“The Ghastly Feminist Lobby”

// 31 January 2009

Some of you will know that until 1991, rape wthin marriage was not a crime in England and Wales (in Scotland, it was already outlawed).

The reason I mention this is that whilst doing some research I stumbled upon the Hansard minutes of the debate from 1990, and it is worth a look just to see how far we have come.

One MP actually argued against this. Check this out:

Mr. Tony Marlow (Northampton, North)

…I have great respect for the hon. Member for Leyton (Mr. Cohen). I understand his reasons for introducing the measure. However, I believe that it is absurd. It is an example of hard cases seeking to make bad law. It is motivated by a combination of some distressed and unfortunate women, who need our help and support and whose problems probably need to be addressed further, and those whom Private Eye calls “wimmin” – the ghastly feminist lobby who seem to think that all men are evil and that some are more evil than others, that men are made of slugs, snails and puppy dogs’ tails and that women are made of sugar, spice and all things nice.

Whatever may be the hon. Gentleman’s motive, I believe that his measure would lead to a gross abuse of the institution of marriage….[continues]

Un. Believable.

Comments From You

Redheadinred // Posted 31 January 2009 at 4:45 pm

‘A gross abuse of the institution of marriage’ – he’s actually spelled it out himself. The institution of marriage IS about a woman being promised to a man as his sex slave, and until this legislation came about that’s all it was.

Kirsty // Posted 31 January 2009 at 5:00 pm

So rape within marriage isn’t “gross abuse of the institution of marriage”, but legislation against it might be? Yet again I’m totally unable even to see the logic behind this argument.

Renee // Posted 31 January 2009 at 6:16 pm

This commentary is hardly shocking. We hear it repeatedly, it is that we associate this kind of virulent sexism with “others” not western bodies. Point of fact is that rape apologism exists across countries and across cultures. Patriarchy has a vested interested in constructing the women that fight against rape as angry and hostile. How dare we demand our bodies be respected. They want us to believe that man have a right to access simply because they are men.

Alice // Posted 31 January 2009 at 8:32 pm

This makes my blood boil. It’s disturbing to think of people – people in respected positions in society – trying to keep rape legal within marriage. It disgusts me more than I can say.

I’m glad that I was too young at the time to realise that this was a point of debate.

Jess McCabe // Posted 31 January 2009 at 10:27 pm

It’s good to remember that as recently as 1990 this argument was being made by an MP.

JENNIFER DREW // Posted 31 January 2009 at 11:28 pm

One MP Tony Hansard made this claim in the minutes of the debate .

‘How on earth can it be proved beyond reasonable doubt that rape has occurred between a cohabiting husband and wife? Where on earth would one get the corroborating evidence?’

A similar claim is commonly made when a man rapes a woman he is acquainted with. The presumption is always there is no evidence because there were no witnesses. Ergo: by this reasoning rape can never occur because men who rape women never commit this crime when there are witnesses around. The same claim can be made with regards to mugging, physical assault or even murder. Are these crimes committed? Yes and despite all too often no one witnessed these crimes yet there are convictions. Why? Because rape is the easiest crime to commit and the hardest to prove in our misogynistic and male-defined legal system. Why else was marital rape not seen as a crime agaisnt women until 1991 because women were defined as men’s sexual possessions and of course marriage meant a woman became a non-human being. Despite marital rape now being a crime sadly far too many married men are still committing rape against their wives and still getting away with it. Why? Because women are still believed to be inherent liars and only deviant male monsters commit rape. The odds continue to be stacked against women and it is still women who are presumed to be liars who just want to punish men by crying rape.

Similar claims were made by male MPs when debating the Sexual Offences Act, 2003. Several stated that women who charge men with rape were liars and used this as justification for not altering the law on consent. Needless-to-say, the law on consent is still flawed and enables far too many rapists to be acquitted.

Cath Elliott // Posted 1 February 2009 at 12:27 pm

I’m showing my age now, but I have to say this doesn’t surprise me in the slightest, particularly the quote from Tony Marlow. He was a notoriously sexist Conservative MP who opposed any initiative that looked like it might give women more rights. He once argued that the equal pay act was:

“an open invitation to any feminist, and harridan or any rattle-headed female with a chip on her bra strap to take action against her employer…. This is a charter for petticoat lawyers”

And he once tabled a motion in the House of Commons calling for Jenni Murray to be dismissed from Radio 4’s Woman’s Hour because she’d quoted Mary Wollstonecraft in an article drawing a comparison between marriage and prostitution, and was a “self-declared feminist with an unrepresentative lifestyle.”

Melanie // Posted 1 February 2009 at 3:01 pm

tony marlow also opposed the equal pay act.

Satisfyingly his career as an MP was ended by a woman, who defeated him at the ballot box.


Victoria // Posted 1 February 2009 at 3:09 pm

I was 16 when this law was passed. I heard it on the radio and remember feeling utterly amazed that I’d grown up in a society where this was permitted. I said so to my mum, who responded by saying that she didn’t agree with the law change “because when you marry you give yourself to your husband”. Needless to say, I was even more amazed that I’d grown up in a household where this was truly believed. While I’d always known my parents were ‘traditional’ in their view of gender roles, I’d never thought it extended to condoning sexual violence. If ever I feel uncertain about the values my partner and I try to teach our sons, I can always tell myself that whatever happens, it will never come to this.

Anne Onne // Posted 1 February 2009 at 6:15 pm

If a man rapes a woman and nobody is around to witness it, does rape occur?*

These days, we need to work on revolutionising the way rape cases are handled, prosecuted and actually presented in court (no holding up victims’ thongs as proof they’re really sluts, for crying out loud!) so that the theoretical legal laws of rape can be more sucessfully applied to cases where there is evidence.

That’s what worries me: OK, yes, sometimes there really is no evidence, and in that case I’d understand it would be hard to prosecute, but often there is evidence, but people weigh up non-evidence ( she talked to him once, she flirted, she kissed him, she is dating him, she was wearing a short skirt etc) against geniune evidence, and conclude that it can’t have been rape, because the non-evidence means she consented. We need to battle this, because I think this belief in non-evidence is what really holds us back as a society. We are so preoccupied with believing a woman must have consented if she’s sociable, despite women being pressured to be polite and receptive, and end up punishing women for acting as we expect them.

These laws are important, even if relatively few cases can be proved, because the very fact that the law states that husbands don’t have a right to rape their wives. I believe that, contrary to their protestations, the people who protest against such laws aren’t worried that a sudden mass of convictions of kindly husbands by their militant wives, but rather the very fact that the law states that this behaviour is immoral. Even if they are never caught, people used to the idea that such behaviour is justified don’t like the frame being changed to present them in the light of a rapist, when they feel they are owed sex. They use the threat of lots of innocent men being convicted by harridans as a cover for their insecurity at being labelled rapists, even though in all likelikood they would never be convicted even if prosecuted (itself a rarity). Such irrational fear (cos it IS kind of irrational to assume that, with something like a 3% conviction rate for rapes brought to court, you’re going to be dragged out and convicted by someone with a grudge when you haven’t done anything. This leaves people feeling vulnerable, but I won’t feel sorry for them, because they’re not half as vulnerable as all the potential and actual rape victims the law doesn’t protect.

* Apologies for butchering a koan. Point being that these people seem to believe that rape is only rape if someone’s there to guarantee that it occurred. Of course, rape is rape, regardless of whether it can be proved, or whether anyone witnessed it, or even regardless of whether the rapist realises it’s rape or admits it’s rape.

And even if someone is miraculously there, they tend to be party to the occurrence, ie another rapist. The idea of believing a woman, even if no criminal case is proved, seems beyond people. We need to move beyond disbelieving all women who report rape by treating it like any other crime: we may not be able to probe a certain person did the crime, but we as a society (especially the police) shouldn’t treat victims as liars out for revenge.

As for the actual comments he made: suffice is it to say I’m still waiting for his kind to die out. As we change laws, so the next generation is likely to change opinions too. In my generation it’s less common for people to assume that rape is impossible in marriage, and I think this is a good example of how changing the laws changes how people think about something. Most of the old guard may not want to change their minds, but each new generation tends to take the laws and newer values as a base, which can be a good thing. I hope many of the things we complain about today will be thought archaic by the generations that follow.

Laura Woods // Posted 2 February 2009 at 2:13 pm

Hey, I had no idea it was Harry Cohen who introduced that bill – he’s my MP! Good to know…

Princess Rot // Posted 2 February 2009 at 7:51 pm

Sadly, I am not so surprised to see that those who bellow the loudest about the so-called sanctity of marriage are often the same ones who treat it like the relationship between a sex worker and her John (with sex being the currency traded for companionship).

This is one of the many of social and personal reasons I have never wanted to be married. Too much of it harks back to (and sometimes is) domestic and sexual slavery.

zoe // Posted 3 February 2009 at 12:43 am

I studied this change in the law for my A Levels, and the topic of marital rape the long held legal dismissive view towards it made me question for the first time in my course my belief in the English legal system.

Over the years there have been many attempts to change this neanderthall view of marital rape, (via taking of the case for judicial review to the house of lords) but what astonished me most was that, the very first time the right of a man to rape his was questioned was in in 1888! when in Clarence v R, he infected his unbeknowing wife with gonorrhoea while taking her by force, he was deemed not guilty as his wife had surrendered her body to him in marrage,

so really its actually taken over 100 years from the first time the house of lords was asked to consider the right of a man to rape his wife for the law to change!

I know that the english law is said to be slow to grow but come on!

Another contention for me was that one of the very serious considerations that the lords took into account that added much time to the change in the law is retrospective crime, a man cannot later be guilty of a crime if at the time of his actions the deed was not a crime.

the lords were actually worried that too many wives would come forward from the pre 1991 change in the law and – heaven forbid – try to have their husband charged with rape representing cases that from over the years had found men not guilty!

Their attitude was almost, look ok we are prepared to admit we were wrong before its actually not ok for a man to rape his wife, but we really dont want men who have been doing it a getting away for it all the years to be punished now, its not really fair is it, when at the particular point in time he was legally allowed to do it, so he wasent really doing anything wrong!! aargh!

the reason this law lasted for as long as it did is due to the ‘old boy’ nature of both the house of commons and espically the house of lords which is why more women need to run for election and the changes brought about by the Labour goverment to reform the House of lords to one made from ‘peoples peers’ needs to happen.

What we cant forget is that despite the time it took it has now happened in the UK, but there are still many conutries (of wich more then just a few are EU members) that still class this as a legal act, it shouldnt just rest now that a majority of wives are protected, all women in all countries should have the legal right to so no to their husband.

‘a rape within marrage is not just a rape of the body, it is one of the soul and mind, it is a betrayal of one of the most sacred vowels to cherish, and to cause the gretest fear and doubt within a woman of her self and of all men’

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