Final post on Caitlin Flanagan’s marital advice

Last week I accidentally deleted an old Caitlin Flanagan post (cached here). But since y’all are coming here looking for background, I’ve reconstructed the salient parts below.

So I’ve tried to make it through Flanagan’s “Do as I Say,” a lesson in 1880’s marital advice masquerading as a review of Dr. Laura’s self-help book, but I just can’t. I stopped when she returned to her boilerplate mantra:

That a married woman has sexual obligations to her husband once went without saying; now the very notion is radical in the extreme.

Excellent! You know what else “once went without saying”? As Sir Matthew Hale, 17th-century Chief Justice in England, famously opined:

The husband cannot be guilty of a rape committed by himself upon his lawful wife, for by their mutual matrimonial consent and contract, the wife hath given herself in kind unto the husband which she cannot retract.

In plain English, this rule was this: a wife had a duty to put out when her husband demanded it, and if the wife withheld sex, the husband could obtain it without her consent. That wasn’t rape; it was part of the marital contract. Not until 1993 did all fifty American states provide for prosecution of rape within a marriage.

Anyway. Yes, two people in any committed relationship have a responsibility — to each other — to keep the sex hot and frequent. But the view of marital sex as a unilateral duty flowing from wife to husband is not only antiquated, but can easily be taken to dangerous conclusions.

I could go on, but my legalistic feminism is less entertaining than Emma’s cogent dissection of the piece. And there’s always Dana’s “Vagina monotones, or Chicken Soup for the Withholding, Cockblocking Shrew’s Soul,” in which she summarizes the thrust of Flanagan’s “The Wifely Duty“:

Remember, be outraged that our mothers had to barter sex for refrigerator/freezers, but not too outraged! Maybe they knew something we don’t! Because that’s what a woman’s all about anyway, right? Sucking and shopping.

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