Someone told me recently that I sound bitter in this blog. I took a short break to think about how I can make feminist points that may at times reflect frustration, anger or plain surprise without having the public think I’m a ranting extremist bra-burning feminist. (I like my bras thank you very much). On the other hand I see no reason to trade in my express loud feminist boom for the sweet, barely audible, nice- Jewish girl’s voice I used most of my school days.

Beyond the rhetoric, I do want to convey to my readers the nuanced voice of good scholarship and luckily the Gemarah is quite a nuanced book. Of course this may mean that my posts are a bit longer...

Yesterday’s daf brought up the topic of women’s role in rape. The bible itself makes a point of saying that an engaged woman who is forced into sex is not guilty of adultery, a distinction the Bible makes seemingly in contrast to other societies it knows. Hence the woman’s desire and/ or consent is the deciding factor as to whether the sex is considered rape or adultery, which would result in capital punishment at worst or at best in being forbidden to return to her husband.

So if the woman’s feelings during the rape determines the identity of the act, this might seem quite women focused. Not quite. R. Abahu, the first voice in this discussion, worries that a rape victim may have enjoyed part of sex, even if the beginning was against her will, therefore all victims of rape may not return to their husbands. The burden of proof is on the woman to scream out for help from beginning to end. And without such proof, he assumes that the physical act of sex is likely to bring pleasure to the woman.

It is nothing new that the Gemarah attempts to come to a conclusion based on statistics without taking an interview with the individual women whose life and marriage is at stake. Of course I would have to agree with the Gemarah that such a woman is partial and may choose to lie if she indeed felt desire or pleasure during the rape. She wouldn’t want to be forbidden from returning to her previous marriage and even within that marriage she probably would have a hard time speaking openly to her husband about this extramarital sexual experience. However in this vacuum of her forced and traumatic state of mute, the assumptions of women’s experience of sex are determined by the Rabbi’s imagination about women’s sexuality.

Do some women feel bodily pleasure during rape? Is that measurable? Do some women orgasm during rape? We discussed this at great length here at Matan. Mot women did not think that women feel pleasure during rape. Maybe I’m going out on an essentialist limb here, but my gut reaction is that sexual feelings may be more psychological for women. Only a phallic man would assume that a woman being raped will be likely to feel pleasure.

But more importantly a woman should not feel guilt (emotional or actually meted out through punishment) for feelings evoked by the violent act of another! Rava (our feminist hero for the daf- sort of) counters R Abahu and says even if a women says I want to hire the rapist and pay him for him to continue- meaning she desires him and consents- she is not held responsible. If the beginning was rape the entire act is rape.

While Rava uses the most extreme case he can imagine, one where the woman falls in love with the rapist, clearly his statement also exonerates the woman who resists at the beginning and resigns herself, stopping to struggle during the rape. He does not require visual proof from start to finish that every moment of the act was rape and not consensual.

This issue was eerily echoed in a Shabbat meal this past week. A group of women were discussing their own living nightmares about how they would react if they were attacked. Almost all these women said they would not struggle, they would given in keep quiet and hope the man wouldn’t kill her when he was done. Let me note these were not meek women. These women would all be misunderstood by R. Abahu who doesn’t understand the complicated network of reasons that silence and paralyze women).

One woman at our Shabbat table had been to a self defense class. She explained that one should yell and resist from start to finish. If the rapist isn’t allowed to ever feel in total control then you are more likely to get away. You don’t want to be waiting passively to find out what will happen at the end. Surprisingly, unbeknownst to R. Abahu, by requiring women to resist loudly to prove that she is not consenting, he is in fact describing the self defense of the moderns- not how to defend yourself in court after the fact, but during the rape itself.

This is a very touchy and complicated issue and I hope to learn more as the dapim march on.

Leave a Reply.