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Her smile vanish when she looks into his eyes

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

Only a few decades ago, it was legal for a man to rape his wife. 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 — rape wasn't an offence against the woman, but against the man she "belonged" to. Once married — and in some systems she could be married off without her consent to some old man she despised or had never met — her husband had a legal and "moral" right to her body whether she liked it or not. 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.

Statutory rape is not automatically included in this trope: Old Man Marrying a Child overlaps with this trope if and only if the marriage is consummated and the girl is indicated to be traumatized or unwilling. This distinction is included because some people feel very offended when the marriages of historical persons get judged by contemporary standards and thus summarily defined as rape. No Real Life Examples, Please: Include only media examples, and stick to how the relationship is portrayed in that particular work.

Also likely to overlap with other forms of Arranged Marriage.

This is a drama trope. For cases where abusive partners are played for Fetish Fuel, see Bastard Boyfriend and Bastard Girlfriend. The social structure supertrope Romanticized Abuse overlaps in cases where such a structure is played for drama and Fetish Fuel.

Compare No Woman's Land and Stockholm Syndrome. Contrast Rape Is Love.

Examples of Marital Rape License include:


Anime & Manga

  • 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.

Comic Book

  • 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.

Film

  • 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.
  • In the 1993 movie What's Love Got to Do with It?, Ike Turner pulls a type A.
  • 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.
  • Implied in the movie adaptations of both Beauty and The Beast and A Series of Unfortunate Events.

Literature

  • 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 Marriage, 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, instead vowing not to consummate their marriage until he can earn her love. 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.
    • It's important to note that Daenerys's first time with Drogo is consensual and sweet in the books, but the sex is clearly rough afterwards for her until Doreah teaches her otherwise. Daenerys is also aged up a bit in the TV series, as opposed to her being 13 years old in the first book.
  • 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.
  • In Carrie, the titular character was conceived in this manner. Her mother is a Christian fundamentalist, as was her father when he was alive. For a while, they were so hardline about it that they weren't having sex, but then Carrie's father raped her mother while he was drunk. From what we can discern from the story as Mrs. White tells it, especially the time in which it was published, Mrs. White doesn't call it rape because it was her husband and also because she enjoyed it.
  • The Madasans of the Honorverse follow this. They serve as a regular source of bad guys. And worse, the Masadan religion doesn't even recognize the concept of rape.
  • In Catherine Anderson's Walking On Air, Nancy Hoffman's abusive father instructs her boorish husband-to-be to exercise this in order to produce a grandson for him. He sits cozily in his study drinking wine while Nancy fights off her would-be rapist and flees.

Live Action TV

  • 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. When it turns out that it was her husband, it's treated as a big joke and she learns her lesson that she should put out. Words cannot describe how cringeworthy this is.
  • 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.
    • To be fair, It's made pretty clear that he probably did not rape her.
  • 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) 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.
  • The incident of marital rape in The Forsyte Saga was made reasonably explicit (for the time) in the 1967 BBC version 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.[1]


Music

  • Blutengel: One of the ways to interpret the song "Black Wedding" - see page quote.
  • Implied in the song Mother's Little Helper by The Rolling Stones. The lyrics suggest that the protagonist's addiction to valium is at least in part to her husband not taking no for an answer in bed.

Mythology and Religion

  • A Hadith [2] 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.

Tabletop Games

  • 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.

Web Comics

  • 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.

Web Original

  • The site FSTDT (Fundies Say the Darndest Things) brings up the issue of Bahamas outlawing marital rape in 2009. It quotes some Christians who protest against outlawing marital rape, claiming that it's against their religion to give a woman the right to say no to her husband. The quotes originate from an article in The Bahama Journal.
    • "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."

Western Animation

  • Lois has pulled this trope on Peter at least twice in Family Guy. The first time Peter was thoroughly traumatized, and the second time she used it to get him back on her side in fighting abstinence-only sex education.
    • It's implied Brian's cousin Jasper did this to his fiancé Ricardo in one episode.
  • Marge Simpson once did this to Homer while under the influence of steroids. Homer didn't seem too horribly traumatized by it, though, other than physically aching. (Marge at that point was quite ripped and probably wasn't gentle with him.)

Notes

  1. 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.
  2. 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 Quran. Though YMMV as to how important the Hadith is as it varies in different versions of Islam.
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