The Human Equation

Serial killers, self-reliance, and everything in between

This Man Is Mine

Women, sexual jealousy and murder

Jane Andrews, the Duchess of York’s former assistant, was attending a party with her wealthy businessman lover, Tom Cressman, when a long-time friend came up to him and teasingly asked, “Are you married?” When he said no, she replied, “Oh good. According to witnesses, Jane rushed across the room, grabbed his arm, and said, “He’s mine.”

Tom had long complained about her jealousy and possessiveness. When he made it clear that he had no long-term plans with her, she made sure he never made them with anyone else. After hitting him over the head with a cricket bat, she killed him by plunging a kitchen knife into his chest.

If I Can’t Have You, No One Can             

If you look at the psychology literature, you’ll overwhelmingly discover that sexual jealousy and possessiveness are generally viewed as male traits. It’s not that psychologists are saying that women don’t get jealous; they just tend to say that we get jealous over emotional infidelity. In other words, as a gender, we’re likely to be less threatened by a lover’s visit to a prostitute than emotionally intimate dinners with a female work colleague.

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Perhaps that’s statistically true. However, we’ve all known women who obsessed about their boyfriend’s faithfulness, who stole passwords to check email and phone records, and who viewed any hint of sexual attraction to another woman as a direct insult to her femininity. This is a woman who cannot—and will not—tolerate rejection, especially at the hands of another woman. If you’re looking for a good example, watch Glenn Close in Fatal Attraction.

Dangerous Passion

recent study in Homicide Studies suggests that real life examples may be more common than we once thought. While their sample size was limited, 25 percent of the cases they explored seemed to have what they called “sexual proprietariness” as a motive. Sexual proprietariness has been a popular evolutionary theory used to explain domestic violence situations in which the man views his mate as “his’ and feels entitled to use control and domination as a way to ensure fidelity. The evolutionary angle is that, since adultery has particular consequences for men (such as not knowing if you’re the father of your children), sexual jealousy became an adaptive way to minimize those risks.

It’s hard to see how the same theory would apply to women; after all, we usually know who the fathers of our children are. However, whatever the origins, it is clear that, for some women, romantic betrayal isn’t something they’re going to take laying down.

Take the case of the woman who, after 30 years of marriage, finds out her husband has had another family in another city for the past 10 years and shoots him dead. Or the 17-year-old who asks her male friends to shoot her 18-year-old ex after learning that his new girlfriend was pregnant. Of course, the sexual jealousy isn’t always directed at the partner; just yesterday, I read about 48-year-old Catherine McCoy who, angry with a younger woman for having sex with her boyfriend, kidnapped, beat, and sexually assaulted her with a golf club.

The Bottom Line

I suspect that, when it’s all said and done, we’ll find that what makes us jealous is more a reflection of our values, beliefs, life experiences, and personality traits than our gender. What is clear is that some women would rather have a dead lover than one who sleeps around.

Joni E. Johnston, Psy.D, is the author of Complete Idiot's Guide to Psychology.

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