a court that remains highly suspicious of women who report domestic violence.
Astonishingly, as social values have progressed, this suspicion has become more entrenched. In…