I was disappointed that in the Lectionary readings, the awful story of the Levite and his concubine (Judges 19-20) was omitted. It tells of how he found shelter for the night in Gibeah, and the men of the city called for him so they could have sex with him. But his host offered his own virgin daughter and the concubine instead (since the other would have been’a disgraceful thing’). The Benjaminite men of Gibeah raped the concubine and left her for dead in the doorway of the house. She was dead by the time the Levite got home, so he cut her up into 12 parts and sent them to the tribal areas of Israel in ‘outrage’.
It’s one of the Texts of Terror studied by Phyllis Trible, and it chills one to the marrow, but it’s worth remembering at a time when rape is in the news again. Women are treated as things, to be violated and discarded at will. The aftermath is not much better (Judges 21): revenge was taken upon the tribe of Benjamin, leaving them with not enough wives to survive. So they were allowed to seize girls dancing in an outdoor festival in Shiloh and carry them off to be their wives.
When self-preservation is difficult, there is little enough chance for self-determination. Anita Diamant, in The Red Tent, pictured Hebrew women in the age of the Patriarchs (Rebecca, Leah, Rachel, Dinah etc) finding seclusion, rest, female company and a break from the men each month in their segregation through the taboos about blood. Aborginal women apparently form communities called jimili where single women, widows and wives who need a holiday can go to enjoy much the same kind of thing.
And apparently, Saudi Arabia is setting up women-only cities, ostensibly to increase female employment in a culture where normal working alongside men is largely impossible. It sounds good to me – not a ghetto but a refuge, and somewhere that women might, just might, flourish if they are left to themselves.