Reading the results of a court case this week, I was saddened (again) by how far we still have to come in equality between the sexes.
Yvonne McCann was strangled by her husband in 2020, and her body cut up and disposed of in a skip.
This in itself is dreadful but you can see the root of this in the reporting itself, in the way the courtcase panned out – a line from this to the Yvonne’s murder and of all the other women killed each year.
Some history first. I grew up in Westbury, Wiltshire, in the 70s and 80s. Around 1986, this ‘sleepy’ market town with a couple of schools, a park, a railway station, a few shops, one Chinese takeaway and chipshop, one supermarket and an industrial estate-based nightclub, overlooked by a white horse on the scarp slope of Salisbury Plan, became the murder capital of Britain.
First it began with a teenage friend of mine from church, in my O Level year. Her mother, Jeanne Sutcliffe and Heidi, her baby sister, was killed at their home by an apparently jealous female teacher, a collegue of her father’s (the police ‘knew’ it was a woman because the murder scene had been cleaned and tidied up…)
Then there was the woman whose ex-boyfriend hid in the back of her car as she drove home from a night out, forcing her to drive to a remote spot where he killed her. Then the gay couple – one skewered the other through the nose with a pool cue. Or Shirley Osment who was strangled by her ‘lover’ and then burned on a pyre (They lived near me and a family friend adopted their cat. I taught her son RE at secondary school a couple of years later, who unsurprisingly described himself as a ‘mess’.) Or, slightly further in Trowbridge, the mother who was ‘accidently’ killed by her husband while cleaning his shotgun. He became a family friend. Or Debbie, who was stabbed by my friend’s cousin many times in a jealous rage before hanging himself. Or, in Warminster, Ursula Randall who was sliced up, along with her husband, Brian, by the army ex-boyfriend of her daughter, Sarah. Sarah survived her own stab wounds. And nine-year-old Zoe who was suffocated by her soldier stepfather.
I could go on, just as MP Jess Philips reads out the names of the women murdered that year, in parliament on International Women’s Day.
But, back to Yvonne.
So, the headline: “Stockport man who murdered wife after row over chips jailed for life”.
It’s always the murderer who gets the headline. Read a report about a murder and who is named first?
‘Row over chips’. Everyone can relate to that, right? I know I can (especially in Covid lockdown #3). Some seemingly innocuous thing sparks a heated row, becomes iconic of all that is wrong with a relationship, all that pent up frustration suddenly comes out over thawed chips which have to be chucked away because they were left out of the freezer.
But why should the chips get equal billing? Why is this report colluding in the idea that a woman’s life is worth less than a bag of chips?
Because the thawed chips have become representative of the man’s honour? That Yvonne is treating her husband with the same disposability as the freezer food? Is this essentially an honour killling? Let’s call it what it is: an ego killing.
For this out-of-control deadly behavour, Yvonne’s killer husband received a life sentence with a minimum of 12 years.
The judge, Alan Conrad QC, according to The Guardian, “…said he had factored in information provided by McCann’s barrister in mitigation, including a psychological report that showed he had low self-esteem and difficulties expressing himself. The judge added that he had taken into account “the evidence before me that you have always been a hard-working family man who was a good father and further that you have expressed remorse for what you did.””
“low self-esteem and difficulties expressing himself” – relevance as a factor? He bolstered his ego by killing his wife and expressed himself by strangling her and cutting her up in the bath.
“you have always been a hard-working family man” – relevance?
“a good father” – relevance?
“expressed remorse” – cliche for violent men. It’s a well known part of the cycle of domestic violence. Relevance?
The Guardian also reports on the prosecutor’s comment: “Mrs McCann had begun a relationship with another man around 2013, leading, he said, to her husband’s jealousy, the relationship breakdown and ultimately to her murder.”
“…leading, he said, to her husband’s jealousy, the relationship breakdown and ultimately to her murder.”
Ultimately to her murder.
She was responsible for her own murder?
And her life is worth less than a bag of chips?
Show me a British man who does not have difficulties expressing himself emotionally. Who, when they ‘came to their senses’, would not show remorse?
At what point do we question what our own actions, even down to the language used in a liberal paper, does to perpetuate this stain on society?
How can we teach our men to express themselves? How can we show that jealously will never be an acceptable reason for violence? And that jealousy is a malaise that should be treated before it is acted upon, not an exciting headline to pour over.
Can we see that addressing this societal sickness would be good for the murdered women, for the jailed men and their traumatised children?
If Yvonne’s husband had been taught as a child to express himself, that boys can expect cuddles and crying is ok, that women can love who they like (just as men can) and a marriage certificate gives them no say over it, or had easy access to therapy (and did not feel ashamed to seek it, or rebuffed it when offered) would Yvonne still be alive and their five children still have a mother? Would, indeed, they have a happy marriage?
Would this work better than lives wasted in jail?
And if we, as women, found a lack of expression unacceptable and adopted a stance of zero tolerance unless the man in our lives sought help, would there be less domestic violence?
When are we going to stop talking about ‘mitigating factors’ and start talking about the sickness in our society?
And what of Jeanne and Heidi Sutcliff’s murderess? What messed up version of love for a man caused her to act out her own frustrations to an end which deprived a nice woman and baby of their lives, and two children of their mother?
Why, after a few decades after the murders of the woman in the car, Shirley, the Trowbridge mum, Debbie, Ursula and Zoe, are men still losing control this badly?