Michael Cohen’s automatic response in defense of Trump — “And, of course, understand that by the very definition, you can’t rape your spouse” — is actually a gift to society. It reminds us that the rape culture — a world in which rape is overlooked, joked about, disbelieved, minimized, and even accepted as normal or inevitable — is alive and well. That disturbing assumptions about a man’s right to a woman’s body still lurk on the tips of the tongues of not just those we consider criminally ignorant or inane, but the educated elite. That a man who should know the law immediately popped off such a dangerous statement reminds feminists of faith what we are fighting for.
The truth is, many such assumptions about women’s subjection and submission to men, especially their husbands, come from scripture. They are part of technically secular systems that spread from religious roots. It’s important that Christian women and all women of faith speak up against the misogyny that was normalized by religious beliefs about gender roles and expectations that still pollute politics and popular culture today. Biblical marriage was the selling or trading of a girl to a man who would literally own and operate her — body, mind and soul. Old Testament prophets like Ezekiel and Hosea used imagery of God / husbands punishing wives with sexual abuse and violence to warn ancient leaders that God would punish their disobedience and disloyalty with harsh, painful penalties. Biblical ideas about women unquestionably deserving force or violence if they deny or displease their husbands are still etched deeply in our DNA in 2015.
For all the media debates and dissents about the word, we need feminism. It is the most important movement of our time, for the health and well-being of over half the world’s population. Thank you, Michael Cohen, for reminding us how intimately close to the surface of urbanity the assumption of rape is. Thank you for providing (irresponsible and inconceivably nasty) proof of what we need to change and who we need to keep our eye on. It’s not always who we might suspect.