Editor’s note: this week’s #FeministFriday post talks about a guy who’s basically advocating marital rape. Some readers will find the very existence of this guy pretty upsetting. I know I do. Hence the reaction gifs. Read on for more.
Have you ever had that thing happen to you, where you suddenly hear a song that you haven’t heard in a while, and then it’s as if that song is on the radio every single day? Sometimes my life is like that, only with less fun things like “people not understanding what consent is.”
After last week’s post about George “this is in fact what a rapist could look like” Lawlor, I was hoping for some lighter fare this week. Alas, the “people don’t understand what consent is” song was stuck in my head, so I didn’t get my wish. Instead I found instances of Chinese economists suggesting that wife-sharing is the way to fix the gender imbalance (because I am 100% certain that all of the men who are trying to “share” a single wife would ask her permission first and make sure she’s okay with multiple men having access to her body, and a Dear Prudence column where a wife decried the fact that her husband enforces a “hug toll” whenever she leaves the room, even if she’s running late for work (because forced physical affection is the best way to ensure that they never stop loving you!). For once Prudence, who often falls into the category of “victim blaming” when it comes to things like the role of alcohol in sexual assault, was totally on-board the “personal autonomy” train, and told the letter writer that she needs to inform her husband that he’s giving her less personal autonomy than he would a pet. So it wasn’t looking great on the “understanding consent” front to begin with.
But then I found it. The thing that is so absolutely insane, so completely disrespectful of women’s bodies and choices, that it made me actually full-body shudder: a writer for a website called Biblical Gender Roles (so you know this will end well) suggesting that men not even look at their wives’ faces if they are having sex the woman didn’t want. You know, so it doesn’t kill the husband’s boner to have to look at his wife’s face when they’re not having totally consensual sex. Hold on, we need a reaction gif, STAT.
Solomon “helpfully” points out the different scenarios that might end with a woman “grudgingly” having sex with her husband. First is outright “sexual refusal,” such as the woman saying “no” and pushing her husband’s hand away. Solomon says men “should not tolerate refusal.” Let me repeat that, Solomon says men “should not tolerate refusal.” One more time, just to make sure we’re clear on the fact that Solomon is advocating marital rape:
Solomon says men “should not tolerate refusal.”
In Lawlor’s “yes means yes and no means no” world, this would supposedly be a sign of “oh hell no.” But Solomon says that a wife refusing to consent to sex is “disrespectful and unloving response by your wife to your sexual initiation and there is no sin in you trying to initiate sex with your wife.” To translate again, a woman refusing to have sex with her husband is “disrespectful” and it is not sinful to have sex with her despite her objections. So anyone committing marital rape can breathe easy, you’re not committing a sin! You’re just, you know, raping your wife.
The next category Solomon covers is a “sexual rain-check” when a wife gently (and I’d imagine in Solomon’s world, respectfully and lovingly) tells her husband that she knows he’s exploding in sexual desire, but she’s just not feeling it, could he give her 24 hours? Solomon isn’t all bad though, everyone, because he totally understands that there might be other situations where a woman wouldn’t be up for sex, like “after the birth of a child, or surgeries, chronic pain flare-ups, deaths in the family and other reasons like these.” So women are allowed to turn down sex in the same situations they’re allowed to take a leave of absence from work. It’s really swell of him to say that a woman doesn’t instantly need to get back to having sex right after she’s pushed a butterball turkey through her vagina.
Solomon also acknowledges that women might actually feel “sexual desire” but says that it needs to be “cultivated.” I am legitimately not sure what he means by this. Does it involve Miracle-Gro?
Solomon talks about the “conundrum” that occurs when women don’t want to have sex at the same time their husbands do. He admits that some people who “reject” Biblical principles say that sex should only happen when both the husband and the wife want it, but that is silly. The Bible says men and women should give each other “due benevolence,” which apparently translates to “you should be having sex constantly.” (Just so we’re clear, the Bible also defines marriage as including polygamy, the use of concubines, the enforced marriage of a man and his brother’s widow, marriage between a rapist and his victim, and between male soldiers and spoils of war. So if we’re going to go to the Bible to define what should happen in a marriage, we’re going to end up with a lot of weird and not okay stuff.)
Solomon suggests that there are things men can do to try and butter their wives up, such as talking to her as if she is a person with needs and desires, or giving her a foot rub. But at the end of the day, it’s the wife’s duty to “love” her husband (and he goes into great detail of what kind of “love” that is supposed to be) and the biggest impediment is the woman’s own mind: she can send her body into “lock down” mode and not want to enjoy any physical touches. (Would that make this a “legitimate rape” because the “body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down”?)
So Solomon suggests a “fake it until she makes it” strategy where the husband tells his wife that it’s okay with him if she doesn’t enjoy the sex, as long as she has it. Solomon suggests that men stop demanding the truth, which is another way of suggesting that men stop asking if their wives enjoyed the sex they just had. How are wives supposed to fake it until they make it if men are always after them with things like “Did you actually experience sexual pleasure just now, or are you faking it to protect my fragile ego and ravenous libido?” He also reassures men that “for women sex is not considered a complete failure if she does not have an orgasm every time.” I…. don’t know what women he’s talking to in order to form these conclusions.
But what, Solomon imagines his readers asking, do we do if our wives grudgingly have sex but don’t pretend to enjoy it? How are we supposed to have sex if they’re lying there, making faces at us while we force them to have sex they didn’t really want to have? Well then, Solomon says, just don’t look at her face! Seriously. That is his answer. If a man is at all troubled by the idea of having sex with his wife when she doesn’t want to have sex with him, then he should focus on “the visual pleasure you receive from looking at her body and physical pleasure you receive from being inside your wife.”
As Rachel Vorona Cote of Jezebel paraphrases it, “Herein lies the key: fully and flagrantly objectify your wife. Imagine her as a faceless orifice, a sex doll to be used in your Christian ejaculatory efforts. I mean, she started it.” I hope I don’t need to explain the many, many levels at which this concept completely horrifies me.
Then Solomon slightly misuses Freudian theory to compare an unwilling wife’s face to Medusa:
So like the men who could not look at Medusa’s face otherwise they would be killed, realize that if you look on your wife’s face when she is displaying a sinful attitude toward sex it will kill your sexual pleasure and may actually make it much more difficult for you to achieve the physical connection and release that you need.
Yeah, nothing will metaphorically turn you into stone like realizing that your wife doesn’t want to be having sex with you right now. And it’s definitely her fault, because she is the “monster” who is displaying a “sinful” attitude. Remember guys, it’s not a sin to “initiate sex with your wife” when she doesn’t want it, but it is a sin for her to refuse you sex and be all monster-y about it. (If Solomon was reading his Freud, he’d realize that it’s not the woman’s face that was the stand-in for the paralyzing powers of Medusa)
Raw Story points out that the charming Mr. Solomon has previously written posts in which he claims that marital rape doesn’t actually exist, because wives owe husbands the use of their bodies. It’s only “rape” if you’re forcing yourself on someone who isn’t your property, and guess what, your wife is totally your property. Solomon uses the word “lubricated” more times than I ever want to imagine him using that word as he gives some tips on how to still have sex with your wife even if she is absolutely, positively, not turned on. He also adds a bright red disclaimer that says he is not advocating that men force themselves on their wives, only to have sex with their wives if they mostly don’t want to but grudgingly agree. Right. He’s in no way advocating that men take what they want from their wives by reminding men that women are their property, that women’s sexual desire doesn’t need to play a part in sexual intercourse, and that men should not tolerate refusal from women. Of course. I can totally see how that is so very different from advocating marital rape.
I’m not married, or even in a committed relationship. I know that I am not the be-all, end-all of knowledge when it comes to the concept of sex in a relationship. I know that a lot of relationships require a certain amount of negotiation and discussion when one partner has a higher libido than the other, or a stronger need for physical affection, or whatever. Some partners might agree to a “fake it until you make it” scenario. But the key words there are “negotiation,” “discussion,” and “agree.” As in, both partners are willing to see both sides and then come to an agreement about what they will do as a couple. Not one person deciding that the other partner is “sinful” for denying sex.
Whatever Solomon claims, he is, in fact, promoting intimate partner abuse. If you are saying that women should not be able to say no to sex, you are at the very least advocating emotional abuse if not outright physical abuse. What Solomon is advocating is not only wrong, it’s dangerous. Marital rape hasn’t existed as a concept for very long, precisely because men like Solomon consider sex a “duty” that women owe to their husbands. Marital rape wasn’t even fully criminalized in the US until 1993, when South Carolina became the last state to criminalize it (What the hell, South Carolina?). Even now, rape cases involving married partners are handled very differently than other rape cases, up to and including having different standards for what qualifies as rape inside of a marriage versus between strangers, and having different punishments for marital rape versus non-marital rape. In Oklahoma, it’s legal to have sex while your spouse is sleeping (aka, without consent).
Here’s the TL;DR: By telling women that they submit to their husbands whether they want to or not, and by telling men that they shouldn’t care whether their wives want to or not, Solomon is encouraging a dangerous atmosphere where consent is seen as optional once you’ve put a ring on it. Consent is always important.
You shouldn’t have to avoid looking at someone’s face so that you don’t feel like a monster during sex.
Elle Irise is a regular contributor to This Week In Tomorrow. When she’s not trying to explain the value of consent *even in marriage*, she studies gender in popular culture.