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Helena Kennedy QC: No more living in fear – now it’s time for men to also step up to end misogyny

19 November, 2021 — By Helena Kennedy QC

Barrister Helena Kennedy has called for reform of the law to give victims of misogynistic behaviour justice – and admits she has despaired at the slow progress

I AM glad that new ways of protecting women and girls from misogynistic behaviour are being looked at.

I have spent over 40 years of practice as a barrister, calling for reform of the law and seeking legislative change to give women justice. I have written books on the subject and wept at the slow progress.

Still the conviction rates in rape cases are abysmal. Still two women a week are killed by their partner. In every minute of every day, the police receive four desperate calls from women about domestic violence.

Not all men harass, abuse or threaten women but show me the woman who has not experienced unwanted attention, gropings, sexual advances and then ugly verbal assault or worse.

From childhood, little girls are warned about taking care and avoiding certain places, not staying out late, always being with a friend. Self-safeguarding is a taught part of womanhood.

It’s why women are great risk assessors.

We are taught hyper-vigilance about men. And if we fail to protect ourselves we are blamed and carry the shame.

This is what misogyny is about. It is not about hatred of women as some literalists would claim – although there are some people who do hate women as a class.

Misogyny is about a way of thinking that is rooted in ideas about the nature of things like male primacy and the secondary role of women. It gives rise to a strong sense of male entitlement and it seriously disempowers women. It is often unconscious and women can have absorbed it too.

Women live with fear; the footsteps behind them as they walk in an ill-lit street; the pick-up artist who bugs them on the bus but leaves them with deep anxiety that when they get off they might be followed home; the gang of young men who maraud on the bus or train and turn foul-mouthed and aggressive if women do not respond to their blandishments.

How many men say to their mates after a night at the pub “text me that you get home safely”?

Nowadays, most young women feel they have to. Online it is often worse because inhibition is abandoned and the level of abuse and threat to women can be horrifying.

What we need to do is talk about all this with our children, our boys and girls. Until misogyny is challenged we will never enjoy equality. It is all about mutual respect, which is really at the heart of human rights. So I do hope the good men who are all around us step up and challenge this conduct. We can only create change together.

Helena Kennedy QC is a leading barrister and an expert in human rights law, civil liberties and constitutional issues

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