Vince Skolny takes a closer look at the idiotic rape comments made by Pennsylvania Senate candidate Tom Smith earlier this week, which have added another nail to the self-made GOP coffin.
If you have been to a wedding, you’ve likely heard the question: Who gives this woman to this man?
It is so steeped in the cultural customs surrounding weddings—the white gown, giving away the bride, dancing with Daddy at the reception—that the force of the question, and its answer (her Father) are lost on us. Lost, until someone like Tom Smith comes along to remind us.
Smith is a Tea Party-endorsed Republican Senate candidate from Pennsylvania, who, almost amazingly, equated accidental pregnancy resulting from sex “out of wedlock” to pregnancy resulting from rape. While there has been justifiable outrage over Smith’s comment, which many believe diminished the seriousness of sexual assault against women, the outrage is misguided and confused. Much of the outrage appears to be based on Smith assigning rapists paternal rights, but that is not what he is doing. Smith is equating the rapist’s and the consensual partner’s sex with a woman as having similar effects on her father.
This is not ignorance. It is rank misogyny. He views both rape of and premarital sex with his daughter as having similar effects on him.
That returns us to the wedding question: Who gives this woman to this man? Of course, the answer is her father. The man who owns her and is giving her, by agreement, as a virgin (remember the gown), to another man. Only that man, the rightful recipient of Daddy’s property, has the right to access her. Without that permission, sex is a violation…of the father. Whether a female is having consensual sex or being raped, the relevant question for Tom Smith and his ilk has nothing to do with the woman’s discretion over her own body as opposed to crimes against her person.
The question is, what effect does it have on her Father, the man who presently owns her?
Am I being outrageous? Smith’s words would prove otherwise (all emphases added):
MARK SCOLFORO, ASSOCIATED PRESS: How would you tell a daughter or a granddaughter who, God forbid, would be the victim of a rape, to keep the child against her own will? Do you have a way to explain that?
TOM SMITH: I lived something similar to that with my own family. She chose life, and I commend her for that. She knew my views. But, fortunately for me, I didn’t have to…she chose they way I thought. Now don’t get me wrong, it wasn’t rape.
SCOLFORO: Similar how?
SMITH: Uh, having a baby out of wedlock.
SCOLFORO: That’s similar to rape?
SMITH: No, no, no, but…put yourself in a father’s situation, yes. It is similar.
First, we should note the question Smith is actually answering. The question was not, “How can a father (of the fetus) have no say in the decision?” The question was, how could a father tell a daughter or granddaughter to keep a child of rape against her will? That is the similar situation Tom Smith was in. His daughter or granddaughter was impregnated “out of wedlock” (dare we say “knocked up?”), which put him in a similar position.
His answer had nothing to do with a rapists’ paternal rights. It had everything to do with a father’s property rights.
Second, we should each be asking what is behind that ellipsis? What didn’t Tom Smith have to do? Forbid her from having an abortion? Forcibly prevent an abortion? What would he have had to do if she had not “chose[n] the way [he] thought?” We don’t know, but Tom Smith would have had to do something.
Why? Because the effect on Tom Smith was similar to rape. His property had been violated. The truth of our sentiments always follows the “buts” in our statements and the truth is that for Tom Smith, the woman’s father is in a similar position whether his daughter was violated or allowed herself to be violated: “but…put yourself in a father’s situation, yes. It is similar.”
Is Tom Smith part of a misogynistic minority? Happily, yes. But not so happily, he is a misogynistic minority that grows out of a rich American misogynistic social soil.
Note that it’s typically a clergy member who asks, “Who gives this woman to this man?” As are the virginal white dress and the “giving” of the bride, Tom Smith’s misogyny, his belief that his daughter’s rape effects him similarly to her consensual sex, is deeply rooted in the American Civil Religion and its Puritanical tradition.
This is why it doesn’t matter (as some feminists and many sensible mainstream Christians claim it does) that the Bible never explicitly condemns abortion. The deeper issue, the issue germane to gender roles, is the Bible’s consistent declarations that women (daughters and wives) are the property of men (fathers and husbands).
This article is not intended to fuel a religious debate on how to “interpret” the bible, but the echoes of Tom Smith and the misogynistic American society in these passages are deafening.
The penalty for abortion: “When people who are fighting injure a pregnant woman so that there is a miscarriage, and yet no further harm follows, the one responsible shall be fined what the woman’s husband demands, paying as much as the judges determine.” (Exodus 21:22)
Violations for rape and fornication: “If a man takes a wife and, after sleeping with her, dislikes her and slanders her and gives her a bad name, saying, “I married this woman, but when I approached her, I did not find proof of her virginity,” then the young woman’s father and mother shall bring to the town elders at the gate proof that she was a virgin. Her father will say to the elders, “I gave my daughter in marriage to this man, but he dislikes her. Now he has slandered her and said, ‘I did not find your daughter to be a virgin.’ But here is the proof of my daughter’s virginity.” Then her parents shall display the cloth before the elders of the town, and the elders shall take the man and punish him. They shall fine him a hundred shekels of silver and give them to the young woman’s father, because this man has given an Israelite virgin a bad name. She shall continue to be his wife; he must not divorce her as long as he lives.
If, however, the charge is true and no proof of the young woman’s virginity can be found, she shall be brought to the door of her father’s house and there the men of her town shall stone her to death. She has done an outrageous thing in Israel by being promiscuous while still in her father’s house. (Exodus 22:13-21)
The woman had it coming: “If a man happens to meet in a town a virgin pledged to be married and he sleeps with her, you shall take both of them to the gate of that town and stone them to death—the young woman because she was in a town and did not scream for help, and the man because he violated another man’s wife. You must purge the evil from among you.
But if out in the country a man happens to meet a young woman pledged to be married and rapes her, only the man who has done this shall die. Do nothing to the woman; she has committed no sin deserving death. This case is like that of someone who attacks and murders a neighbor, for the man found the young woman out in the country, and though the betrothed woman screamed, there was no one to rescue her.
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.” (Exodus 22:22-29).
We can see that Tom Smith’s views clearly reflect these biblical passages: The woman is culpable for premarital sex, and sometimes for rape, but her father or husband is the real victim. If we are going to condemn Tom Smith (as we should), we must also condemn the cultural roots that sprouted him and others like him.
Imagine the outrage when the minister intoned the question, if the bride were to answer for herself, “I give myself to this man, as I’ve given myself to every man before him.” Until that is the expected and unshocking answer to the question, “Who gives this woman to this man,” established gender roles have far to go.
Misogynistic gender roles are deeply rooted in the American culture and, as all weeds, they must be removed root and all.
Vince Skolny possesses a fierce passion for the individual and advocates an egalitarian society rooted in an absolute respect for authentic personhood, individual autonomy, personal alignment. Vince is the Founding Chair of the Skolny Family Organization, which is an entrepreneurial, venture marketing company that exists to impact the world by creating Greatness Through the Individual at the nexus of business and social impact.