The Philadelphia Post-Intelligencer
Crime Opinion

In the moral panic over Sarah Everard’s awful killing, we need to be careful not to brand all men and boys as violent misogynists

British politicians are lining up to out-alarm one another following the murder conviction of policeman Wayne Couzens – they should take a step back and not enact knee-jerk ‘solutions’ to solve so-called ‘male entitlement’.

Historically, moral panics have been understood as knee-jerk right-wing reactions to events in society. However, for some time it has actually been those people who think of themselves as radical and progressive who have tended to panic the most. Consequently, it is these ‘right-thinking’ liberals who have become the greatest threat to reason and a balanced approach to the policing and regulation of society.

A moral panic, as the name suggests, is an exaggerated or alarmist over-reaction to an event. For the panic to take off it tends to need a political reaction by influential sections of society, and a knee-jerk response from certain institutions, like the media and indeed the police. All of this culminates in a scream that ‘Something Must Be Done’, following what is often an unusual and extreme incident.

These panics can result in new laws and new practices, but this outcome is often dependent upon a pre-existing and dominant ideology within our institutions. Ironically, despite the projected idea that the police are ‘institutionally misogynistic’, the reality, in terms of police policy and practices, is that they are increasingly following the lead of extreme feminists in demonising and indeed criminalising masculinity. 

The grotesque murder of Sarah Everard has shocked people. It has shocked people because it is so unusual and extraordinary. However, ever since Sarah’s death, attempts have been made by opportunistic politicians and feminist activists to somehow connect this one-off evil act by a police officer with all sorts of other issues and, indeed, with everyday acts of sexism.

Rather than point the finger firmly where it belongs – at the disgusting Wayne Couzens – this approach is helping to label all male police officers as a potential threat and to place all men and even boys in the dock.

Rather than having a cool head, taking a step back, and assessing the correct approach to policing based on a full understanding of problems and practices, we have already had a number of pronouncements by politicians.

The UK’s Justice Secretary Dominic Raab, for example, has vowed to make the protection of women and girls his number one issue, arguing that, “Protecting women and girls is my number one priority as Justice Secretary – everyone should be able to walk home at night without fear.”

There are already discussions and announcements, that appear to change by the day, about the threat and fear of the police themselves and how we can protect people not only from murderers and abusers, but also from police officers on the street. That this approach could elevate, rather than resolve, the problem of fear has not been considered.

But, of course, the policing of fear should be addressed with care rather than gusto, as fear is not the same as fact, indeed it is often the very opposite of it, and should not be the basis of what should be a rational approach to actual issues and problems in society.

Here in Scotland the potential for the over policing of men based on ideology rather than objectivity looks set to continue. First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has been urged to make misogyny a hate crime because of Sarah’s murder. Perfectly demonstrating the reactionary panic approach, Scottish Labour justice spokesperson Pauline McNeill argued that “it was beyond dispute that violence against women is a national emergency.”

McNeill offers no figures or statistics to back up this claim of a national emergency. Nor does she explain what her call to make every day misogynistic behaviour into a crime has to do with the handcuffing, kidnapping, raping, and murdering of a person and setting their body on fire.

This perverse automatic link between misogyny – boorish or crass sexist behaviour, or even jokes – with rape and murder, just rolls off the tongue, unchallenged.

McNeill, of course, is simply being opportunistic, crudely attempting to out-trump the Scottish government by elevating her rhetoric to new hysterical heights, moving from what has become a regular pronouncement about the ‘endemic’ problem of violence against women and girls, to now establishing it as a ‘national emergency’, and in the process, no doubt helping to elevate the panic and fear amongst many young women in the process.

Back in the real world, the Scottish National Party need no encouragement to introduce ever more laws to police everyday life and the parliament’s Misogyny and Criminal Justice in Scotland Working Group are well on course to making everyday sexism into a crime. Meanwhile, Police Scotland have themselves been adopting an increasingly extreme feminist approach to policing relationships.

Last week, for example, I received an email from Police Scotland asking if I would like to contribute to their new national campaign, “that seeks to tackle sexual violence by highlighting and discussing male sexual entitlement and its behaviours.”

The idea of ‘male entitlement’ stems from victim feminists like Kate Manne, who recently spoke at Scotland’s Working Group on Misogyny. In essence, it is an outlook that sees men or maleness, in and of itself, as oppressive and potentially dangerous, something that needs to be challenged and indeed policed away.

Interviewed by the New Yorker, Manne explains that there is a “persistent moral view that men are entitled to things like sex and unwanted touching.” She elaborated by noting that, “I think that there are extraordinary challenges facing parents of cis boys.” This somewhat sexist assertion that men feel entitled to touching women is, as usual, not backed up by any evidence. It certainly doesn’t fit with my experience of male attitudes at any time in my life. But let’s not allow the facts to get in the way of a good prejudice.

For Manne, and it appears, for Police Scotland, this extreme ideology about ‘male entitlement’ that treats all men and even young (‘cis’) boys as part of a problem of misogynistic violence has become a new ‘truth’. In reality, it is a deeply sexist and prejudiced outlook that interconnects male sexism, or simply maleness, with violence, rape and even with murder. It is also becoming the new abnormal ideology that dominates British institutions like the police and represents the form that moral panics take today.

This approach is reactionary and a genuine threat to a balanced approach to policing and justice in society.

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