I have recently returned from a month-long hiatus in Europe, where during my travels I heard a most marvelous tale. Due to my impressive ignorance of other languages, I watched CNN on hotel televisions as it was usually the only English-speaking channel. A story that surfaced during this period was that of a French man who had been sued by his ex-wife for a lack of sexual intercourse during their 21 year marriage. Ha, I thought, oh these crackpot court civil cases, how do they even make it to court? My comic interpretation of the story soured somewhat when, where I was expecting the reporter to tell me that the judge laughed in the woman’s face whilst point to his crotch, saying “I’ll fix what you’re cravin’ sugar,” (except more… French) I was instead told that the judge ruled in favour of the woman. Here’s the story reported as reported by the Sydney Morning Herald:
Yes, someone was successfully sued for not providing enough sex in a marriage. I imagine you are dumbfounded and confused, as was I (and no, not because I’m thinking “but women hate sex”). To clarify, the couple was recently divorced with lack of sex one of the reasons cited to justify the split, which seems a fair enough reason to me. I can understand it being included in what was clearly a long-time relationship breakdown. However, a good reason to divorce is not a good reason to sue, and is an even less good reason to win that civil case. I sought the judge’s reasoning –
“”A sexual relationship between husband and wife is the expression of affection they have for each other, and in this case it was absent.”
“By getting married, couples agree to sharing their life and this clearly implies they will have sex with each other.”
Firstly, I don’t know who gave the judge the authority to decide that the only way to express affection is to have sex. Secondly, I don’t think that ‘sharing a life’ is synonymous to ‘obliged to have sex’. Thirdly, why does the point of marriage oblige people to each other this way? Marriage doesn’t change anything about the relationship; it is simply a point on the continuous timeline of a relationship (arranged marriages and other forms aside). Does that mean she would not have been able to sue him for lack of sex in a long-term partnership where they didn’t get married? Last point – if “by getting married couples agree to sharing their life…” then she should be sued for divorcing him.
It is not hard to agree that this case is ridiculous, but the reason I wanted to write about it is because of the lack of uproar. Can you imagine what would happen if this same scenario had the genders reversed, where a man sued a woman for lack of sex after already divorcing her for it? Sacrebleu! Women everywhere would be outraged. The air would be thick with the smoke of burning bras. Well, maybe not, but outrage there would be. The standard “a woman’s body is her own, she is not obliged to have sex with anyone, even her husband,” “this is a sexist decision clearly perpetuating patriarchal rights over women’s bodies” etc would be heard globally. I would probably agree with all these comments. But the fact that this happened to a man proves that such a decision may not necessarily be gender based. This ruling is equally bad for anyone in a marriage.
By ruling that this man was obliged to have sex with his wife with some regularity during their relationship, the judge is setting a precedent that anyone in a marriage is obliged to have sex. Now a woman, man, goat, anyone can be potentially sued for ‘not enough sex’ in a marriage. This is a problem because, what is ‘enough’ sex? It could be once a day for some and once a year for others. The problem arises when a couple disagrees on what ‘enough’ is. Who is right? No one is right, because there is no ‘normal’ amount of sex (for statisticians reading yes I understand that technically there would likely be a Gaussian distribution of sexual frequency, thus there would be a ‘normal’ amount of sex, but I’m referring to an absolute right or wrong here). So do we just decide that because one person was dissatisfied with the lack of sex during their relationship, that person is right? Based on my understandings of the common issues raised in marital counseling, that would mean that in a majority of cases the husband is right because husbands tend to want sex more frequently than wives. And here lies why women should be upset about this case.
The most critical issue here is that this falls dangerously close to the concept of marital rape. For those uninformed, only decades ago the idea that a women could be raped by her husband was alien, because women were generally thought of as a man’s property once they were married and a man could do whatever he liked to his property. Ipso facto, a man could have sex with his wife even if she was not willing. Feminist campaigners globally worked to have it recognized legally that rape could occur in a marriage. I find the French judge’s ruling in this case uncomfortably close to this concept. An obligation to have sex with someone is only a few steps away from having that obligation forced upon you. I don’t think that this ruling in a civil case will affect the criminal marital rape laws, but I think it has the potential to affect the mindset around it.
It saddens me that when men are faced with unfair outcomes that there are no voices screaming in their defence because there is no common discourse and buzzwords like ‘patriarchal oppression’ or ‘sexist policy’ to regurgitate. I shouldn’t have to explain how this could be bad for women in the long run for feminists to be upset about the verdict of this case. Feminists would defend a woman because they’d see it as an affront to women’s rights, but this case isn’t about men or women’s rights. It’s about human rights and the right to do whatever the god damn hell you want with your body. It’s a case where the interests of women and men (and goats I believe were mentioned) completely overlap and should be loudly fought for by all parties, rather than each gender just picking their side and ignoring the injustices to others.