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: How I used to interpret Deuteronomy 22:13-21... and how I explain it now Summarised in fewer than 500 words. workthegreymatter.com

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)

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

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

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. (If you want a summary in fewer than 500 words, click here.) Continue reading About that virginity test in Deuteronomy 22: it’s not what you think

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

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

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.

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?

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

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

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?

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

Review of Endless Second play by Theo Toksvig-Stewart

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?

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

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"
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.

David’s story is no defence for male impunity (and Kavanaugh apologists need to know this)

Word cloud in red and blue about David and Bathsheba with the post’s title

 

With all that has been written about Dr Christine Ford and US Supreme Court judge Brett Kavanaugh over the last few weeks, I’ve asked myself what I might be able to contribute that wasn’t already being said.

One of the best pieces I read was a post on Slate.com titled ‘Men are more afraid than ever.’

It lays out how one argument in defence of Kavanaugh is essentially the idea that if a man sexually assaults a woman then he should have impunity. Perhaps he might be taken out of the public eye for a few months, but if so, then his time out should not be long:

They grew up in a world that taught them they “get to” do the things they did. They feel, accordingly, that they have been unjustly penalized. They believe they’re suffering greatly.

As I reflected on the article, it struck me that one of the biggest drivers behind this toxic mentality might be a modern Christian (mis)understanding of David and Bathsheba. If so, then perhaps what people need to hear, is something that undercuts poor interpretation of this story.  Continue reading David’s story is no defence for male impunity (and Kavanaugh apologists need to know this)

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?

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

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)

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

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)

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

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

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)

Books of 2017: ‘The Twilight of Cutting’ taught me about more than FGM

From theology to anthropology to fiction, these are my books of 2017. I didn’t like all of them, and I didn’t read all of them from cover to cover. But in this post (and the next three), I’ll share some thoughts on what I made of them.

The number one spot belongs to The Twilight of Cutting and it warrants a full blog post in its own right.

Written by a Bosnian woman who works as an Assistant Professor of Anthropology and Feminist, Gender and Sexuality Studies at Cornell University, it is a stunning study of the complexities of discourses surrounding female genital mutilation (FGM), which is also known as ‘cutting’.

It’s thick, it’s heavy, it’s academic. I read the first ten pages and thought, “OK, that was a fairly comprehensive intro” – only to realise the introduction was 50 pages long. But even from what I was able to understand (and I did read it all) this book profoundly shifted my understanding of the world.  Continue reading Books of 2017: ‘The Twilight of Cutting’ taught me about more than FGM

50 Shades of Parody: Monsieur Gaston will see you now

Portrait of Gaston in tavern from Beauty and the Beast

(This is a rip-off of the opening chapter of Fifty Shades of Grey where Ana goes to interview Christian Grey at his head officeIf you wonder why it’s so badly written in places, there’s a reason for that.)

Damn my hair. It refuses to behave as I try to brush through it. Eventually I coax it into a pony-tail because I’m an animated character and pony-tails are cheaper to draw than unkempt or loose hair. Fairy-tale France has no room for Brave.

Sulkily, I make my way to Le Pub, the town’s tavern and favourite haunt of Monsieur Gaston, the most eligible bachelor in town. I push the door open, nervously. “Hello?” I ask – like an innocent encroaching on the cavernous lair of a monstrous beast.

Except that the place smells of beer and sweat because it’s that time of the evening and half the town is there. Continue reading 50 Shades of Parody: Monsieur Gaston will see you now

I dated Christian Grey… and I don’t care to see him again

Woman standing arms folded in from of Christian Grey picture from 50 Fifty Shades Darker.

With the launch of Fifty Shades Darker in cinemas, this guest post is just as relevant as it was when it was originally written two years ago. Ruthie Hird looks back on her experience of a toxic boyfriend (whom she met on a church retreat) and draws striking parallels with Christian Grey. I found it compelling when I first read it and she kindly agreed for me to re-blog it here.


So, there’s this book/movie that has come out recently: it’s called Fifty Shades of Grey, perhaps you’ve heard of it? Well, I sure have, and I’ve seen the throngs of mommy (and non-mommy) squee-ing over the very idea of a dark, mysterious man sweeping girls off of their feet and having incredible sex with them. Oh, if only Mr Grey really existed! I hear women sigh longingly.

Well, ladies, guess what: he does exist.

I should know: I dated him.

And so have about 4 million women in North America in one year alone.

Here’s the thing: Mr Grey in my world was not a high powered businessman, in fact he wasn’t rich at all. He was actually a twenty-six year old, blonde haired, blue eyed, church-going construction worker. He wore a cowboy hat, drove a pick up truck, and I had no idea what I was in for when he asked me out.

CONTENT NOTE: References to rape, coercive control and non-consensual BDSM perpetrated against the author – as well as similar behaviours in Fifty Shades. Continue reading I dated Christian Grey… and I don’t care to see him again