We know Jacob was not just the father of boys. After the list of all the sons born to Leah, as an afterthought the birth of Dinah is mentioned (Gen. 30:21). We can only wonder how many other daughters who were born to patriarchs have remained invisible or only mentioned in passing (Gen. 46:15).
Throughout the entire biblical story, Dinah remains the object; she is never granted subjectivity. Her voice, her concerns, her pains, her emotions, her frustrations are never articulated. In the midst of her abuse, she never says a word; for we know if the subaltern was to speak, she would be ignored, ridiculed, dismissed and erased. In effect, her testimony remains unheard. No doubt her abusers would insist she would never be their first choice — she is too ugly to even be worthy of sexual assault. You can imagine her abuser saying: “When you look at that horrible woman …. I don’t think so! I don’t think so!” All that matters, and all we hear throughout the biblical narrative, is how her abused body, as object, prompts the men in the story.
Dinah transgresses boundaries and borders, venturing outside her father’s home to visit other women of the region. This is a cautionary tale of a woman who leaves the safety of her domestic domain for the wider public domain of men. From the start, the storyteller seems to set up Dinah to share in the blame for what is about to befall her, for venturing outside her father’s domain without a proper chaperone. Unescorted, Dinah catches the eye of one of king’s sons, Shechem.
Shechem, due to his privilege, due to his celebrity status, due to his wealth, is entitled to any woman he wants. It matters not if she is married — he can still “move on her,” he can still “fall on her like a b*tch.” The privilege of being a star means Shechem can comment on her new “big phoney t*ts” and/or pop two Tic-Tacs into his mouth and just “start kissing her.” Shechem doesn’t have to “even wait, [because] when you’re a star, they let you do it, you can do anything.”
Shechem gazed on Dinah and falling in lust with her “grabbed her by the p*ssy.” Dinah might have been sexually abused by Shechem, but she was emotionally and spiritually raped by the males within her own family, as well as by today’s scholars and ministers who continue to either ignore her story or perpetuate her as the object of the story; scholars, like Lyn Bechtel who argues no rape occurred, that this was simply a case of a mutual sexual encounter (“What if Dinah Is Not Raped (Genesis 34),” Journal for the Study of the Old Testament, Vo. 62 (June, 1994): 19-36). After all, as we are told, “they let you do it, you can do anything.”
When political leaders, more concerned with controlling Congress, play verbal gymnastics to maintain seats, they too participate in the emotional rape of Dinah. When religious leaders, more concerned with gaining political power, continue to support someone who brags about sexual assault, they too participate in the spiritual rape of Dinah. Shechem and company may do the actual grabbing, but their political and religious apologists share in participating in the abuse of all the Dinahs.
We know sexual predators, specifically rapists, are usually motivated by strong negative emotions like hate, anger or revenge, not sexual libido. Sexually demeaning women is a desire to demonstrate power over the victim, a power achieved through the victim’s humiliation and domination. Should we be surprised when the one politically advocating xenophobia (ironically calling Mexicans rapists) and Islamophobia (calling for a religious test to enter the U.S.) is also a misogynist? The treatment of women becomes the standard on how other groups are viewed. If the rape of the female body becomes the prerequisite of raping other cultures, then maybe all liberationist movements must begin with standing in solidarity with the used, misused and abused bodies of women broken over the prevalent sexism that has always existed under the surface of political correction, but whose mask has been torn off in the rush to defend Shechem.
To defend Shechem requires erasing Dinah’s voice. Shechem explains and justifies his actions by confusing love for lust. Others erase the woman’s voice by offering non-apologies to anyone who might have been offended, normalizing the abuse by pointing to other sexual predators, and dismissing sexual abuse as simply locker-room banter. “This was locker room banter, a private conversation that took place many years ago. Bill Clinton has said far worse to me on the golf course — not even close. I apologize if anyone was offended.”
Shechem begs his father, King Hamor, to obtain the girl for him. So the king approached Dinah’s father, Jacob, to barter for the sexually abused victim. Regardless as to how intelligent or capable one’s daughter might be, what matters is Jacob’s acquiescence of her just being a “piece of ass.” Reduced to a body part, Dinah is offered up to be appropriated. It matters not if she is abused in the workplace, a preferential option is offered to perpetrators of office sexual harassment. “I would like to think [my own daughter] would find another career or find another company if [sexual harassment] was the case.” Victims of predatory sexual advances or rape, then as now, continue to be held culpable and responsible. If Dinah is sexually harassed at work, it is she who must leave, quit, obtain another career. Whether she can afford to or not is irrelevant. She is the one invading the man’s space and thus it is she who should retreat.
According to the biblical text, the true victim of rape was not the virgin girl but her father — the man. The real victims are the men who in the face of multiple allegations and, let’s not forget, bragging about sexual assault, insist on being the true victim. What is to be done concerning Dinah’s body, or the bodies of women, is a political decision. They must be erased from the story to advance the interests of men and some women more concerned with increasing political power. For Jacob, it was an opportunity to create a profitable alliance with powerful families. For today’s religious leaders supporting sexual predators, it is the false hope of regaining a 1980s relevance.
There was a time when religious leaders insisted the morality of political leaders was important, who insisted on the importance of virtues. The religious voice serving as conscience of this nation is rapidly proving irrelevant because we have bartered away Dinah’s humanity for a say on who will be appointed to the Supreme Court. We have traded our calling for a bowl of pottage.
This article was edited in the fifth paragraph to correct the Genesis reference to chapter 34.