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?

Picture of woman looking at her phone, not smiling, with the words: He sent you a lewd message. Now you want to tell his wife. OK... but please be careful. workthegreymatter.com

On telling wives and girlfriends about their partner’s misogyny – please be careful

Photo credit: rawpixel on Pixabay

The thought of getting your own back feels great. Some random guy sent you a lewd unsolicited message and a quick flick through his timeline shows that you’re probably not the first woman he’s tried this with. His comments ooze with ego and a grossly misplaced sense of entitlement. You see it. You’re fed up with it.

And after a little digging you’ve found out who his wife, girlfriend or play-partner is.

You relish the thought of busting this guy and seeing this woman triumph over him in a blaze of fury.

But as satisfying as the thought is, is it realistic? Continue reading On telling wives and girlfriends about their partner’s misogyny – please be careful

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?

How the word ‘proxy’ helps me talk about equality

Photo credit: Martin Jernberg https://unsplash.com/@martinjernberg

Over the last few years I’ve found that there are some words that I’ve started to use or think about more frequently. They’re little tools, like an adjustable wrench or an alum key, that I never much needed when I was growing up, but are now really handy. Probably because I’m more purposeful and aware when it comes to theological deconstruction and reconstruction.

‘Proxy’ is one of those words and it’s particularly helped me as I’ve thought about, and talked about, equality. Continue reading How the word ‘proxy’ helps me talk about equality

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.

10 uncomfortable realities in Morgan Freeman's statement on sexual harassment

10 uncomfortable realities in Morgan Freeman’s statement on sexual harassment

In the wake of the Harvey Weinstein allegations and the #MeToo movement, a story broke recently where eight women accused Morgan Freeman of inappropriate behaviour and sexual harassment.

His initial response was:

Anyone who knows me or has worked with me knows I am not someone who would intentionally offend or knowingly make anyone feel uneasy. I apologize to anyone who felt uncomfortable or disrespected — that was never my intent.

Still, the story didn’t go away and a few days later he issued a second statement.

His words illustrate uncomfortable realities about sexual harassment, power imbalances and how our society responds to these cases. And I have some thoughts about all that.  Continue reading 10 uncomfortable realities in Morgan Freeman’s statement on sexual harassment

Books of 2017: Titles of interest to egalitarian Christians

1 Corinthians 11:3. Ephesians 5:22. If you’ve been anywhere near the arguments about complementarianism you’ll probably know what these verses say about women without having to look them up. Even if you don’t, you’ll definitely be familiar with what people have said they mean.

Several of my reads in 2017 were about the role and place of women. There were moments I was ready to write very long thank you letters to the authors; other times, I filled the margins with angry scribbles. Here are some short reviews of:

  • The Rise and Fall of the Complementarian Doctrine of the Trinity
  • The Meaning of Marriage
  • God’s Feminist Movement
  • Goddesses, Whores, Wives and Slaves
  • Why Not Women?
  • Scars Across Humanity

Continue reading Books of 2017: Titles of interest to egalitarian Christians

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

Modesty 101 fig leaves

Modesty 101: Are dress codes helpful or harmful? — Ezer Rising

I just remembered that I can reblog from other sites. So, here is part 2 of the modesty series I’ve been writing for Ezer Rising.

by Christine Woolgar It might have escaped your notice, but Hogwarts has a dress code. In having a uniform, Hogwarts’ follows mainstream practice in UK primary and secondary schools (that is, those for pupils up to the age of 16). Uniforms certainly differ, but regardless of how a school is funded, they all have […]

via Modesty 101: Are dress codes helpful or harmful? — Ezer Rising

Modesty 101 fig leaves

Modesty 101: modesty is not about clothes, rather glory and context

So… the fabulous Sierra White has asked me to share some thoughts on modesty for her Facebook page Ezer Rising (and blog: Ezer Rising), which (if you didn’t know) is committed to sharing content about women’s equality from a Christian perspective.

First thing I’ll say is that I’m going to approach modesty in a way that I haven’t seen done elsewhere. Not because other ways are necessarily wrong or flawed, but because different ways of looking at things work for different people. And sometimes a different perspective can help us appreciate things that we hadn’t seen before.

For the Christians reading this, this also means I’m not going to start with Bible passages to make my case. I love the Bible, but if we start with a question like “What does the Bible say about modesty?” then it’s very easy to look for the word “modesty” and find ourselves constrained to considering only a few passages. Instead of doing that, I’ll step back and ask “What is modesty?” You can then go away and weigh my ideas against what you find in the Bible. (Or not, if the Bible isn’t really your book.)

So: modesty.  Continue reading Modesty 101: modesty is not about clothes, rather glory and context

Pair of ducklings

Gary Thomas’ claim that Christians should have more children is unbiblical

Gary Thomas recently published an article “Does God Care How Many Children We Have?” It’s one of those really banal questions that people only ask when they have a poor, flat, empty view of God.

Of course he cares.

God has emotional investment in every area of our lives – because he has emotional investment in all of us as people.

Oh, but that’s not what Gary was getting at.

The question he really meant to ask was this: “Should we allow God’s desires to influence our decision when we consider how many children we have?” I’m not exaggerating when I say that his answer opens himself up to accusations of racism and sexism; but hey, for the purposes of this post, I’ll make the case for why it’s deeply flawed theologically. Continue reading Gary Thomas’ claim that Christians should have more children is unbiblical

Belle descends staircase in Beast's castle in Winter wearing 3/4 length sleeve dress

10 things I hope Disney changes from the 1991 Beauty and the Beast

The release of the live-action Beauty and the Beast is barely a few days away. If you’ve read any of my series comparing the 1991 release with Fifty Shades, you’ll know that I consider the animated Beauty and the Beast to be a masterpiece of story-telling that speaks powerfully and truthfully about redemption. However, this means I’m very nervous that I’ll be monumentally disappointed by the new version.

So far, I’ve managed to see two different trailers for it in the cinema. (This has never happened to me before; and it only happened this time because Hidden Figures and The Lego Batman Movie were just too appealing to miss.) Even though Disney are using all the same colours from the 1991 animated film, and they’re reusing the music, and, and, and… it’s already clear they’re making a lot of changes. And I’m not sure I’m happy with them.

The wardrobe’s line about how “the Master’s not so bad once you get to know him” has been given to Mrs Potts. Mrs Potts’ face is at the side of the teapot instead of at the front.

Why? Why did they do this?

The change that really grates is the fact that Maurice is imprisoned for stealing a rose and not because he comes to the castle searching for shelter. I can make some guesses about the reasons for this, and I’ll save judgement until I actually have a chance to see the 2017 version, but I’m frustrated that we’ve lost the parallel that Maurice had with the old woman seeking shelter right at the start. I just… sigh.


All this said, if I take off my rose-tinted glasses, there are some things that, on reflection, even I’ll say would be good to change from the 1991 release. Here they are. Continue reading 10 things I hope Disney changes from the 1991 Beauty and the Beast

Protest banner against 50 Shades "Not consent, not redemption, not a fairy-tale" with quotes from Fifty Shades Darker

Reflections from standing outside the Fifty Shades Darker premiere

The banner I held up during the protest outside the ‘Fifty Shades Darker’ premiere

It wasn’t as bustling or as glitz as the Fifty Shades of Grey premiere two years ago. There weren’t as many presenters and DJs to whip up the crowd; there weren’t as many fans; and there wasn’t as much press. But there were enough.

We were outside the Odeon cinema in Leicester Square, London. The waist-high metal railings had been carefully placed to allow space for fans, space for VIP vehicles and narrow passages at the side for the general public to mill past. The fans who had got there early were already inside enclosed areas while the security detail urged people outside the railings to move on if they didn’t have tickets. Every now and then, you’d see one or two people together dressed in very expensive outfits and you know they actually had tickets to go inside and see the film. Everyone else was wrapped up in gloves, coats and scarves – it being February after all.

The giant screens played the Fifty Shades Darker trailer silently but on repeat throughout the evening, much as had been done with its prequel two years before. And music thumped its way across the square, providing many (myself included) with a well-needed excuse to bob up and down and keep moving. Continue reading Reflections from standing outside the Fifty Shades Darker premiere

Belle vs Ana: Two embodiments of redeeming virtue?

Yes, I was living in Germany when the special edition came out.

“You are exquisite, honest, warm, strong, witty, beguilingly innocent; the list is endless. I’m in awe of you.”
— Christian, Fifty Shades Darker, p36

The need for outside help

In a redemption narrative, the person who is redeemed cannot redeem themselves on their own. They need a redeemer.

That isn’t to say that the person being redeemed doesn’t do anything to aid their redemption – quite the opposite. But what it does mean is that if it weren’t for the help of someone else stepping into their darkness and bringing them out of it, they would not have been saved.

In this post I want to compare Christian’s need for Ana with Beast’s need for Belle.

If you’re unfamiliar with Fifty Shades, and need a brief introduction, try my bare basics page. If you’re new to this blog I’ve written separately on why I write about Fifty Shades and you can find the introduction to this series here.

Continue reading Belle vs Ana: Two embodiments of redeeming virtue?

About the “steamy action” in 50-Shades-the-film

OK, I want to throw my two cents in when it comes to the portrayal of sex in the film of 50 Shades of Grey. This is partly in response to the rather sarcastic indictment of the film offered by the Honest trailer for it (here if you’re interested), in that the “steamy action” includes contracts, negotiation, clauses, conditions, emails, texting, non-disclosure agreements… Continue reading About the “steamy action” in 50-Shades-the-film