Everything You Need to Know About Marital Rape
I will not beat around the bush with this topic nor write some creative introduction. This is because the issue at stake will not bear the kind of confusion that may occur due to wordy introductions.
I was watching a popular Egyptian talk show once, and the topic was marital rape. I remember a male caller expressing his extreme confusion at the term “marital rape”.
The caller viewed that the first and second words contained contradictory connotations. His question was, simply stated, “how can one rape what is legally his property?’. He then drew an analogy to the impossibility of somebody stealing their own money.
It seems, thus, that the condition of rape and/or sexual violence towards women in Middle Eastern society is circumscribed by the notion of the perpetrator being a stranger.
This situation, of course, assumes that we won’t victim-blame and slut-shame the woman who was raped. It also assumes that we are willing to admit that rape has happened, when it does happen. Even though the unfortunate reality holds that these assumptions are themselves too much to ask for, I am going to go ahead and assume them anyway for the sake of simplicity.
Okay, now that this is established, back to the question of ‘rape’. The fact that socio-cultural realities, and the legal applications of rape in Egypt require that the perpetrator be a stranger reflects one main thing: a woman’s body is not her exclusive property. More specifically, a woman’s sexuality is not her property.
Even more specifically, a woman’s sexuality and bodily integrity are things that exist for use by her husband. This is not a mere ideological or philosophical interpretation of reality; unfortunately, this is reality.
Women are raised to be ashamed of their bodies, to not talk about their bodies. A number of women I am sure can remember as girls being told to not allow anyone touch their bodies. What governs this logic is the idea that the young girl’s body is a temple that ought not be touched by a stranger. The missing piece in this puzzle, however, occurs when this negative “do not touch or get touched” notion is not followed up by a more amended, “when the right time comes”.
Assuming that the right time is marriage, that little girl that is now a woman is not told “you will get touched, but –and this is the most important ‘but’ of your life- you have the right to reserve that touch to a time that suits you.”
The message is clear, yet paradoxical: protect your body and do not get touched by a stranger as an unmarried woman, to save your body for a husband that has the right to touch you whenever he pleases.
Your body, its forces, and its sexuality are not yours as a woman, and this is not a mere societal conception, this is the rule of law. It is legal in Egypt- as it is in most Middle Eastern countries- for a man to rape his wife, without facing any criminal sanctions.
This, I think, is where my strongest frustration stems from; the fact that a law –or lack there of- exists without having a clear positive effect is problematic.
What is even more problematic is when a law –or lack there of- has a clear negative consequence on a married woman’s quality of life, compared to that of a married man’s quality of life.
The law is not merely a place for justice, the law has the power to change how society perceives a certain action.
Indeed, if a man is raping his wife –which is probably happening at wildly high rates as you are reading this- and she is legally powerless –like she is socially powerless- then the law has failed her.
An entire legal system which is silent on an issue as serious as sexual domestic/marital violence is a tradition that encourages, condones, and upholds the raping of a gender which approximately represents 50% of any given country’s population.
To me, this is not a debate. A wedding ring should not be a license to rape or violate another human being’s body, and a wedding ring ought not be the equivalent of a woman signing off her body for use by her husband.
Moreover, a legal tradition that understands marriage as a trade-off -where a woman’s body is simply part of the deal- has failed in the most disgusting way possible.