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’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.)