Only a few decades ago, it was legal for a man to rape his wife (or for a wife to rape her husband for that matter). Sweden was the first country to explicitly criminalize it in 1965, and it has only been illegal in all fifty US states since 1993. Fifty-three countries around the world still don't consider it a crime.
In some old patriarchal systems, a woman belonged first to her father (or closest living male relative if the father was dead) and then to her husband. The same logic was applied long after women were no longer literally considered property — the offense of rape, for example, was considered less an injury to the woman and more an injury to the man she "belonged" to. Once she married — and in some systems she could be married without her consent to any man, even if it were someone she despised or had never met — her husband was understood to have an unconditional, legal, and "moral" right to her body. It gets even creepier when the bride is underage.
There are two basic ways in which this can come into play as a trope:
Type A is when a character or group of characters clearly are guided by this kind of morality, but this is not portrayed in a positive light. On the contrary, it is used to define them as villainous or at least severely flawed. In contemporary works, all examples of this trope can be safely assumed to be Type A unless otherwise noted.
Type B is when the narrative itself buys into the morality: It is portrayed as if the woman had it coming for denying her husband his marital rights. However, she still doesn't enjoy it: If the wife seems to be happy with the forceful sex afterward, then it's an entirely different trope, and if they agreed on it in advance, then it's yet another trope. This Type B of the trope typically only comes up in older works.
Discussed in Futari Ecchi. Akira claims that a man has the right to get on top of his wife whenever he wishes, and even cites the law saying that rape as a crime does not exist between married couples. His wife, Sanae, is quick to point out that this law was changed recently, and the narration adds that this law only existed in the first place due to misinterpretation of rights.
When the Runaways had an adventure in 1907 New York, they met Klara Prast, a preteen mutant girl both physically and sexually abused by her much older husband. The story arc ended with her leaving him to go back to the present with the kids, and she was on the team for the remainder of the series.
Quills: Dr. Royee-Collard's first night with his young bride, who was raised in a convent. He rips off her nightgown while she is pretending to be asleep and tells her that it's her duty to give him whatever he wants. It is also heavily implied that he's a back-door kind of guy.
The movie Osama ends with the main character, a female child, getting married off to a man old enough to be her grandfather or even her grandfather's father. The scene right before the last scene is on the wedding day, focusing on how terrified the girl is and how much the other wives hate their husband. The very last scene is at night, showing the old man happy and content, performing the holy cleansing ritual that he had earlier in the movie taught a class of young boys that every good man is supposed to do after he has bedded his wife.
Gone with the Wind features a scene of Rhett Butler complaining that he doesn't get sex from his wife Scarlett followed by him roughly picking her up and running up to the bedroom with her while she attempts to fight him off. The next morning she has a big smile on her face.
The Duchess where Georgiana Cavendish is raped by his husband, Duke of Devonshire, for being too angry. She stand with him and his mistress until the end of the movie.
In Clan Of The Cave Bear, when men make "the signal", women are expected to drop everything and prepare for a sexual encounter. The Signal is generally done only with one's mate but can be done with any female if the need is much upon the male. When Broud does it to Ayla it's only because he knows she doesn't like it but may not disobey. Ayla is shocked to learn that other females like sex and even invite it, trying to get their mates to make the signal.
Hest and Alisa's marriage in Dragon Keeper is explicitly stated to be this.
The Belgariad sort of skirts the two with protagonist Barak and his wife Merel, but ultimately seems to fall closer to side B. Their marriage was arranged, but Barak wanted it while she did not. In the first book, we're told on his return to the city he had his way with her although she was unwilling. Barak is ashamed for what he did, but his wife is portrayed as shrewish and shallow, doing all in her power to make him unhappy (like denying him access to their daughters, who he loves). Those who talk about the situation largely reserve their sympathy for Barak, and no one ever suggests he didn't have the perfect right to do as he did. She becomes pregnant as a result of his unwanted advances, and the son she bears winds up healing their marriage and making her more sympathetic to and towards the protagonists.
Generally accepted as normal in A Song of Ice and Fire. Cersei complains about Robert getting drunk and demanding his "rights". Subverted with Tyrion, who declines to do this with his reluctant wife Sansa. It's expected of him to bed and impregnate his new wife whether she wants to or not (or, to be more specific, whether either of them wants to or not). Although clearly attracted to her, Tyrion outright refuses and says he won't touch her until she wants him to. Then there's Ramsay Bolton, though what he does is shown, and implied to be much worse, to go far beyond what even someone who fully supported this tradition would consider acceptable. Unlike in the TV series, which plays this straight, in the novel it's subverted for Khal Drogo and Daenerys. Daenerys clearly expects it on her wedding night, but Khal Drogo is surprisingly considerate and arouses her to the point that she consents.
In Tobacco Road, Lov contemplates getting Jeeter's help to tie Pearl in bed, since she hasn't given him any children (or absolutely anything else). Fortunately for Pearl, nothing of the sort happens to her before she runs away.
One short scene in the Star Wars novel The Courtship of Princess Leia features Teneniel Djo explaining to Isolder that she's within her rights to do this to him, but she isn't going to. Isolder isn't entirely sure how to respond (especially since he's a prince, back on his own world). Oddly enough they do have feelings for each other, although they're both pursuing other partners at the time.
The Forsyte Saga: Soames Forsyte is madly in love with his wife Irene and he absolutely adores her, but she never reciprocated his feelings. Eventually she has an affair with a young architect and wants to leave their marriage. Desperately trying to secure her for himself, he rapes her.
The Alienist: The cold and strict Mrs. Dury couldn't stand her husband touching her. Mr. Dury tries pleading with her, arguing about her duties and his needs as a husband, then finally snaps and rapes her.
There's a version of this in The Thorn Birds, when Luke takes Meggie with absolutely zero consideration for the fact that she's a virgin, as well as completely ignorant as to matters of sex (her mother never bothered to explain anything to her and she had no older sisters or girlfriends who could have). When she screams in pain as he enters her, his only response is to snap at her to "shut up and lie still".
Divorce Court: The 1980s version was one of the first courtroom dramas to have an episode where the husband was accused of raping his wife in a marital setting. A few pre-trial scenes showed the attorneys talking about how this case could test the strength of the then-new marital rape laws as grounds for divorce. Throughout the episode, the husband – who already was accused of being increasingly abusive throughout the marriage – steadfastly denied that the encounter in question was anything but consensual, despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary. Finally, after his wife's attorney grills him on the stand and threatens to have him charged with perjury, the man finally breaks down and admits he was trying to regain the passion that once existed in the marriage. Judge William B. Keene doesn't buy it for a second and orders him held over for criminal processing.
The Dukes of Hazzard: One of the darkest episodes in the entire run was "Daisy's Shotgun Wedding," where Daisy is kidnapped by the Beaudrys, a sociopathic, misogynic backwoods family intending to turn her into their sex slave; it is the dumbest but most vile, evil of the two brothers – the mammoth-sized Milo – who will be primarily responsible for having sex with Daisy. And it is of course with knowledge that the Beaudrys plan to rape Daisy as brutally as possible – plus use her as their slave and be otherwise mean, vicious and cruel to her in general – that has Bo, Luke, Boss and Rosco racing against time to stop an imminent Shotgun Wedding.
This came up in an early episode of Casualty, which publicised that this was technically still on the books in England and Wales until 1991. Scotland, with its different legal system, has always held it to be illegal.
In the North and South miniseries, the hero's Love Interest is married off to an abusive man who rapes her, among other things. Being the openly evil villains they are, her husband and his friends consider this to be nothing more than his marital rights. Of course, the hero disagrees.
Brookside features a storyline where Rachel Jordach is forced to have sex by her husband and the reaction of the bigoted character Ron Dixon is to say "he can't have raped her he's her husband".
Barney Miller has an episode where a woman comes into the police station distraught and says she's been raped. The husband, and, to a great extent, Barney, don't understand what the big deal is, assuming that it would be impossible for a rape to happen inside a marriage, since marriage implies a loving relationship and a greater sense of "consent". The District Attorney, a woman, and Lt. Dietrich, *do* understand the gravity of the situation (and just how wrong the rape was), and the husband's lawyer, though agreeing with Linden and the husband, wants the case to go ahead because he wants the fame associated with it. Dietrich, Lt. Harris and the DA spend the rest of the episode explaining how classless the husband was and how he needs to treat women with more respect. The episode ultimately concludes by treating the incident as if it was "just another marriage disagreement", with the husband agreeing with Harris that he was just uncouth and was just clueless about how to treat women properly (which raises the question about how he got married in the first place), learning, through the experience, just how to do it properly, causing his wife to forgive him and drop the whole matter. Perhaps the only reason why the episode works is due to Values Dissonance (social inequity, though improving, still had quite a bit of work to do when the episode aired in 1978)- it's doubtful now that such a scenario, with society's greater understanding of the real impact of rape, even in marriage, could be played for laughs today.
This is the reason why Mad Men fandom nicknamed Joan Holloway's fiancée and eventual husband "Doctor Rapist".
An episode of Law & Order: Special Victims Unit deals with a cop raping his wife after she throws a frying pan at his head (not that there's a justification for either). The cop, of course, claims it was consensual (and the wife says so as well at one point), while his precinct buddies simply say that it's not rape if it's your wife. The SVU cops go after him, after a bit of bickering, and Benson makes reference to the 1993 law. Note that while the jury finds him not guilty, ADA Cabot calls it a partial victory as she was the first one to get it past the Grand Jury. She hopes this will pave the way for future ADA's.
The Borgias depicts Lucrezia's husband raping her on a regular basis and claiming it as his right.
This trope is further examined with the marriage of Gioffre Borgia and Sancia of Aragon- except it's genderswapped, with Sancia disrobing and climbing into bed on top of her alarmed (and very young-12 years old in Real Life) husband before he can protest...
The focus of several ground-breaking Soap Opera plots, such as Guiding Light (Roger and Holly) and Days of Our Lives (Jack and Kayla). True to form, both men insisted that since the women were their wives that they were completely entitled to have sex with them and there was no rape. Jack did later acknowledge he'd done the wrong thing, following his Heel-Face Turn.
One Life to Live had a similar storyline with Blair and Victor, though it was more morally ambiguous: it happened off-camera, but basically they had been having a fight which turned into sex as per usual TV conventions. Apparently Blair never directly said no, so Victorassumed it was consensual, but afterward she regarded it as a rape.
This happens in the first episode of Game of Thrones, where Khal Drogo rapes Daenerys on their wedding night — it's made all the worse when he reveals that despite not having spoken the Common Tongue all episode, he knows full-well what "no" means. This trope wasn't present in the book's depiction of this event, in which Drogo doesn't force her but instead they have some intimate moments involving hair-braiding, and he gets her consent before having sex, in a scene that was surprisingly tender given his reputation and the language barrier.
Later averted with Sansa and Tyrion. Sansa fully expects to have to consummate her marriage with Tyrion even though she REALLY doesn't want to, but Tyrion decides that he won't share her bed until she wants him to, even if that never happens.
Drogo continues to rape Daenerys in the second episode until she finally has a servant girl (a former prostitute) teach her how to enjoy sex (and teach Drogo that there are positions other than doggie-style). She also learns a few words in Dothraki in order to convince Drogo that she's not refusing sex but merely wants to show him something else.
The incident of marital rape in the 1967 BBC adaptation of The Forsyte Saga was made reasonably explicit (for the time) and caused some controversy.
One of the cases in Boston Public involved a young girl who was going to be forced to marry and consummate the marriage.
The Tudors: George Boleyn resents his arranged marriage to Jane Rochford, so he takes her maidenhood quite violently on their wedding night.note Though it might have been a different kind of maidenhood, seeing as it was from behind, and he was already having an affair with a male court musician. Either way: yikes.
A Hadith note Hadiths are reports of statements or actions by Muhammad, or things approved of by him, they are considered to be essential supplements to and clarifications of The Qur'an. Though how important the Hadith is varies in different versions of Islam. hints at this trope. A husband can demand sex at any time whatsoever and his wife should come immediately no matter what she is doing or whether she wants it or not. If she refuses or even leaves his bed, angels will curse her, though it should be pointed out that the wife is not obligated to have sex but is merely recommended to.
Notably averted in the bible as Paul states that The wife hath not power of her own body, but the husband: and likewise also the husband hath not power of his own body, but the wife. in 1 Corinthians 7:4, strongly implying that marital relationships are to be consensual.
Either that or it's this trope but more - both spouses have the license, should they want to invoke it.
Taken to the illogical extreme in FATAL where not only can a man rape his wife, but any male of age in the village is welcome, and is likely, to join in. Then after its all said and done the woman is likely to be punished for being raped, with more rape.
Implicit, and fitting for the time period, in Crusader Kings. Marriages are merely political arrangements, often between complete strangers, to produce children, and typically do so regardless of the couple's opinion of one another.
In one Chick Tract called "The Little Bride", the marriage between Aisha and Muhammad is used to condemn Islam, highlighting that she was only 6 when they got engaged and only 9 when they got married. The tract draws the conclusion that Muhammad was a pedophile rapist. (Other portrayals, such as The Jewel of Medina, avert this trope.)