Now is not the time for men to speak about how MeToo is hard for them. Now is the time for men to listen

Harriet Hall

Around the world, men are terrified for their rights. They can no longer sexually harass freely, grope spontaneously and become aggressive when women reject their unwanted advances. They are being targeted by the #MeToo movement – the feminist clarion call for women’s rights – and by attempts to protect women from sexual offenders. Men, it seems, are having a really hard time.

The latest man to feel aggrieved by the struggle to create a more equal society – one in which women feel the crimes against them are recognised and punished accordingly – is a police sergeant. That’s right, from the very people whose sole responsibility it is to protect members of the public, comes a column about how inconvenient protecting some of them, namely women, could be.

Writing for The Telegraph this week, Sergeant Richard Cooke, chair of the West Midlands Police Federation, expresses his frustration that the Home Office has announced a legislative review into the classification of hate crime, asking if misogyny and ageism should be recognised alongside pre-existing hate crimes including racism, ableism and homophobia.

To include misogyny and ageism as hate crimes would be, says Cooke, a blatant waste of time in the face of stretched police budgets and spiking crime rates. “Let us focus urgently,” he implores, “on genuine crime, supported by basic evidence.” What Cooke wants is to “end violence on our streets, not pander to the petty demands of the 'Court of Twitter’”. And, he writes, it is not the job of the police to “encourage people to think we can solve deep social problems or give impolite people manners.”

It is concerning to see a police officer display such a misunderstanding of the law. One wonders what Cooke considers “basic evidence” to be, whether it includes a first-person account of being attacked, a witness report of threatening behaviour, or even actual bodily harm – things most courts of law consider to be evidence. A hate crime, according the CPS, “can be used to describe a range of criminal behaviour where the perpetrator is motivated by hostility or demonstrates hostility towards the victim's disability, race, religion, sexual orientation or transgender identity”. It can include anything from verbal abuse, harassment and bullying (the things I think Cooke apparently feels are non-events) to assault and damage to property. I wonder which part of these incidents and crimes Cooke believes to be merely a case of “bad manners?” Is violence against women not violence?

What is perhaps most irksome about Cooke’s comments is that they represent just one in a string of recent tone-deaf, unwelcome remarks by men in positions of power and acclaim, in response to women speaking out about sexual harassment and assault. Let’s see who else has chimed in.

We’ve heard from Matt Damon, who questioned why men who aren’t sexual offenders weren’t getting enough credit for… well, not being sexual offenders. Speaking about #MeToo in an interview, Damon said, “We’re in this watershed moment and it’s great, but I think one thing that's not being talked about is... the preponderance of men I've worked with who don't do this kind of thing.”

At this year’s Screen Actor’s Guild Awards, William H Macy said, “It’s hard to be a man these days. A lot of us feel like we’re under attack.”

Even Superman actor, Henry Cavill, chimed in, expressing how he found this post-Weinstein era to be a hindrance to his dating life. There is “something wonderful about a man chasing a woman,” he said, before remarking that “It’s very difficult to do that if there are certain rules in place. Because then it’s like: ‘Well, I don’t want to go up and talk to her, because I’m going to be called a rapist or something’”. Just this month, the dear POTUS declared it to be a “very scary time for young men in America”, following the troubling testimony of Christine Blasey Ford. After the fair hearing of Brett Kavanaugh, the president concluded that: “A man’s life is in tatters. A man’s life is shattered.” Kavanaugh went on to take up his position as one of the most powerful judges in the world. Shattered.

These comments are all dangerous and terrifying, yes. But I am bored of women being told they need to placate men every time a woman speaks up against sexual assault and misogyny – when a woman stands up and bravely says what so many women can’t say. Comments like those above, reveal more than just a stubborn refusal to understand what women put up with on a daily basis and why it has taken so long for so many to speak out: they also pull the focus away from those women, and from all women. Those comments suggest that their voice – the male voice – should once again hold the spotlight.

If you are not a misogynist or a sex offender you have nothing to fear.

But yes, this is a war. But it is not a war on men. This is a war on sexual predators, harassers, discriminators. It is a war on onlookers’ complicit silence. If you are any of these people, you absolutely should feel uncomfortable. You should feel afraid.

It’s time for men to stop trying to claim this conversation as theirs. It’s time for men to listen.