13.01.1991

Women are more equal

Women are more equal
 
Lynette Burrows deplores the discrimination suggested by one of last week's court cases
 
A  CASE has just ended in the Central Criminal Court which had the distinction of highlight­ing a significant aspect of our present culture without ever referring to it. The case con­cerned a woman who admitted to killing her husband, and try­ing to make it look like suicide, because he had fallen in love with her twin sister and wanted a divorce. The judge accepted her plea of man­slaughter and gave her a sen­tence of two years.
 
The lenience of the sentence, the gentle and sympathetic words of the judge to the accused and the absence of rancour and criticism among commentators reminds us that it was a woman who was on trial and that women are treated differently by our cul­ture. Both the judge in his tra­ditional courtesy to, and sym­pathy for, a woman in trouble and those ornaments of the media who are usually so vocal in their demands for sexual equality were at one in allow­ing the defendant to be taken absolutely at her own valuation in a way that no man could possibly expect today were he to be in the same position.
 
Nothing could indicate more graphically the stranglehold fashionable attitudes have on public conduct than the silence which greeted the judge telling the woman that her greatest punishment would be having to live with her guilt for the rest of her life. One does not need to be psychic, or even to have a very long memory, to be able to imagine the howls of fury from feminists of both sexes if such a lenient sentence were given to a rapist on those grounds. "What difference does an attacker's remorse make to a woman who has been raped?" they would ask. "It is an insult to the woman not to give him the statutory seven years' punishment."
 
A defendant who pleaded that he loved the woman con­cerned and indeed was married to her, as in a recent case, would have his mitigating plea so scornfully rejected by them that no judge would dare to say, as in this case, that no one could fail to have sympathy with the accused because her defence was she loved him.
 
And what is one to make of the equanimity which greeted the defence counsel's argu­ment that "there can be noth­ing more provoking than for the man you have married to fall in love with, and have an affair with, your sister"? Even his choice of words betrays the fact that he knew he did not need to tarry too long over a more persuasive explanation for a woman's decision to take a man's life when actual adultery had neither been alleged nor established. He leaves the inescapable impression that when the life is only that of a defaulting husband, we can suspend our sympathy and our normal judgment. It has become so much the habit to
portray men in general, and husbands in particular, as always the villain, that we seem to have come to the des­perate state where being able to say "he emotionally hurt a woman" is enough to justify his death.
 
At the end of the trial, we were not treated, as is usual on these occasions, to venomous or heart-wringing outbursts from close relatives of the dead on any aspect of the case con­sidered unsatisfactory. The only relation quoted in the newspaper was selected, per­haps unconsciously, in strict accordance with the rules of this obsessive feminist fantasy against men. He was thus another mere male, a brother-in-law of the dead man, who said, with the sad humility of an ordinary member of the public without the media at his back, that the sentence was 'not long, for a man's life'. We like to laugh at the Victorians for describing rape as 'a fate worse than death'; how ironic that we should have made it, in another sense perhaps, more or less literally true.