I stepped off a tram in my birth city of Nottingham, England, the other day, to be greeted by a bleak billboard that read: “It’s not OK to be harassed because you’re a woman.”
While obviously true – although as an egalitarian I’d have swapped the word “woman” for “human” – it made for grim advertising to signal boost the fact that, since April 2016, the city has taken the unprecedented move of outlawing misogyny.
That means in Nottingham – the UK’s 14th-largest city and home to 285,000 people – being sexist is now on a par with being racist or homophobic.
Crime data reveals there were 83 incidents of misogyny reported in the city during over a recent ten-month period, or 0.3 incidents per day. But what were they?
A cross-examination of the statistics reveals that 31 were recognised crimes which, rightly, were robustly pursued without any need for a “hate crime” classification, such as sexual assault, harassment and even kidnap.
But the 52 other “hate incidents” – which were not criminal offences – included name calling, tweets, or even women overhearing offensive jokes.
You read that right: “hate crime” data in the United Kingdom includes women not liking jokes that maybe weren’t even directed at them. Which is itself funny, in a “laugh or cry” kind of way.
Now some may conclude: “this is a commendable police force with the ultimate determination to stamp out all crimes against women, no matter how small”.
Except they’d be provably wrong.
Because in Nottingham there have been precisely zero prosecutions against the perpetrators of female genital mutilation in the 32 years since the procedure was outlawed.
But before we’re too harsh on Nottingham, it’s worth pointing out that to date there has been not a single prosecution for FGM in all of the UK, even though there were 5,500 cases reported in 2016 alone.
But, hey, let’s not get Islamophobic: where is the toxic, omnipresent street misogyny that Nottingham’s cops do pursue?
I decided to find out last night, when I headed to the city centre with one aim – if I saw random packs of men harassing women, I would give them a taste of their own medicine.
Because I treat violence against women very seriously. My sister was the victim of genuine domestic abuse, and to this day I’d like to brutalise the men who did that to her, an instinct I suppress not only because two wrongs don’t make a right, but because my two children don’t need their dad to be in jail.
By chance, last night was an end-of-year student party (the city is host to over 61,000 students). Thousands of barely-clothed young people were walking the streets, causing my dad, 78, to humorously remark, “this is the closest I’ve got to a porno film in 20 years”. To which I naturally replied, “careful dad, that could be interpreted as a hate crime these days”.
On the streets and into packed bars, hordes of teenage women in bikinis happily partied with similarly under-dressed lads, some of whom were in women’s thongs. If men were that way inclined, it was a misogynist’s paradise:
But guess what? In four hours, the only arguably inappropriate thing I saw was a group of three refreshed young women squeezing a buff man’s (highly admirable) pecs. He objected so much that he posed for selfies.
Nowhere did I see a single man grope or wolf whistle a woman. Not even a single “get your bits out for the lads!” Nothing.
No doubt if I gushed, “well done, men of Nottingham!” it would be pointed out to me that men don’t deserve a medal for not sexually harassing women.
But neither do they deserve a pre-emptive badge of shame, being painted as some of the UK’s most sexist men, especially as a myopic police force wants to nail them for lewd comments while wilfully turning a blind eye to genuine hate crimes against women for reasons of misplaced cultural sensitivity.
Then it struck me: that well-meaning yet wrong-headed billboard, and more specifically the rules behind it, crystallise all that is wrong with the Western, liberal world.
We have literally invented new crimes to punish men, to prove we’re “doing our bit” against misogyny. Yet we don’t have the stones to pursue actual, barbaric, life-ruining and hatefully misogynistic crimes against women in case it’s perceived as racist.
Naturally, Nottinghamshire Police’s former acting chief constable, Sue Fish, was handed an award for her easy-win work for branding misogyny a hate crime.
In March, in North Yorkshire (just down the road from Rotherham, where 1,400 girls were raped and assaulted by ring of British-Pakistani men) police followed suit, and others will no doubt do the same.
These police busybodies make me feel ashamed, not only of what they have done to my home city, but of the state we are in.
That billboard said to me “you’re part of the problem” when unlike Nottinghamshire police, I want to end all genuine crime against women.
Nottingham’s stance on misogyny is proof, if we ever needed it, that there is one set of rules for the many, and a get out of jail pass for those we’d rather not offend.