The unhappy task of policing bedrooms

Of my many male friends (and I do have many despite my columns, dear reader), at least two are coming through extremely distressing divorces. Both stand accused of domestic violence even as they fight over property or child custody rights. These are ordinarily decent blokes, given neither to alcohol nor violence nor excess. They might be terrible husbands in a hundred ways, but chances are they’ve never beaten their wives.

Unfortunately, one of the first things divorce lawyers — not loath to calling themselves ‘feminists’ — do is force female clients to falsely invoke the domestic violence clause and intimidate husbands into settlements. One of my friends adamantly refused to let her lawyer push her into this lie, but many women don’t. Often, there is genuine worry that the man will not share property or income equitably, often there’s anger, and often it’s just greed — the lawyer’s, the woman’s or her family’s.

This has, in turn, become the stick with which to beat down the demand to criminalise marital rape. The fact that instances of unreported marital violence and rape are likely to be wildly higher than the false cases is mostly ignored. As we gird up to intensify the fight for a marital rape law, men are up in arms, even forming associations to “save men” from all this tyranny.

One man’s angry tweet caught my attention: ‘Try to understand marriage by Indian way, not Western way. There is nothing like marital rape.’ This is intriguing — what is an ‘Indian’ marriage, other than that it is mostly an arranged match? And why should men believe there can be no ‘rape’ within the ‘Indian’ marriage?

The reason is this: by entering a marriage a woman is considered to have signed a one-time consent form to sex. Refusing her husband is considered tantamount to a breach of contract, more so because after marriage, the woman is considered the man’s ‘property’, for him to use at will. The question of ‘rape’, therefore, doesn’t arise.

There’s another argument, as this man tweets: ‘How will love be differentiated next morning if reported as rape?’ Ah, sweet shades of stalking. In other words, men express “love” by subjecting their wives to violent sex without consent.

If you unpack all of this a bit, you’ll see that it’s really a by-product of our society’s basic understanding of the role of marriage. In the absence of any healthy pre-marital sexual activity, men marry for sex. When men are hardwired to anticipate marriage as primarily a space for free, convenient and anytime sex, it’s hard to expect them to even understand the concept of spousal consent. For them, it’s as simple as choosing to go home instead of to the nearest Sonagachi.

Our culture privileges male desire. It is considered the fount of the continuation of the species — “Respect the sperm which got you in dis world,” said one man on Twitter, dramatically if somewhat ungrammatically. Another asked indignantly, “Will you still consider it rape if it was done for children?” Naturally, the minor question of whether the woman wants to contribute to this grand procreation project is entirely ignored.

I am not unaware of how difficult it is to police a marriage and a bedroom. Who do you believe? How will you prove rape? And dragging your husband to a police station is not exactly the best way to keep the marriage going. And yes, criminalising marital rape might not immediately reduce its incidence — what’s needed is long-term social change.

But the state needs to recognise marital rape as a crime in order to send a message to society that it’s a crime. As long as we let a man think it’s legal to force himself on a woman simply because she is his wife, we tacitly encourage a culture of violence. And that’s a nastier way to keep a marriage going.

Let me end with one tweet I really liked for its simple and direct message: ‘Girls be ready to stay single. Since no guy will marry if #maritalrape is passed.’ Did it ever, ever occur to this guy that girls might want to stay single if marital rape is their only other option?

Where the writer tries to make sense of society with seven hundred words and a bit of snark.

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Printable version | Oct 25, 2021 10:02:54 AM |

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