Belfast Telegraph

Fionola Meredith: Sexist quips and wolf whistles may be a pain, but they can hardly count as hate crimes

Treating women as perpetual victims of misogyny does them no favours, says Fionola Meredith

Westminster could pass laws that would see wolf-whistling treated as a misogynistic hate crime
Westminster could pass laws that would see wolf-whistling treated as a misogynistic hate crime

I've heard this particular sexist remark so many times in my life, and always from random male strangers. "Cheer up, love. It'll never happen." On the most recent occasion it happened while I was waiting to take part in a radio broadcast. I'm sitting there in the green room, minding my own business, staring into space. A balding bloke - completely unknown to me - pops his head around the door and, with a perky grin, delivers the stunningly original quip: "Cheer up, love…"

Why is it sexist? Well, for a start, it's always said by a man to a woman. If it was a man sitting there waiting to go on air I can absolutely guarantee you that Mr Baldy would not have taken it upon himself to bounce in uninvited and tell the guy to start smiling.

The hidden assumption behind the remark is that women must look cheerful, willing to please and, if possible, decorative - or at least not actively offensive to the eye - at all times. If we don't we're liable to get these passive-aggressive little reminders from a certain sort of man.

I can't help it if I have what's commonly known as "resting bitch face" - an unintentional expression of grumpiness when in repose. So I guess I'll keep getting told to cheer up. The expected response, I assume, is a compliant, girlish giggle, but I do draw the line at that.

It's just another of those sexist little irritants that women frequently encounter and either ignore or deal with competently and without fuss like the capable adults they are before moving on with their day.

It's a pain, but no big problem.

A bit like wolf-whistling, though at least that one comes in the form of a compliment, whether it's wanted or not.

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But under new proposals recently brought forward to Westminster something as trivial as wolf-whistling could potentially in future be regarded as a misogynistic hate crime.

In a pilot scheme in Nottingham, which informed the Westminster debate, misogyny hate crime was defined as "incidents against women that are motivated by the attitude of men towards women and includes behaviour targeted at women by men simply because they are women". That's an incredibly broad definition by anyone's standards.

Can you honestly imagine going along to the police station and saying: "Officer, I wish to report a hate crime. A vile, woman-loathing builder has signalled his appreciation of my appearance by making a squeaky woo-woo sound with his lips."

I mean, really? That would be as absurd as me reporting Mr Baldy to the cops for being a patronising sexist prat, though I could argue that the green room incident met the Nottingham criteria for a hate crime.

Or maybe I'm guilty of a hate crime myself by calling him Mr Baldy? Follically challenged people have their feelings too, after all.

By rushing to label all women as victims of one kind or another, campaigners do a huge disservice to genuine victims of sexual abuse, assault, discrimination and harassment.

When are mainstream feminists going to come to their senses and realise that irritating but low-level encounters are not tantamount to crime, and that most women do not consider themselves in need of special protection against prats?

Sadly, it looks like it's too late for that. The global women's race for victimhood is well out of the starting blocks and there's no stopping it now. When the Belfast historian Liam Kennedy coined the acronym MOPE - Most Oppressed People Ever - he was referring to lessons from Irish history, not the childishness of modern feminist identity politics. But he may as well have been, because the self-justificatory, self-pitying wail sounds exactly the same.

Take the tennis star Serena Williams' ridiculous outburst at the US Open last Saturday. Basically she threw a silly, infantile strop, breaking her racquet and shrieking insults at the umpire ("liar", "thief") because he dared to reprimand her.

Instead of apologising afterwards for losing the bap, the rich, powerful, influential athlete immediately claimed she was the victim of sexism. "I'm here fighting for women's rights and for women's equality and for all kinds of stuff," she declared.

I thought she was there to try to win a lucrative tennis match, but hey, why let facts get in the way of a good mope?

Deriving your identity from perpetual victimhood is the opposite of empowerment. And a pathetic, tear-stained refrain of "poor me" won't win the war for women's equality.

I hate to say it, but perhaps it really is time to cheer up.

Belfast Telegraph


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