My earliest gender politics memory was a local incident in Northern Ireland in 1991. Susan Christie, a private in the UDR, a locally-recruited regiment of the British army, had an affair with Duncan McAllister, an army captain. She sharpened a butcher’s knife and took it with her when she invited McAllister’s wife Penny out to walk their dogs, and, in a secluded spot, stabbed her to death, then spun some story about how they’d both been attacked by a man. She was convicted, but only of manslaughter, on the grounds that her jealousy amounted to diminished responsibility (I remember the judge saying something about women being controlled by their emotions in his summing up), and sentenced to only five years in prison (her sentence was later increased to nine years, but she got out in five anyway). I remember watching the news with my mum. She said it shouldn’t be her going to jail, it should be him.
I’m pleased to say I spoke up. I was only eleven, but I pointed out that although he might have done wrong by cheating on his wife, she’d done exactly the same thing, that adultery wasn’t against the law, and that only one of them had killed anybody. She had nothing to say to that, but I was shocked, and still am, how the legal system, and ordinary women like my mum, were so keen to absolve a woman from blame, to blame a man for a woman’s crime, and how little thought they gave to the woman who was murdered.