Marital rape in the mainstream media

Unfortunately, thanks to my mother, I’ve been a regular, if reluctant, viewer of the Korean dramas that are screened around dinnertime (around 7pm to 8pm) in the Na household. Perhaps ‘reluctant’ is too mild a word: appalled is my usual ground state when watching Korean dramas. There’s a kind of mawkish obsession with materialism and status that I can’t get behind, but what’s worse is the often-casual abuse that women are subjected to, both in terms of how female characters are treated by other characters (including other female characters), and also in how they are often depicted in a demeaning manner as being prone to hysteria.

Today, however, something much, much worse happened. I’ll just show rather than describe:

Words don't fail me often, but I have no words besides expletives

This is a clip from the somewhat ominously-named Wang’s Family drama that’s now showing on Channel U on the weekday 7pm slot. And yeah, what you just saw was a man who, after having had his masculinity repeated impugned by practically everyone in the show, decides that the only way to show his wife who’s boss is to rape her while she’s drunk. And what’s worse, he does it for the express purpose of knocking her up, because she’s been too (gasp!) independent after doing well at her workplace!

And the morning after, his afterglow translates into what I have to assume is some kind of weird Korean fertility ritual that involves flogging a fish with a leek (I know, right? Not exactly very subtle). He sings, he dances, he plies his wife with fertility foods, while she pouts at his exuberance during her hangover.

That’s right, folks. Marital rape played for laughs. We are encouraged to laugh along with the proud husband rapist at his wife, righteously punished for being a woman who’s found success in the workplace, as we reap the delicious fruits of dramatic irony. This is like, Gone With the Wind levels of progressiveness here, in which Rhett Butler’s foreplay consists of offering his wife the old Oberyn Martell special before he carries her struggling up to bed.

Rhett Butler, master of talking dirty

At least with Gone With the Wind we have the (terrible) excuse that it’s from the 1930s and set in the 19th century. At least Rhett has the excuse that Scarlett is pretty much an unrepentant homewrecker and unmarriageable by any sane standards. We feel less jubilant and more concerned as he, against both his and the audience’s better judgement, decides to stick his dick in crazy. We can put some distance between us and the heroically-violent Rhett Butler.

Wang’s Family, on the other hand, was made in 2013 and won a raft of awards and nominations. We really don’t have an excuse here.

It is especially worrisome that Wang’s Family is being screened here in Singapore at the family-friendly 7-8pm time-slot. This stuff is being screened to a generation of Hallyu/Hanliu-influenced youngsters who devour Korean culture with rapacious fervour.

What’s really worrisome is that these kids are growing up in a society that barely recognises marital rape. Under the Penal Code s375(4)no man shall be guilty of raping his wife (even if he penetrates her without her consent) unless (paraphrased):

  1. they’re already in the midst of divorce proceedings
  2. they’re already in the midst of annulment proceedings
  3. they’re legally separated via court order or
  4. they have a written agreement of separation.

Yeah. If you and your husband don’t have any kind of official marital impediment and he, out of the blue, decides that, like it or not, you’re going to get lucky tonight, then sorry, it’s not rape. To be fair, it’s still a crime (probably “sexual assault by penetration”), but it’s not rape. By the definitions of Singaporean law, a husband cannot be said to rape his wife unless they already have some other marital problems which are under legal consideration.

In Singapore, we make a big deal out of policing each other’s morality. The Ministry of Education wants, as part of its desired outcomes of education, people who “have the moral courage to stand up for what is right”. As for what is “right” in Singapore, let’s look at our official Shared Values, adopted by Parliament in 1991, which asserts that in Singapore, what is right is that “the family is identified as the most stable fundamental building block of the nation”.

So apparently the national mainstream media is “standing up for what is right” by promoting “the family”, with the definition of “family is, among other things, people you rape in order to remind them who’s boss”. I’m no philosopher, but something about this doesn’t seem particularly right to me. I must have missed the rape lessons during my moral education lessons back in school.

And while the official media outlet airs this kind of thing with the full complicity of the government and its various regulatory bodies (Mediacorp is wholly owned by Temasek Holdings, which is wholly owned by the Singapore government and run by, among other fine folks, Mr Lim Boon Heng, who’s a PAP cadre, and Mdm Ho Ching, who’s the Prime Minister’s wife etc etc.), our local arts scene and our local Internet scene is constantly under scrutiny. The Media Development Authority tried to ram self-censorship down the throats of local arts companies but that didn’t fly, although I’m pretty sure that’s not the last we’ve heard of the local thought-police. Minister for Information, Communication, and the Arts, Dr Yaacob Ibrahim, also proposed a similar self-censorship initiative (“Internet code of conduct“) in order to encourage citizens to police each other’s online behaviour. Higher management must be somehow contractually obligated to appear as out-of-touch and bewildered by the Internet as possible.

I will never let you forget this video exists

I’m not really sure the local and officially-approved media bodies are doing a perceptibly-better job at policing its own content than civil society.

In Singapore we tend to be pretty self-congratulatory about the whole ‘Asian values’ thing, and it’s quite common for people (politicians and civilians alike) to reject ‘Western’ thinking out of hand. I think we need to be careful in doing so: just because certain values/beliefs/media icons are Asian doesn’t make them any less objectionable.

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