Picture of a woman with long hair from behind as she stands in a street of an old city. Text over the top: Five things worth knowing about the woman in the city who 'did not cry out'. On Deuteronomy 22:23-24 (& 25-27) workthegreymatter.com

Five things worth knowing about the woman in the city who ‘did not cry out’. On Deuteronomy 22:23-24 (and 25-27)

CONTENT WARNING for rape myths.

Deuteronomy 22:23-24 has too often been used as a biblical precedent for one of the worst rape myths.

When read a certain way, it suggests that when a man rapes a woman, and he succeeds, she shares equally in his culpability because she didn’t scream sufficiently. Even less extreme interpretations hold that women should scream if they’re raped, and if they don’t, they bear at least some guilt.

Both ideas are monumentally false — as anyone who knows anything about consent and freeze responses will tell you.

But if that’s the case, what does a Bible-honouring Christian make of these verses? Is it possible to interpret them as anything other than a toxic product of ancient patriarchal misogyny? Well, I believe it is.

I’m going to be very good and limit myself to 200 words in each of the seven sections of this post (the intro, five things, plus interlude) so forgive me if I don’t deep dive the detail. I’m leveraging the scholarship of Carolyn Pressler, Cynthia Edenberg, Alexander Rofé and, by no means least, Sara Milstein. Details at the bottom of the post.

Right, let’s do this. Continue reading Five things worth knowing about the woman in the city who ‘did not cry out’. On Deuteronomy 22:23-24 (and 25-27)

Young woman looking up thoughtfully with the words: Five things I’d explain to a teenage girl if she asked about Deuteronomy 22:13-21 (assuming she has the courage to ask) workthegreymatter.com

Five things I’d explain to a teenage girl if she asked about Deuteronomy 22:13-21 (assuming she has the courage to)

This would be that law about the young bride who’s already lost her virginity.

Actually it’s not, but I’ll get to that later.

I promised myself I’d keep this post under 1,200 words: 200 for each thing to say, plus intro. So if you want detailed backup for what I’m saying here, check out the links and references for further reading. I’m drawing mainly on the work of Aaron Koller, Carolyn Pressler, Joseph Fleishman and, not least, Emily Nagoski.

I’m writing this post because in the Western evangelical church, Christians of all ages are encouraged to read the Bible, although there are some pretty puzzling things in it. And whilst it’s pretty standard to say “Jesus won’t mind if you ignore that bit,” if you’re talking to a teenage girl who’s anything like me, those arguments won’t wash. (Admittedly though, I’m pretty weird.)

I grant you, even if she’s grown up with purity culture, Deuteronomy 22 probably didn’t feature much in conversation. But it’s still likely she’ll completely misread the passage (as I did) if she reads it from a purity culture mindset.

So, here are five things to explain. Take it slowly and gently.

13 “If any man takes a wife, and goes in to her, and detests her, 14 and charges her with shameful conduct, and brings a bad name on her, and says, ‘I took this woman, and when I came to her I found she was not a virgin,’ 15 then the father and mother of the young woman shall take and bring out the evidence of the young woman’s virginity to the elders of the city at the gate. 16 And the young woman’s father shall say to the elders, ‘I gave my daughter to this man as wife, and he detests her. 17 Now he has charged her with shameful conduct, saying, “I found your daughter was not a virgin,” and yet these are the evidences of my daughter’s virginity.’ And they shall spread the cloth before the elders of the city. 18 Then the elders of that city shall take that man and punish him; 19 and they shall fine him one hundred shekels of silver and give them to the father of the young woman, because he has brought a bad name on a virgin of Israel. And she shall be his wife; he cannot divorce her all his days.

20 “But if the thing is true, and evidences of virginity are not found for the young woman, 21 then they shall bring out the young woman to the door of her father’s house, and the men of her city shall stone her to death with stones, because she has done a disgraceful thing in Israel, to play the harlot in her father’s house. So you shall put away the evil from among you. (NKJV)

Continue reading Five things I’d explain to a teenage girl if she asked about Deuteronomy 22:13-21 (assuming she has the courage to)

Picture of man holding a Bible with a woman in the background, as if engaged in conversation though their face aren’t in the frame. Words on top: Honour, not sex. Why applying Deuteronomy 22 is more complex than you thought. And why this matters. Workthegreymatter.com

Honour, not sex. Why applying Deuteronomy 22 is more complex than you thought. And why this matters.

There are a fair few strange laws concerning sex and marriage in the Old Testament books of law.

Problem is, whilst some Christians see much of the Old Testament as not relevant at all, there are others who tend to look for modern application. And if you’re in this second camp, there are all manner of questions to be answered about which laws describe the past and which prescribe principles for ethical living — and how exactly these translate to the modern day.

My personal belief is that none of the Old Testament laws are either wholly prescriptive or wholly descriptive; I think they all reflect their time (descriptive) and they all have something to teach us (prescriptive). Well, to varying degrees, obviously, but I’m not prepared to write off any of them as wholly irrelevant relics. And maybe you agree or maybe you don’t. Either way, it’s fair to say that some Christians are inclined to interpret prescriptively and when they do, they’re influenced by what each law is actually talking about.

Maybe that seems so obvious it shouldn’t need to be said — of course laws about the priesthood, warfare or slavery are going to be taken less literally than laws about putting up safety rails on a roof or not cursing the deaf. Why? For the simple reason that modern Western societies are structured very differently to ancient Israel.

But here’s the issue: what if there are laws designed for ancient societal structures, but which mainly use timeless language? Laws like that risk being interpreted and applied more literally by modern Christians, when they shouldn’t be.

This is what I think happens with Deuteronomy 22:13-30.

CONTENT NOTE: this post includes discussion of sexual abuse, ‘honour’ violence and rape myths. Continue reading Honour, not sex. Why applying Deuteronomy 22 is more complex than you thought. And why this matters.

Picture of a bride with her eyes closed, standing against a white flowing veil-like background with the words: How I used to interpret Deuteronomy 22:13-21... and how I explain it now Summarised in fewer than 500 words. workthegreymatter.com

How I used to interpret Deuteronomy 22:13-21, and how I explain it now (in fewer than 500 words)

Deuteronomy 22:13-21 is one of the scarier passages for impressionable young Christian women, as it seems to hold up pre-marital sex as a crime punishable by death. Even for married women, such as myself, the passage can be puzzling: hymeneal blood following intercourse is a notoriously unreliable proof of virginity.

Well, having just published 2,600 words explaining this law (and that doesn’t count the footnotes), I thought I’d give the short version. Here it is in fewer than 500 words: Continue reading How I used to interpret Deuteronomy 22:13-21, and how I explain it now (in fewer than 500 words)

Picture of a bride with her eyes closed, standing against a white flowing veil-like background with the words: About that virginity test in Deuteronomy 22:13-21... it's not what you think. Forget the hymen. This was about power. And money.. workthegreymatter.com

About that virginity test in Deuteronomy 22: it’s not what you think

There was some justifiable outrage recently when rapper T.I. said that he had a gynaecologist annually test that his daughter’s hymen was still intact.

Leaving aside the brutal, if not fatal, penalties that women may suffer even today if they lose their virginity in a socially unacceptable manner, T.I.’s attitude is reminiscent of Old Testament times.

Or is it?

CONTENT WARNING for discussion of murder and toxic purity culture.

Deuteronomy 22:13-21 is one of the scarier passages for impressionable young Christian women, as it SEEMS to hold up pre-marital sex as a crime punishable by death. Even for married women, such as myself, the passage can be puzzling: hymeneal blood following intercourse is a notoriously unreliable proof of virginity.

So, do we:

  1. Take Deuteronomy 22:13-21 as nevertheless prohibiting all pre-marital sex,
  2. Write it off as an ancient relic, void of Christian love as we know it, or
  3. Say there’s got to be more here than meets the eye?

In case you hadn’t guessed, this post is all about option 3 and it focuses strongly on the ‘evidence’ of the bedsheets. (If you want a summary of this post in fewer than 500 words, click here. Also, for discussion of the wider themes of this passage, I strongly recommend checking out Five things I’d explain to a teenage girl if she asked about Deuteronomy 22:13-21 (assuming she has the courage to).) Continue reading About that virginity test in Deuteronomy 22: it’s not what you think

Picture of woman sitting outside with her eyes closed and a slight frown, holding a closed copy of the Bible, with the words: Why do I care so much about the Old Testament rape laws? workthegreymatter.com

Why do I care so much about the Old Testament rape laws?

Photo by Priscilla Du Preez on Unsplash

What I blog about and what I want to blog about, do not always align.

The Old Testament laws on sex, adultery and rape, particularly those in Deuteronomy 22:13-29, are a sensitive topic to say the least. Whenever I find an angle to write about, my inner caution tends to apply the brakes before my enthusiasm gets to the point of posting.

It’s not that this is a topic to be enthusiastic about, per se. It’s just that, in the last few years, the biblical scholarship I’ve read on these passages has absolutely blown my mind. And the more feminist literature I read (currently working through Jessica Valenti’s The Purity Myth), the more I believe the church needs to re-evaluate its relationship with these verses. Because although these verses are steeped in patriarchy, I’ve come to believe that there’s a lot of good stuff that they can teach us today.

If you’re now raising your eyebrow at me, I’m gonna guess it’s for one of several reasons. I’ll take them in turn. Continue reading Why do I care so much about the Old Testament rape laws?

Flyer for 'Just don't do it' by Beside Ourselves collective, on a black background. The flyer says 'Sex. Celibacy. The Church' and has two women on it, facing the camer. One is dressed as a bride; the other in a tracksuit. The bride is holding a large 'no entry' sign over the top of the other woman's legs. There's also large text: "Just don't do it review: a zany swipe at abstinence culture - but can it find its audience?" workthegreymatter.com

“Just don’t do it” review: a zany swipe at abstinence culture — but can it find its audience?

Where do I begin? This is a two-woman show about the failings of church attitudes towards sex and sexuality, complete with parodied worship lyrics, a chicken wire wedding veil, and vagina hand-puppets.

I got to see the Beside Ourselves Collective, with Kate Mounce and Eleanor Young, at the ‘Out of Control’ conference organised by Natalie Collins in March 2019. The conference had gathered a number of Christian speakers and artists to discuss gender violence and the church, with Natalie enthusiastically chairing and uttering words like “vagina” and “clitoris.” This play was performed just after lunch and with its savage commentary on purity balls and abstinence-only education, it was a fabulous fit for the conference.

But more than that, the show took all my emotional armour away, evoking buckets of tears and reams of hand-written notes which I pressed earnestly into Kate’s and Eleanor’s hands before I scurried away home.

Yeah, I didn’t really pay attention to the speakers in the afternoon.

Anyway, the play has finished its tour, but I still figured it would be worth writing up what I made of it. Its subject matter is very much in my blogging lane. Continue reading “Just don’t do it” review: a zany swipe at abstinence culture — but can it find its audience?

Review of Endless Second play by Theo Toksvig-Stewart

Endless Second: a brilliant and much-needed play about consent and reconciliation

So, I recently went to see a play called “Endless Second.”

As with much theatre, especially niche works from emerging writers and artists, there’s a good chance that most people who read this review won’t actually get to see this play. Which is a shame, given how good it was.

Still, I want to share my thoughts, because it’s a fantastic example of creative story-telling that shows sex and consent at their best. It also shows non-consent at its most misunderstood and offers a narrative for how abusers might take responsibility for their actions.

CONTENT WARNING for discussion of rape (and spoilers). Continue reading Endless Second: a brilliant and much-needed play about consent and reconciliation

An open letter to my pro porn friend: ethic impossible?

An open letter to my pro-porn friend: ethic impossible?

Dear Amy,

Very near the end of our conversation you asked me what I think of porn.

You asked me this, knowing that I don’t masturbate. You asked me, knowing that I’m a Christian and committed to my husband in a lifelong, monogamous relationship. And you asked, knowing that a lot of my good friends are strongly anti-porn.

For a moment, I hesitated. I wondered what I could say, or how I could say it, that would be congruent with what I believe, but wouldn’t be an affront to you.

You, after all, are very different to me.

You masturbate frequently. You earn money reviewing vibrators and dildos on your blog! You’ve gone from agnostic to atheist, you have little love of the institution of marriage and you’re polyamorous. Meanwhile, you’ve got plenty of friends who really quite like porn.

So, um… actually it meant a lot to me that you felt able to ask. Continue reading An open letter to my pro-porn friend: ethic impossible?

Juliet from 1996 20th Century Fox adaptation of Romeo & Juliet, with quote "Proud can I never be of what I hate" and text "Let's talk about that Old Testament law where a girl marries her rapist"

Let’s talk about that Deuteronomy 22 law where a girl marries her rapist. Because it’s not about marriage or sex.

Background picture of Claire Danes, taken from the 20th Century Fox 1996 adaptation of Romeo & Juliet.

CONTENT NOTE: This post has general discussion of murder, rape, parent-perpetrated domestic violence, forced marriage and child marriage.  

‘Proud can I never be of what I hate’
– Juliet

Juliet’s words sum up the reaction of many women when they read a certain law in Deuteronomy 22.

The law I’m thinking of is this one:

If a man happens to meet a virgin who is not pledged to be married and rapes her and they are discovered, he shall pay her father fifty shekels of silver. He must marry the young woman, for he has violated her. He can never divorce her as long as he lives.
– Deuteronomy 22:28-29 (NIVUK)

In a world even remotely aware of consent and women’s bodily agency, this law makes no apparent sense. How, how, how can it be good for a woman to have to marry – and have sex with – a man who raped her? How can a law be good when it means women – often children – are forced to marry? How can a marriage be good, when its origin was an act of violence?

Or, to take Juliet’s words, how can a woman expect to be proud of being married to someone she hates?

You might have heard the apologist arguments before: it was a different culture, virginity in a woman was a big deal, no one else would marry a raped woman, sex was thought to constitute marriage.

Well, guess again. Because I don’t think this law is about marriage or about sex.

To explain what I’m talking about, let’s have a look at the scene in William Shakespeare’s Romeo & Juliet, where this quote comes from.

(Grab a cuppa, this post is 3,000 words long – or over 4,000 if you read all the footnotes.)

Continue reading Let’s talk about that Deuteronomy 22 law where a girl marries her rapist. Because it’s not about marriage or sex.

Holding someone by the throat: abusive strangulation or consensual play?

Following the allegations against Eric Schneiderman, I saw a cluster of articles a couple of weeks ago revolving around the topic of someone’s breathing by putting pressure on their throat. Some talked about this as an act of violence, others as an act of erotic play.

The articles were not always helpful – and I want to talk about this.

I’ll start with a CONTENT WARNING: this post contains stuff about sex, BDSM and sexualised violence. The links from this post have explicit content.

If phrases like “BDSM,” “s-type”, and “kink” are unfamiliar for you, you might want to check out my Dictionary page. I’ve also written separately about why I write about BDSM and why I write about 50 Shades. Continue reading Holding someone by the throat: abusive strangulation or consensual play?

Book of How Not To Write a Novel with copies of Fifty Shades books and Grey

Crimes against literature: Fifty Shades has 50 novel-writing mistakes (part 3)

Welcome to the final instalment of this mini series wherein I list the failures exhibited in Fifty Shades as we go through what How Not to Write A Novel. This post covers interior monologue, setting, research and historical background, theme, and … sex scenes! So, more than in the other posts so far, I’ll be talking a fair bit about the BDSM elements of the books. (If that’s a strange term see my Dictionary page.) Here are links to parts one and two.

CONTENT NOTE: This series of posts is meant to be a fun and light-hearted. However, at times there is simply no getting away from the problematic portrayals of consent, BDSM, purity culture, misogyny, racism, child abuse and mental health problems that are inherent in Fifty Shades. To say nothing of the gratuitous displays wealth.

I also link to other blogs that also criticise Fifty Shades because I think they have insightful things to say about EL James’ writing, but I make no guarantees as to the language or suitability of content on those sites.

Also, credit where it’s due, the names given to the writing mistakes and the explanations are extracts from How Not To Write A Novel.

All in all, I hope you enjoy, but read at your own risk.

Continue reading Crimes against literature: Fifty Shades has 50 novel-writing mistakes (part 3)

Book of How Not To Write a Novel with copies of Fifty Shades books and Grey

Crimes against literature: Fifty Shades has 50 novel-writing mistakes (part 2)

Welcome to part 2 of the list of writing failures exhibited in Fifty Shades as we go through what How Not to Write A Novel says about words and phrases, sentences and paragraphs, dialogue and narrative stance. As I often need to do when blogging about these books I ought to give a:

CONTENT NOTE: This series of posts is meant to be a fun and light-hearted. However, at times there is simply no getting away from the problematic portrayals of consent, BDSM, purity culture, misogyny, racism, child abuse and mental health problems that are inherent in Fifty Shades. To say nothing of the gratuitous displays wealth.

I also link to other blogs that also criticise Fifty Shades because I think they have insightful things to say about EL James’ writing, but I make no guarantees as to the language or suitability of content on those sites.

Also, credit where it’s due, the names given to the writing mistakes and the explanations are extracts from How Not To Write A Novel.

All in all, I hope you enjoy, but read at your own risk. Continue reading Crimes against literature: Fifty Shades has 50 novel-writing mistakes (part 2)

Book of How Not To Write a Novel with copies of Fifty Shades books and Grey

Crimes against literature: Fifty Shades has 50 novel-writing mistakes (part 1)

So, a fellow Fifty Shades critic and consent enthusiast recently gave me a copy of How Not to Write A Novel by Sandra Newman and Howard Mittelmark. It outlines “200 mistakes to avoid at all costs if you ever want to get published”. And as I read it, I couldn’t help but wonder whether EL James might not have produced the crime against literature that is the Fifty Shades trilogy if she had read it.

She clocks up about 50 of these mistakes. Yes, 50. So, to mark the occasion of the third and final film  being released in cinemas, I figured it might be worth blogging about it again.

CONTENT NOTE: This is meant to be a fun and light-hearted post. However, at times there is simply no getting away from the problematic portrayals of consent, BDSM, purity culture, misogyny, racism, child abuse and mental health problems that are inherent in Fifty Shades. To say nothing of the gratuitous displays wealth.

I also link to other blogs that also criticise Fifty Shades because I think they have insightful things to say about EL James’ writing, but I make no guarantees as to the language or suitability of content on those sites.

Also, credit where it’s due, the names given to the writing mistakes and the explanations are extracts from How Not To Write A Novel. And occasionally they use some colourful language.

All in all, I hope you enjoy, but read at your own risk. Continue reading Crimes against literature: Fifty Shades has 50 novel-writing mistakes (part 1)