Famous Rapes #2: Marital Rape
This is the second in a series of retrospective collage art focusing on myth, stories, historic events, and cultural attitudes about rape, as seen through different time periods. The art is made from paper cutouts and paper packing tape. As an antiques dealer, I often ship fragile ancient ceramics, so this tape is part of my everyday visual world. This series is excerpted from my manuscript, Famous Rapes.
Until 1974, it was legal in all fifty states to rape one’s wife.
When Oregon became one of the first states to insist that a wife is not her husband’s property, there was a big fuss in the home of John and Greta Rideout. Greta warned John that the law was now on her side, and the next time it happened, she became the first woman to take her husband to court.
She lost. But when the trial was made into a 1980 CBS Movie of the Week, the story was told from her point of view, and she was the hero.
The movie opens as a romance. Greta and John sit hugging in their car before driving home.
When they get home, one of their routinely brutal fights ensues. As usual, it ends with Greta giving in.
Soon after that, in the company of their upstairs neighbor, Doug Lowe, Greta told John about the new law. When he denied its possibility, she warned, “Well, John, one of these days you’re going to go too far and you’re going to find out about it.”
That is exactly what happened.
Their child watched.
Greta sought justice.
Her sexual history was put on trial. She was shamed and mocked. The fact that she had warned John was twisted by the defense. They accused her of wanting to be raped for the sake of fame.
Unable to find an alternative, she reunited with John.
For six months, they lived together. Then she divorced him for good.
It wasn’t until 1993 that raping one’s wife became illegal in all fifty states.