The Liberal Democrats and Liberal Party before it have a proud tradition of defending liberty and advocating for social change. Going back over a hundred years, the state pension, social security, the NHS, legal abortion, the decriminalisation of homosexuality and the creation of same sex marriage are all associated with this movement and its members.

The party with has always believed that women’s rights are human rights and as recently as this March, LibDem MP Wera Hobhouse introduced a Hate Crime Bill, intended to tackle the ever present problem of misogyny.

Then on the 19th of September, on its platform LibDem Voice, the party published its definition of transphobia. You can read it here:

Perhaps surprisingly, although it was drafted by three women, it contradicts the party’s own constitution on the subject of sexism and it is incompatible with the human rights of women.

Therefore, using it as a starting point, I drafted a definition of misogyny and submitted it to the LibDem Voice platform for publication. As a Liberal and Liberal Democrat since 1966, who has held many local party positions as well as being a LibDem councillor for over five years, I expected an acknowledgment at least, but this was not to be.

So, being denied a party platform, I am posting it here.

Liberal Democrat definition of Misogyny – a proposal

Over the last year it has become clear that the Party needed to explain how it proposes to recognise and defend the sex-based rights of women as defined in the 2010 Equality Act. 

We know that some parts of the mainstream media and online social media have been actively trying to smear the female community and have promoted scare stories designed to frighten people into rolling back women’s rights in general and removing the protections they are allowed under the Gender Recognition Act in particular. We want to support members who want to call out misogynistic behaviour and challenge it both in and outside the party. 

It is time for the Party to make its position clear. 

I believe that the following document will give members an effective way of answering the question ‘What do the Lib Dems believe is misogynistic behaviour?’

In drafting this proposal I have not drawn on the work done by organisations such as Stonewall and TransActual UK that campaign to remove women’s sex based rights. 

I hope this definition will help guide members who want to support women and call out misogynistic behaviour. It could also be key to supporting the Party’s disciplinary processes. It is an important step towards ensuring that in 2020 the Liberal Democrats continue to demonstrate their commitment to Liberal values, as eloquently described in the preamble to the Party’s constitution.

“We look forward to a world in which all people share the same basic rights, in which they live together in peace and in which their different cultures will be able to develop freely. . .   Upholding these values of individual and social justice, we reject all prejudice and discrimination based upon race, colour, religion, age, disability, sex or sexual orientation and oppose all forms of entrenched privilege and inequality. ” 

Definition of Misogyny

‘Misogyny’ is the fear or dislike of someone based on the fact they are biologically female. Misogyny, whether through words or action, may be targeted at people who are, or who are perceived to be women, whether or not they identify as feminists, and their allies.

‘Woman’ is an umbrella term to describe people of the female sex who may menstruate, lactate and bear children and comfortably inhabit the body they were born in. It also includes trans men who were born female and therefore retain female DNA. Women may describe themselves using one or more of a variety of terms. They are not required to adopt or accept any form of ideology imposed on them by men or other women.

Misogynistic behaviour may include (i) attempting directly or through advocacy to remove women’s rights, (ii) misrepresenting women, (iii) abuse of women, and (iv) systematically excluding women from discussions about issues that directly affect them.”

Genuine errors or misunderstandings about a woman’s identity, or about the nature or effect of a policy or practice, do happen, and genuine errors or misunderstandings should not be considered intentionally misogynistic.  Some people may have had little or no experience or engagement with issues affecting women. Genuine errors and misunderstandings can still have potentially harmful effects, but the action taken to address them should take into account the lack of intention. Where accidental offence or harm has been caused the most appropriate course of action will generally be an apology, retraction or similar.

However, where an individual repeatedly does things which might be viewed as misogynistic, it is unlikely this is in genuine error. This is especially true if they have been challenged by others, and they have been pointed to resources to help them learn about women’s rights and misogyny. Indeed, disingenuous feigned ignorance of women’s rights is a common tactic of committed opponents of these rights. A history of misogyny should be taken into account when considering whether someone is being intentionally misogynistic.

Appendix of Examples

To help members understand how misogyny manifests, here are a few common examples of misogynistic actions which you may come across both inside and outside the Party. This list is not exhaustive and behaviours which constitute misogyny may change over time. Members may seek further guidance on patterns of misogynistic behaviour from other people who may include mothers, wives, daughters, sisters and friends.

Denying women’s rights or refusing to accept them

For example:

Using insulting language and/or threatening violence – calling a woman a bitch, c*nt, making death threats or suggesting that a woman should be forced to, ‘suck my lady dick’. If someone is not aware of feminism or is not well informed about it, accidental mistakes may be made as people acquire respect for women and their rights. Insulting women deliberately, persistently and/or maliciously is a means of humiliation and degradation and is particularly egregious when directed at women who are merely seeking to defend rights they have already acquired.

Mockery or dismissal of women’s rights and their sex based identity often takes the form of inappropriate comparisons (‘they will be wanting to run the country next’), suggesting women do not mean what they say (for example by describing them as ‘confused’ or ‘just trying to be controversial’), or suggesting feminism  is a fad, through comments such as ‘I’m too old to understand all this’.

Using phrases or language to describe women which are designed to suggest that they are an inferior category of person when compared with men and do not need to be taken seriously. Current examples include referring to women as ‘pet’, ‘dear’ or ‘poppet’, which diminishes their human identity as equal and valid members of the human race.

Misrepresenting and excluding women

For example:

  • Accusing women, as a group, of being responsible for real or imagined wrongdoing committed by a single woman or even a man presenting as a woman. This is a particular problem when recording crimes and compiling crime statistics listed by sex.
  • Positioning women as a threat to individual rights or safety or as a threat to society as a whole, for example by equating women with witches, bitches or as controlling, irrational or hysterical.
  • Making mendacious, dehumanising, demonising, or stereotypical allegations about women or their male allies. This includes spreading the idea of a “female conspiracy” which asserts undue influence over media or government or claiming that women’s allies support feminist initiatives out of fear or bribery rather than a genuine belief that women’s rights are human rights.
  • Applying double standards by requiring of women behaviours that are not expected or demanded of any other groups in society – for example criticising women who do not conform to female stereotypes for not being feminine enough and women who do conform for perpetuating sexism.

Knowingly promoting policies and practices that actively discriminate against women 

For example:

  • Removing segregated facilities as provided for in law, or denying them access to facilities which would be required in order for them to fully participate in public life.
  • Calling for, aiding, or justifying the killing or physical or mental harming of women because of their sex.
  • Knowingly promoting the idea that feminism is a controversial ideology, or is caused by mental illness.
  • Advocating the withdrawal or defunding of access to medical treatment for women or advocating or facilitating the removal of single sex spaces in hospital wards, changing rooms and prisons.
  • Advocating that women’s rape crisis centres should be compelled to employ male bodied staff, or offer services to people with male bodies.
  • Advocating that people other than natal born women should be allowed to compete in women’s sport.

We encourage members who are interested in learning more to engage with others who may include wives, daughters, sisters, mothers and friends of both sexes.