Until the 1970s, spousal rape (or marital rape) was legal in most of the United States. It wasn’t until 1993 that the last U.S. state (North Carolina) made spousal rape a crime, and there are still numerous states that treat spousal rape as a lesser crime than rape committed by anyone else. Given this history and these current attitudes in a country that is often portrayed as some kind of bastion of women’s rights, it’s wholly unsurprising that many women around the world are still fighting for their right to not be legally raped by their husbands.
One such place where women do not currently have the right to bodily autonomy in marriage is the Bahamas. And women attempting to reform the law are sadly and predictably facing steep opposition:
The bill, which is designed to outlaw marital rape, was tabled in the House of Assembly last month.
However, many Bahamian men, like taxi driver Pemmie Sutherland, say the bill is “simply unnecessary.”
“It is ridiculous for them to try to make that a law, because I don’t think a man can rape his own wife. After two people get married, the Bible says that they become one – one flesh. How is it possible to rape what is yours?” asked Mr. Sutherland.
Elvis Russell told the Journal that he does not support the bill either because there is no such thing as rape within a marriage.
“Even if a woman says no to her husband it still can’t be considered rape because she is his wife. He already paid his dues at the church and she already said ‘I do,’ so from then on, even if [a man] forces sex on his wife, it isn’t rape,” he said.
The article then continues by reminding us that misogyny and patriarchy upholding are not the sole domain of men, by quoting several women who oppose the law by expressing similar views to the ones above.
PZ Meyers points out that most of these men seem to reference the Bible in their conviction that women are their husbands’ property, and you cannot violate what is yours — though he seems to think that their belief in the Bible is causing their misogynistic attitudes, while I think it’s more of a chicken and egg situation. Did misogynists become misogynists from reading religious texts filled with a whole lot of misogyny, or do misogynists use a religious text that lots of people believe in to promote their already existing misogyny? Personally, I think it’s a little from column A, a little from column B. People believe in their privilege because it’s what they’ve been taught all their lives, from a wide variety of sources. And many people will also use any means they can get their hands on to defend that privilege.
The good news is that there are plenty of women who are making that defense necessary in the first place, and they’re also being backed up by men who aren’t so thrilled about their legal privilege to rape at all:
Nona Smith explained why she supports the amendment.
“I think the bill is a very good thing because I believe that a husband can rape his wife. No is no. I don’t care if you’re married or if you’re not married. No is no, and once you force yourself on someone, whoever it is, it is rape. I agree with the bill 100 percent,” she said.
Sergio Burrows and Dr. Rudolph King agree.
“Rape is rape, you can’t change that. If someone says they’re not ready or willing to have sex and you force them to, that is rape. Even in a marriage, forcing a person to have sex is still rape,” said Mr. Burrows.
Mr. King said “No means no…even in a marriage. If I don’t feel like having sex today and you force me to have sex then it’s rape. Although I might be married to you, it is still my body.”
Mr. Burrows and Dr. King said they have no problem going against the norm and disagreeing with the majority of men who find the bill unnecessary.
They said if a man is not raping his wife, then he should not be threatened by a law that protects women from being raped by their husbands.
All excellent, common sense points, but I think the last sentence is what really nails it. Though I can’t speak to the motives of the women opposing the bill, the men opposing it are directly promoting their right to rape their wives. Whether it’s because they already rape their wives, or want to reserve their “right” to do so just in case they feel like it (or a buddy does), just like all rape apologists and denialists, it’s exactly what they’re doing — trying to work out a certain circumstance in which rape is a-ok for them to commit. It’s ugly, it’s unabashed, and it’s scary. It also, however, allows them to be easily exposed for what they are and what they’re doing.
My best wishes to the women in the Bahamas who are fighting for their basic human rights. If anyone knows of any material way that those of us abroad can assist them, please let me know.
(Oh, and by the way, universe? A bill declaring a woman’s right to not be raped by her husband is not a “sex bill.”)