I was cleaning up today and came across my cousin’s book It’s (Not That) Complicated, in which they lay out their advice to young women waiting around for a husband (spoiler alert: they think you should ask your parents to screen applicants while you patiently do your father’s bidding at home) and flipped open to this passage, which was horrifying enough that I felt slightly sick to my stomach:
“Amazingly, the Bible does speak specifically to our parents’ role in our romantic lives. Deuteronomy 22 is a good place to start. Verses 13-21 lay out a law that God gave the Israelites regarding a young bride whose husband has accused her of not being a virgin on her wedding night. Interestingly, the young bride is not the defendant. Her father is.
The burden of evidence was placed on ‘the father of the young woman and her mother’ to prove that their daughter was a virgin, and the father was required to represent her. If she was proven innocent, the young man had to pay an enormous fine to the father for bringing ‘a bad name upon a virgin of Israel.’ But if the young woman was found guilty, verse 21 continues, ‘Then they shall bring out the young woman to the door of her father’s house, and then men of her city shall stone her to death with stones, because she has done an outrageous thing in Israel by whoring in her father’s house. So shall you purge the evil from your midst.’
Why? Why was it not entirely her own business? Why was she stoned at her father’s door and not her husband’s (or the door of her apartment)? What did her father have to do with something as personal to her as her own purity? Because God had placed the daughter under her father’s care, until the time when the father gave her to another man (as it is said in verse 16, ‘I gave my daughter to this man to marry…’) and her father was responsible for knowing that the purity of the bride he was giving away had been preserved for her husband. She — and the priceless gift of her purity — was not just hers to give. In the event that the young man had been defrauded of what was rightfully his, the responsibility fell on the guardian (father) as well as on her” (page 143).
The passage in question requires the parents of the accused girl to bring out “the cloak,” which refers to a cloth placed on the bridal bed. If it was bloody, that was “proof” that the girl had been a virgin, and if it wasn’t, that was proof that she was a “whore,” and should be bludgeoned to death with heavy rocks. As common as this practice may have been in certain parts of the world at certain times in our history — including some of the current-day Middle East — it is of course widely known at this point that this is about the least scientific way to prove or not prove virginity. At this point, any sane person should be thinking that this passage should be about the farthest thing from something we should aspire to. And yet, according to It’s (Not That) Complicated, we are to draw an important lesson from it: it’s partially the dad’s fault if a daughter doesn’t bleed on her wedding night, and a husband has been “defrauded of what was rightfully his” by the same token. Because obviously, making his bride bleed on their first night together is what every dude should aspire to as his God-given duty, and killing her if that doesn’t happen is the next natural, logical step. And her father should totally approve of this arrangement.
That is one horrible father. So, sorry, and you can call me a feminist for wanting the value of a woman’s life to lie somewhere above the value of a tricky little medical membrane, but you failed to convince me that I should be seeking out that kind of “protection” — either from such a father or such a husband.