Marital Rape License
Her smile vanishes when she looks into his eyesOnly 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:
All his sweet promises crumble to dust
She doesn't want to see this greed in his eyes
But her weak protest dries up in his lies
All his sweet promises crumble to dust
She doesn't want to see this greed in his eyes
But her weak protest dries up in his lies
- Character-Based 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 character-based unless otherwise noted.
- Narrative-Based 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 of the trope typically only comes up in older works.
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Anime & Manga
- In Ayashino Ceres, Mikagi, Ceres' once kind and gentle husband who became warped after she gave him a supernatural power boost, was seen ripping off her clothes and was heavily implied to have raped her, since afterward Ceres is seen half naked on the floor crying.
- 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.
- Inverted and discussed example in What is Love? where Hinata wonders if having sex with a passed out Naruto is okay. She goes through with it, repeatedly telling herself: "It's okay. We're married."
- Hinted at during the Rumpelstiltskin retelling The Dressmaker Queen.
- Many Once Upon a Time fics assume that Leopold raped Regina. There have been some implications to this in the series, but it has yet to be confirmed or denied.
- Discussed and averted in Strings, Korra worries that after being kidnapped and forcibly married to Tarrlok that he would do this to her. Despite his Jerkass nature and his Domestic Abuse, Tarrlok never does this and only has sex with Korra when she initiates it after he made his Heel Realization and made amends with her.
- 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, singing the suitably Victorian lyric "She wept with delight when he gave her a smile / And trembled with fear at a frown."
- This scene is a strong contrast to its counterpart in the book. There, Rhett goes out of his way to make Scarlett enjoy sex; the book clearly states that she has never gotten anything out of it before. In the morning, she is overcome with shame.
- 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 Marnie Sean Connery's character blackmails Marnie into marrying him and then commits this trope on their honeymoon cruise, despite initially appearing to respect her wishes.
- Call Her Savage has Larry the dirtbag summon Nasa under the pretense that he's dying (in fact he appears to be suffering an attack of insanity, probably from syphillis), and try and rape her, citing the License. She hits him over the head with an end table.
- The backstory to Separate Tables reveals that Tom tried to exercise the Marital Rape License after Ann withheld sex from him to mess with his head. It's portrayed as a dysfunctional relationship from both sides.
- The Barretts of Wimpole Street: Edward Moulton-Barrett has an unnatural fication on his daughter Elizabeth. During his Villainous Breakdown at the end, he strongly implies—at least as far as 1934 censorship allowed—that all of his children after Elizabeth, totaling eight, resulted from Edward raping his wife.
"You my eldest child were born of love, only love. But the others, long before they came, love died out and fear took its place. Fear—and all because I saw the right and did it. Not that she ever opposed me, ever once."
- In A Brother's Price, Trini is raped by her husband Keifer, who then convinces her older sister that "she provoked him", and gets off with no punishment at all. Also includes double standards, as her raping him wouldn't have been seen as so easily forgivable, but if he had raped some random woman he would at least have gotten punished for adultery. When he dies some time after the incident, he is not missed.
- 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.
- Note that the Clan are not homo sapiens, and their physiology directly dictates a number of gender roles that would be inappropriate in our societies; it takes a great deal of inventiveness and willpower for a Clan female to even conceive of disobeying the order of a male, and it's strongly implied that obeying "the signal" is not so much a social construct as a literal biological imperative. When Ayla discusses her rape with her Clan mother, said Clan woman is completely incapable of understanding the idea of not having sex because you don't want to, and in later books Ayla herself has to be taught what "rape" is.
- 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.
- In the Jodi Picoult novel Handle with Care Sean rapes Charlotte, all the while telling her that he loves her, because he is trying to show her that words don't always make actions any better.
- 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.
- Daenerys clearly expects it on her wedding night, but Khal Drogo is surprisingly considerate and arouses her to the point that she consents. Following that night, however, Dany complains that Drogo simply flips her over and goes to town whenever he's in the mood. After receiving some tips on lovemaking, her relationship becomes more equal both in and out of the bedroom.
- In Dragon Bones this is accepted as normal, with Ward recalling that when his mother was drugged, his father didn't rape her quite so often. (He says "come to her bed" but it's pretty clear that those visits were not wanted). None of the heroes think it's right to do that, (Ward's father is universally acknowledged to have been a jerk and abuser) but they don't consider making a law against it, either, this being a patriarchal, medieval fantasy setting, and it would be anachronistic. The good guys just don't use the marital rape license.
- 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.
- The Madasans of Honor Harrington follow this. They serve as a regular source of bad guys. And worse, the Masadan religion doesn't even recognize the concept of rape.
- One short scene in the Star Wars Expanded Universe 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".
- This happens to Beatrice, the poor female protagonist of Simona Ahrnstedt's Överenskommelser. After being pressured into marrying the heinous villain Rosenschiöld, who's like forty years older than her and treats women like dirt, she suddenly panics on the wedding night and says no. But not only does he rape her, he even has the nerve to go into a rage after finding out that she wasn't a virgin. Let's just say that nobody missed him after he died in a couple of days...
- In the novel My Sweet Audrina by V. C. Andrews, the main character is resistant to her husband. The next morning after he rapes her unconscious he says she enjoyed it after a while. While the character, ( who was gang-raped as a child and brainwashed to forget about it), doesn't enjoy it, she stays because she's been in love with the man since she was a child. It gets worse from there.
- Count Kalliovski threatens this to poor helpless Sido in The Red Necklace.
- In Changes, after Harry agrees to become Mab's knight consort, the first thing she does is have sex with him. Harry bears with it because he needs Mab's help to save his daughter's life, but his consent is clearly coerced.
Live Action TV
- 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 bound over for trial on the charge.
- 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, misogynist 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.
- Game of Thrones:
- This happens in the first episode, 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. 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. 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 promises he won't share her bed until she wants him to, even if that never happens.
- Played fully straight between Ramsay Bolton and Sansa Stark.
- 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
- On Salem Mary claims that George Sibley did this to her. The flashbacks we see appear to confirm it.
- Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman: The titular character's sister Marjorie implies this about her husband, saying that he "insisted on his right to my bed".
- Tyrant: Jane, an American Muslim who joined the Army of the Caliphate, is referred to as "comforting" her husband Faisal, but replies "in America we call that rape." This is one of the factors (plus the cold-blooded killings that the Army carries out) convincing her to flee.
- Subverted for laughs in Galavant. When Galavant finds out that the evil King Richard (theoretically evil, anyway) hasn't slept with his wife, he awkwardly asks if he didn't... insist.
Richard: I'm not an animal. I mean, sure, I'll kidnap a woman and force her to marry me, but after that I'm all about a woman's rights. I'm a modern, 13th century man.
Mythology and Religion
- A Hadith note 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.
- One popular passage used to justify marital rape is in Ephesians 5:22: Wives, submit to your husbands. However, there's also the flip side in verse 25: Husbands, love your wives as Christ so loved the church. (A love which, we remind you, went as far as accepting torture and death for the sake of the other.) The entire passage (v.22-33) goes into both statements in more detail.
- In a sick twist in which rape is the CAUSE of marriage, Deuteronomy 22:28-29 makes it clear that if a man rapes a non-betrothed virgin, he is forced to pay her father fifty silver pieces and marry her, and is not allowed to divorce her (forced Stockholm Syndrome for the woman), unless her father refuses him. Less merciful passages (Deuteronomy 22:23-24) have both the rapist and the rape victim (if she's betrothed at the time) subject to death by stoning.
- Actually, that's more of a Shotgun Wedding situation: the woman is allowed to refuse marriage, but the man cannot. It is likely that she usually would agree, though, since rape victims usually had a very hard time finding a husband and women usually had trouble supporting themselves without one; this law would ensure that she would have a means of sustenance available if she chose to do so (even though that would mean marrying her rapist). In the latter case, both partners would be sentenced to death only if the woman was willing, otherwise, only the man would be killed.
- 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.
- Falling in love with your spouse is a separate event which only fires off sometimes. The lucky couples who get it also get a fertility boost, because they're having sex a lot more often. Unloving couples only do it for the duty of producing heirs.
- 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.)
- In Collar 6 this turns out to be the norm in Laura's homeland in the Puritan Territories, and it's stated that men get to have their way with the woman of their choice in the hopes of conceiving a male because of a severe gender imbalance, and Laura's father had a harem of sixty three women. This is contrasted with the consensual BDSM of the main setting.