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Austin Cline

Phyllis Schlafly: Husbands Can't Rape Wives

By May 27, 2008

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Something which many people may not realize is that, not too long ago, there was no legal or even social category of 'spousal rape.' When a woman married a man, she essentially consented to sex whenever he wanted it — and if he forced her, it wasn't "real" rape like it might be if they weren't married. It's important to understand that this was an integral part of the "traditional" conception of marriage: men were in charge and women were subservient in all matters, including sexual matters that involved their own bodies.

This has been changing, but some conservatives haven't gotten the memo.

Last year, Roger Ailes quoted Phyllis Schlafly that a husband forcing his wife to have sex with him should be treated like a woman being raped by a stranger:

A man’s life has been sacrificed, and three children have been denied their father by malicious feminists who have lobbied for laws that punish spousal rape just like stranger rape and deny a man the right to cross-examine his accuser. They have created a judicial system where the woman must always be believed even though she has no evidence, one in which the man is always guilty. [emphasis Ailes’]

It’s nice that Schlafly acknowledged, at least implicitly, that it is possible for a man to rape his wife — but at the same time, she is quite explicit that raping one’s wife shouldn’t be punished like raping a stranger (or, presumably, someone you know but aren’t married to). Why is this? Do wives deserve less legal protection? Does Schlafly simply believe that marriage continues to qualify as consent to sex at any time and, therefore, that husbands who force their wives to provide sex shouldn’t be treated like “real” rapists?

Recently, Washington University decided to reward Phyllis Schlafly for her work on behalf of ideas like women can't really be raped by their husbands and she gave an interview to the student newspaper where she reiterated that she does indeed believe this:

Could you clarify some of the statements that you made in Maine last year about martial rape?

I think that when you get married you have consented to sex. That's what marriage is all about, I don't know if maybe these girls missed sex ed. That doesn't mean the husband can beat you up, we have plenty of laws against assault and battery. If there is any violence or mistreatment that can be dealt with by criminal prosecution, by divorce or in various ways. When it gets down to calling it rape though, it isn't rape, it's a he said-she said where it's just too easy to lie about it.

Was the way in which your statement was portrayed correct?

Yes. Feminists, if they get tired of a husband or if they want to fight over child custody, they can make an accusation of marital rape and they want that to be there, available to them.

So you see this as more of a tool used by people to get out of marriages than as legitimate-

Yes, I certainly do.

Source: Student Life (via Feministing, emphasis mine)

There are several key elements in the above which must be kept firmly in mind. First, according to this defender of "traditional marriage" and traditional social roles for women, marriage (at least from the women's perspective) is "all about" consenting to sex. It's not about love, companionship, money, procreation, or anything like that. It's all and only about making yourself sexually available to a man anytime he wants it. Women who marry pre-consent to sex whenever and however their husbands demand it. Because they pre-consent to sex, it's not possible for any forced sex to really be rape.

Second, forced sex isn't violence. Phyllis Schlafly does object to "violence or mistreatment" of a woman by her husband, but since she doesn't object to a woman being forced to participate in sexual activity with her husband, then the conclusion is that forced sexual activity doesn't qualify as "violence or mistreatment." I wonder if a man forcing another man to engage in sexual activity would qualify as "violence or mistreatment"? Probably, since they can't have a "real" marriage.

You’d think that a “real” conservative would support principles like equal protection of the laws and enforcing laws against actions which harm others. If this is so, then the question becomes: is Phyllis Schlafly a “real” conservative, or has conservatism in American degenerated so far that it is no longer recognizable? I can't claim to know for sure, but either way I don't think that anyone who does care about equality and who does care about women should have anything whatsoever to do with it.

Comments
May 27, 2008 at 3:52 pm
(1) Aerik says:

Thank you so much for doing a piece on this. It’s always good to see somebody point out all the implications of “traditional marriage” advocates’ ideology.

May 27, 2008 at 3:59 pm
(2) tracieh says:

The layout has changed somewhat. I hope I’m leaving a comment in the correct section…? If not, apologies in adavance.

This article is just shocking. I keep trying to give the speaker the benefit of the doubt, because it’s very difficult for me to believe what she’s saying can really be WHAT SHE’S SAYING.

While she _seems_ to imply abuses of this statute are her motive, she appears to not be making that argument. She’s not saying, “You know, men can rape their wives–but women need to be responsible and not abuse such a serious accusation out of dishonest/punitive motives.”

I mean, rape, generally, can be hard to prove, and is an easy accusation to hurl at an innocent man. I have to acknowledge there are some really unscrupulous people in the world, and as much as I hate to think someone would falsely accuse a person of a crime–I know it’s possible. That doesn’t mean I’m going to say, “Hey, let’s just get the crime of rape off the books–it’s too easy to abuse…”

She is addressing two very different points. One, that rape is an easy way to get revenge on a man or cause him problems if he’s innocent and I’m pissed off or motivated enough by whatever cause, and two, that marital rape can’t/doesn’t happen, because coercing a spouse to have sex isn’t rape if it’s done in the context of marriage.

I agree accusations of rape, unfortunately, can be abused. I couldn’t disagree more that saying “I do,” means losing my right to say, “not now, not ever,” if I choose. Even if I say, “no sex, ever again,” my husband has no right to force me. Divorce me if he wants to, yes–physically _make_ me have sex? Is this woman out of her gourd?!

Her brain would probably meltdown if she ever encountered a married couple that is celebate by choice. Would sparks and smoke just come out of her ears as she went into overdrive to process such a bizarre, unfathomable scenario?

I wonder what her take is on men saying ‘no’?

How do nutjobs like this get press-time?

May 27, 2008 at 5:55 pm
(3) Aerik says:

@tracieh: That some rare women make false accusations of rape has nothing to do with the point Shlafly is making. It’s so uncommon, actually, that it’s hardly relevant to anything.

To wit, that some people lie about being assaulted doesn’t mean that you get to bring it up when somebody tries to argue that you can’t assault your sparring partner from the gym.

Body rights are absolute. You can’t consent to sex all the time You can always say no. That is the extent of consent. Your rights to your body cannot be contracted away. This is true legally. Schlafly is arguing that culturally and historically this is what marriage is for, but that’s simply an argument from popularity and an argument from antiquity. That kind of view also tries to force all judges and legislators to interpret marriage licenses this way when in fact they’re ambiguous.

Schlafly’s accusation that women use false rape charges to get out of marriage is also ridiculous. It’s completely disproven by 3 words: “NO FAULT DIVORCE.” Nobody has to wrong you for you to get out of marriage. Like sex, you can always say no, enough is enough. But again, her generalization is a lie, and even if it were true, irrelevant to the possibility of spousal rape nor does it give merit to the idea that spousal rape should be treated than strange rape.

In fact, most rapes are performed by non-strangers. i.e., it is stranger rape that is less frequent than relative, spousal, and acquaintance rape. But all should be treated the same because they are all a hate crime of the same cloth, regardless of the tactic uses to achieve it.

Ironically, Schlafly is one of those conservatives who sides with abstinence-only sex ed. That kind of program is not education at all, it’s just indoctrinated ignorance and misinformation. It must be so, because comprehensive sexual education courses do not teach that marriage is a contract to have sex whenever the husband wants. At least not in public schools. So she’s lying some more.

May 27, 2008 at 7:12 pm
(4) Agnosticat says:

These conservative Christians love to trot out the verses about how wives should submit to the husband but they often fail to finish the verse – that the husbands should love with wives as Christ loved the Church.

The New Testament shows that Jesus never forced himself upon anyone either physically or spiritually. Why then would Schlafly think that it’s ok for Christian men to force themselves in any way upon their wives?

The cognitive dissonance in her mind must be truly amazing.

May 28, 2008 at 10:45 am
(5) tracieh says:

Aerik:

Maybe I’m missing your intent?

>@tracieh: That some rare women make false accusations of rape has nothing to do with the point Shlafly is making. It’s so uncommon, actually, that it’s hardly relevant to anything.

Which is why I said: “While she _seems_ to imply abuses of this statute are her motive, she appears to not be making that argument.” And also why I said, “She is addressing two very different points.”

She is confusing the issue by trying to make a reasonable implication that is, however, divorced from her actual argument. The idea of abusing the rape charge is an utter red-herring. That was the point I was making. But I’m not sure you understood that.

Your last point in that paragraph is, however, impossible to support. You’d have to know how many men are currently incarcerated due to false charges of rape; and, how could you possibly know that figure, since it doesn’t manifest until someone is exonerated after years in prison for a crime he didn’t commit? The numbers of men rotting in a cell due to a false accusation who are not yet exonerated is unknown. For all you (or I) know, it could marginal, but it also could be epidemic. What is your basis upon which you support the claim it’s “uncommon”?

>To wit, that some people lie about being assaulted doesn’t mean that you get to bring it up when somebody tries to argue that you can’t assault your sparring partner from the gym.

Again, I said as much: “I agree accusations of rape, unfortunately, can be abused. I couldn’t disagree more that saying ‘I do,’ means losing my right to say, ‘not now, not ever,’ if I choose.”

In other words, I agree that context doesn’t matter. Married or unmarried—sparring partner or stranger, assault is assault, and rape is rape.

>Body rights are absolute. You can’t consent to sex all the time You can always say no.

Please show me my quote where I said anything that questioned this point? (Although I would say that a person can consent to sex all the time if they so choose. I don’t see why a person would be unable to do so.)

>Like sex, you can always say no, enough is enough.

Again, I said, “I couldn’t disagree more that saying ‘I do,’ means losing my right to say, ‘not now, not ever,’ if I choose.”

I agree a person always has the right to say no. You addressed your note to me, but you appear to either not have carefully read or understood my comment/s. I’m not sure how to approach your comment to me, because you’re not, generally, disagreeing that I can see.

> In fact, most rapes are performed by non-strangers. i.e., it is stranger rape that is less frequent than relative, spousal, and acquaintance rape. But all should be treated the same because they are all a hate crime of the same cloth, regardless of the tactic uses to achieve it.

I know most rapes are committed by friends/family members. But please show me where I said that _who_ rapes you should be a factor in how the crime is prosecuted or punished? Where did I say that husbands should get deference?

>Ironically, Schlafly is one of those conservatives who sides with abstinence-only sex ed.

It’s not ironic at all. It’s right inline with controlling a woman’s sexuality. Conservative ideology (the modern version, anyway) is concerned with control of people’s personal lives, generally. But sexual control of women is a main objective for whatever reason. No rights to her own body, down the line. A woman only needs to be taught abstinence only, because she isn’t going to have premarital sex. She cannot have an abortion, because she needs to pay for her sexual promiscuity if she ends up pregnant out of wedlock. She shouldn’t use birth control because it’s up to god, not her, whether or not she has children. Her husband cannot “rape” her, because her body is his. In no instance is a woman ever in charge of her own body. Every one of these agendas is designed to deny a woman sovereignty over her own body. The ideology never contradicts, on that level.

May 28, 2008 at 7:39 pm
(6) Aerik says:

Here’s a link that discusses in great detail the lack of legality to the “it’s not a valid marriage until a penis enters a vagina” argument that people like Schlafly put out.

Penis Into Vagina Equals Marriage.

I suppose you’re right about it not being ironic, in that it’d only be ironic if we didn’t expect her to be a hypocrit.

May 28, 2008 at 7:40 pm
(7) Aerik says:
May 30, 2008 at 3:16 pm
(8) John Hanks says:

Right to Rape? Right to Life? So many gullible Christian women. So little time.

May 30, 2008 at 6:01 pm
(9) Bob says:

As an atheist I don’t believe much in Christian concepts of marriage such as the man being the head of the house. I believe husband and wife are two separate people each deserving respect. If a husband respects his wife he will accept no for an answer. Forcing his wife to have sex is rape. Also a man might not force his wife to have sex but if she doesn’t he can make life difficult for her in other ways. That is often the way of the abusive husband.

It is no longer acceptable for men to physically assault their wives nor should they be able to force sex on them. There is a difference between a man and wife and a man and a woman who is a stranger because of their relationship where sex is expected between them. In a court case involving forced sex in a marriage the court will take that relationship into account.

However the bottom line is a man has no right to assault his wife in any form.

March 18, 2010 at 1:21 pm
(10) Charlie says:

There can be no such thing as “marital rape” if traditional and/or christian views are honestly taken into consideration(not modern views for sure)*. It would be just as absurd as “marital adultery”. The difference between the rape and adultery is the former is forced while the latter is agreed upon. Their common gorund is that they are both “sex outside marriage”. If agreed sex in marriage is not adultery then forced sex is not rape. Simple. That rape can injure the woman is another issue(assault). Hence the so-called marital rape is nothing more than an assault. According to the bible(1 cor 7:4) and possibly other traditional beliefs, men and women BOTH have NO right to deny sex to their partners.

*I’m only trying to make you guys understand the reasoning behind conservative christians and other traditional people in not recognising marital rape. I think they don’t condone attacking one’s spouse. They just don’t see it as a sexual offence but a general physical offence.

July 3, 2011 at 2:41 am
(11) Austin Nedved says:

I can’t believe Schlafly actually believes that. Wow. I guess this is one of those times where, as a radical right-winger, all I can do is cringe in embarrassment and say to myself “well… it beats being pro-choice.”

March 28, 2013 at 4:15 pm
(12) Jonathan says:

The Bible is very clear that NEITHER can deny the other of sex, if the man denies the woman he is just as guilty vice versa. While I can regonise that it is forcing someone to have sex under the threat of physical violence is rape; that isn’t what the law sees it as. If a woman says no, and a man pesters her and she finally gives in – that is rape!

I have some serious problems with this. There have been many an occasion when I wasn’t in the mood and my wife pestered me into having sex. Women understand sex to be a tool, and they use this to manipulate men and situations by offering up/withholding sex. Shouldn’t we recognise this as rape as well? She is getting the man to do things he doesn’t want to by blackmailing him.

Would it be theft if I told my wife not to touch the 50 quid and she does? I don’t think it should be called marital rape, it should be of a lesser charge, and I say this as a conservative atheist.

March 29, 2013 at 12:02 pm
(13) Austin Cline says:

While I can regonise that it is forcing someone to have sex under the threat of physical violence is rape; that isn’t what the law sees it as. If a woman says no, and a man pesters her and she finally gives in – that is rape!

I’m positive that you can’t cite any law which says this. You’re just making it up, which means it’s a lie.

I have some serious problems with this.

Other than the fact that it’s false?

There have been many an occasion when I wasn’t in the mood and my wife pestered me into having sex. Women understand sex to be a tool, and they use this to manipulate men and situations by offering up/withholding sex.

Maybe that’s how it is in your relationship, but that’s merely evidence that there are serious problems in your relationship. It’s not how sex is for everyone else.

You shouldn’t assume that all the problems you have with your wife apply to everyone else in the world.

Shouldn’t we recognise this as rape as well? She is getting the man to do things he doesn’t want to by blackmailing him.

No, you should simply recognize that it means you have problems in your marriage that you should be dealing with

Would it be theft if I told my wife not to touch the 50 quid and she does?

No.

I don’t think it should be called marital rape, it should be of a lesser charge, and I say this as a conservative atheist.

No, you say it as a man who has marital problems but instead of dealing with them, assumes that they are the norm for everyone.

April 10, 2013 at 6:39 am
(14) Sally says:

It’s probably as old as the Abrahamic religions, but in English (and American) law, the idea was given formal expression by one Matthew Hale, Chief Justice of the King’s Bench in England in the 17th century, who wrote, “[t]he husband cannot be guilty of rape committed by himself upon his lawful wife for by their mutual matrimonial consent and contract, the wife hath given up herself in this kind unto the husband which she cannot retract.”

This disgusting piece of filth remained a legal principle until the 1980s in the US and Australia and until 1991 in the UK. Germany was the last European country to criminalize marital rape in 1997. It is interesting to note that the first Soviet government had made marital rape a crime in 1922 (re-affirmed by the Constitution of 1960), 60 years before change in the West.

And yes, folks, Phyllis Schlafly *still* believes that husbands cannot rape their wives. What’s more, she and her niece, Suzanne Venker, are making a mint on the lecture-circuit teaching this ‘wisdom’ to conservative (christian and non-christian) women across America

April 10, 2013 at 7:16 am
(15) Sally says:

Oh, and a quote from Bob Wilson, California Senator in 1979:

“If you can’t rape your wife, then who can you rape?”

February 4, 2014 at 1:18 pm
(16) BarleySinger says:

>> While I can regonise (sic) that it is forcing someone to have
>> sex under the threat of physical violence is rape; that
>> isn’t what the law sees it as. If a woman says no,
>> and a man pesters her and she finally gives in – that is rape!

>I’m positive that you can’t cite any law which says this. You’re just >making it up, which means it’s a lie.

Read these and learn.

http://www.clarku.edu/offices/dos/survivorguide/definition.cfm
http://www.afspc.af.mil/news/story.asp?id=123222934

*IF* constant badgering, unreasonable insistence for sex – etc (and this is seriously gross, low class and foul) continues with CONSENT or in the face of REFUSALS… and is accompanied by ANY statements (or even obvious implied ones) that the target will have a negative outcome for NOT having sex, the it is definitely coercion and definitely rape. That includes (to quote)

“If you love me you would have sex with me .”, “If you don’t have sex with me I will find someone who will.”, and “I’m not sure I can be with someone who doesn’t want to have sex with me.”

“Emotional Blackmail” counts

If under these circumstances an unwilling woman caves in under insistent quests for sex, (and seriously guys – we can do better than that) pressure, badgering, etc , it is rape.

That includes other things I have heard of being used to pressure people (even married women) : “If you don’t do it with both of us then I’ll tell everyone you did when I go to work:” … “you are my wife and you will do what I tell you to do. want a divorce?”….”fine – then I’kk go to a hooker an not use a condom – maybe I can give you AIDS” … “OK, then I won’t help you get your insulin shot”

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