Added: April 8, 2017 – Last updated: May 6, 2017


Author: Lisa Featherstone

Title: ‘That’s What Being A Woman Is For’

Subtitle: Opposition To Marital Rape Law Reform In Late Twentieth-Century Australia

Journal: Gender & History

Volume: 29

Issue: 1

Year: April 2017 (Published online: March 10, 2017)

Pages: 87-103

ISSN: 0953-5233 – Find a Library: WordCat | eISSN: 1468-0424 – Find a Library: WordCat

Language: English

Keywords: Modern History: 20th Century | Oceanian History: Australian History | Prosecution: Laws / 20th-Century Legislation; Types: Marital Rape


Links: Wiley Online Library (Restricted Access)


Author: Lisa Featherstone, School of Historical and Philosophical Inquiry, University of

Abstract: »From 1976 until 1994, Australian states and territories introduced a raft of reforms to sexual assault laws. Most of these were welcomed, and were seen to reflect women's changing status within a modernising society. One reform, however, was especially contentious. The British law had proclaimed that a woman could not be raped within marriage: the marital bond included a husband's right to sexual access to his wife. Following South Australia's lead, all Australian jurisdictions introduced changes to this law, making it a crime to rape a woman within marriage, either before or after separation. It was a fundamental challenge to the way familial authority was conceptualised, established and policed.
In a period where feminism had infiltrated many layers of political and social life, we might expect that this change to the law would have been greeted with relief and even celebration. The response to changes to marital rape laws was, however, both muted and ambivalent. Even feminist groups did not offer unequivocal support, and in general public opinion was at best reserved. Further, many conservative groups understood the new laws as an assault on the sanctity of the family itself.
Drawing on a wide range of sources in the mainstream and alternative media, as well as parliamentary debates, government enquiries, academic studies and legal reports, this paper will explore the multifarious responses to legislative change. It uncovers the complex ways sexual violence and female bodily autonomy were understood within and beyond the borders and boundaries of the home and family.« (Source: Gender & History)


  The long history and changing the law (p. 88)
  What is rape? (p. 92)
  The ‘destruction’ of marriage itself (p. 94)
  The concept of the vindictive wife (p. 96)
  The crime that would be ‘impossible’ to prove (p. 97)
  Conclusions: making marital rape (p. 99)
  Notes (p. 99)

Lecture: Featherstone, Lisa. »'That's what being a woman is for': Public Responses to Marital Rape Reforms.« 32nd Annual Conference of the Australian Historical Association. Wollongong 2013. – Bibliographic Entry: Info

Wikipedia: History of Oceania: History of Australia / History of Australia since 1945 | Law: Laws regarding rape | Sex and the law: Marital rape