A Man’s Opinion
Women today have come a long way from the early 19th Century. At that time in history, women were chattel for the men. Therefore, a married woman did not have a separate legal existence from her husband. This was a concept, the Doctrine of Coverture, inherited from the English Common Law. Since then, in the 1960s and 1970s, a wave of feminism has helped to deconstruct the patriarchal society and offer women around the world inclusion in the realms of politics and economy. The modern woman is both the “boardroom gladiator” and the “benevolent homemaker”.
As much as there has been leaps and bounds of development made by the modern woman, our society is still a largely patriarchal one, especially so for the Asian society we live in where the patriarchy still exists and this social construct seems to be set in stone. This is largely because Asian cultures and values are vastly different and incompatible with western ideologies. The result is that Asian women gained access to the privileges enjoyed by western women at a later stage. It is especially surprising because in many Asian cultures, religious deities are depicted as goddesses. As such, in a culture that reveres the female embodiment, it is surprising to see that crimes perpetrated against women remain alarmingly high.
Review of Marital Immunity for Rape
On 5 April 2017, the Straits Times covered an article with the headline “Immunity For Marital Rape Being Reviewed”. It seems that the government is “actively reviewing” the issue of marital immunity for rape. In my opinion, I think that it is high time that this issue is addressed by the government. As so far, marital rape remains outside the ambit of the offence of rape. A man who forces his wife into sexual intercourse could be guilty of Voluntarily Causing Hurt, Voluntarily Causing Grievous Hurt, Wrongful Restrain and/or Sexual Penetration.1 Therefore, what the law suggests is that a woman cannot be raped by her husband.
I find this proposition both archaic and draconian. A law such as this can be the catalyst for issues such as domestic abuse. Rape is a crime of power, it is the way in which a male asserts his dominance over a female. The crime also brings with it a set of risks that the victim would be subject to such as unwanted pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases. Psychologically, the victim would yield to negative behavior such as self-blame and may even resort to suicide.
This is even more risky when it comes to a situation such as marital rape. In some instances, the victim is dependent on the husband for her financial well-being. In such a case, the abuse by the husband will go unreported for fear of losing financial support. Also, customs and norms governing familial ties and bonds of kinship are prevalent in Asian cultures and as such victims are slow to complain against the perpetrator for fear of backlash from her family and/or society. A woman who is a victim of rape is only subject to that act for that instant. A woman who is raped by her husband on the other hand, must live with that abuse on an on-going basis.
The factors above add up to cause a woman to feel trapped in her marriage. Before she can even begin to raise the issue, she must contemplate the repercussions of her actions. To her, her financial well-being, the future of her children and the reputation of her family are paramount. Supposing she still makes the decision to raise this issue of abuse, she is stopped in her tracks by the immunity given to husbands in the law.
Therefore, studies that are aimed to gather statistics about marital rape remain tricky as the numbers do not represent the real problems we have at hand. Especially in a multi-ethnic, multi-cultural society such as ours, it is harder to gather these statistics as the socio-cultural barriers differ from individual to individual. Not only would we have to amend our penal code, we must also give due regard to factors in the Sharia Law. However, to that extend marital rape is prohibited in another category in Islamic law. (i.e. harming the wife)2.
I am in full support of removing the marital immunity for rape and at this point, since there is a review to proceed with the same, I would like to throw my two cents worth into the debate. I am male after all and at this point I think I should also bring forth arguments for my species. Violence against women should not be justified and I am in no way providing any justification for it. Considering marital rape has provoked thought in relation to other gender issues that are prevalent in our society today, my arguments stem from the issue of gender, privileges and protection afforded to women.
The other side of the coin
Problems to consider
Before you get the pitchforks out, let me explain why I posit this argument. By popular feminist theories, sexuality is a tool for men to assert their dominance. I don’t see it the same way, I see this as more of a double-edged sword. As much as sexuality can be used by men to control a woman, it can also be used by a woman to control a man. All a woman needs to do is to falsely accuse a man of rape and he is in for a ride of his life these include court hearings, sleepless nights, stigma and the possibility of losing everything he had worked hard for. If the verdict is against him, he may be looking at a sentence of up to 20 years.
Now instead of going to the extremes let’s just say the couple opt to go for a divorce. A wife can use the protection afforded to her to force the husband’s hand in divorce. Supposing a wife wants out of a marriage, she can simply refuse her husband’s advances. The husband can choose to divorce the wife or even worse commit adultery and as a result allow the wife to file for a divorce. Now in this situation, the husband will stand to lose his dignity, his home, his children and his money. It seems to me that in this situation, men have gotten the shorter end of the stick. How can we ensure that such situations are avoidable? Can a husband file for divorce on the grounds of unreasonable behavior? Even then, he would still lose out when it comes to custody and alimony. Then again, if you are in a manipulative marriage, you are better off divorced.
Care and Control
The tangent that the law takes is that a wife/mother is better poised to take care of her children. However, in a modernized society such as ours, the workload of parenting is equally split between the husband and wife. The couple are both working individuals and must cater to their household priorities. It is not uncommon to see couples taking turns to cook for the family. As such today, the husband is equally invested in the family as his wife. Long gone are the notions that the husband works to bring home the bread and the wife takes care of the children. Today, the husband and wife both play a crucial part in the upbringing of a child.
Therefore, whilst I think that women should be protected from violence, I also think that the new age man should also be given an equal opportunity to fight for the care and control of his child instead of having a blanket assumption that the mother is the most suitable candidate to have care and control. Currently, the man must, for a lack of better words, perform a character assassination of his estranged wife to win care and control of his child whereas the wife need only to form an argument based on the roles of her gender.
Care and control in Singapore is usually granted to the mother. The fathers usually have a harder battle to fight to win care and control. Seeing the evolving gender roles in our society, I believe that it is also high time that the courts review their approach to care and control of a child in divorce proceedings. As I had mentioned earlier, the women of today are equal to men in the corporate world and the men are as equal to women at the home front.
A forced divorce, together with the prospect of losing your beloved child, can be excruciatingly painful for a man.
Women are known for having excellent support networks. This could range from family to specialized groups that allow for a woman to express herself and to get help from people around her. This support system ensures that a woman would be able to get onto her feet and move on. Added to this, the law works to ensure that a woman is protected.
On the other hand, the same cannot be said about men. Whilst their female counterparts obtain relevant advice and strategies to get going, men do not. This is largely due to the fact that men rarely communicate their problems to others, especially to other men. We have instances where we share our problems with our close ones, but it is never in depth and it never discussed the emotions felt. There is a notion that discussing your problems with others and/or telling them your feelings could amount to emasculation. According to Dr Jill Berger who studies the psychology of masculinity, “society demands that men emulate a Marlboro man ideal–tough, independent and unemotional–that just isn’t compatible with therapy.”3 In short, a man does not feel manly when he shares his problems.
In fact, a research done by neurobiologist Larry Young and science journalist Brian Alexander in The Chemistry between Us suggest that men are neurologically wired to find breakups more difficult than women.4 This paired with the possibility of losing a home and his children during a divorce proceeding can cause the man to be driven to the edge of self-destruction.
It is refreshing to see that law is evolving to give added protection to women. Although this move is to be welcomed it think it is time that the law also considers the evolving nature of gender roles and afford men sufficient protection. I am not saying that the allegations of rape need to be scrutinized thoroughly because allegations of rape are already stringently reviewed. Rape is hard to prove, and allegations of marital rape would be even harder I believe. This is because in the privacy of the home, no one can be sure of whether consent was given. It would turn into a matter of he-said, she-said. In a situation such as this, no one stands to benefit. What I am trying to posit here is that, the law should impose stiffer penalties for false allegations.
Also, the courts should also consider a man’s role in the family when deciding divorce cases. Especially when there is a dispute on the issue of custody, men should have equal footing with women on care and control. Parental role should be scrutinized when deciding the well-being of the child and as such should a man be able to prove that he is capable of caring and nurturing for his child, he should be given care and control.
In the society we live in now, gender roles cannot be distinguished. The hallmarks of a patriarchal society are eroding and the women of today are emerging to be the leaders of tomorrow. However, in the words of Germaine Greer, “The opposite to patriarchy is not matriarchy but fraternity” and I believe that while the courts are right to give women added protection, I feel that on certain aspects men should be given equal footing to women. And as I said, these are merely my opinion.Sources:
- Rape & Sexual Assault — Aware
- Marital rape and domestic violence in Islamic law — Abu Amina Elias
- Helping men to help themselves — American Psychological Association
- Love Hurts: Brain Chemistry Explains the Pangs of Separation [Excerpt] — Scientific American