The Value of Women

The Star (St. Lucia) - - LOCAL - By Michael Walker

Juliet, as in Romeo and Juliet, was thir­teen at the time she was im­mor­tal­ized by Shake­speare; of that there is no doubt be­cause Shake­speare told us so, but how old, then, was Romeo? We are not told, but he was prob­a­bly older be­cause girls of that age pre­fer older men, or boys. And any­way, girls are much more ma­ture than boys in their early teens, don't you think?

But that's not really the point, is it? There is some­thing called the ‘Age of Con­sent' when, sup­pos­edly, young peo­ple are ready for sex and, pre­sum­ably, well pre­pared to face the con­se­quences of a roll in the gut­ter or a romp in the back seat, and nine months later ac­cept the re­spon­si­bil­i­ties of car­ing for a new life in this world.

The age of con­sent eas­ily be­comes a moral is­sue for some but, then again, moral­ity is really a ques­tion of geography; in some coun­tries, con­sent is not re­quired; young peo­ple are bought and sold, traded if you like, when­ever their par­ents or guardians think fit.

Pop down to Borde­lais on any given day and wan­der around and you'll be sure to bump into quite a few in­mates who are whiling their lives away af­ter hav­ing had sex with un­der-age girls. Now, if a 42-year-old has con­sen­sual sex with a 12-year-old girl he can end up in the slam­mer, but if, just eight years on, the 50-year-old man he has now be­come has a re­la­tion­ship with a 20-year-old woman, then his bud­dies will all con­sider him quite a MAN. It helps, of course, if he is a pil­lar of so­ci­ety or a per­son in power.

The same might be true of a 50-year-old woman who finds her­self in a very sat­is­fy­ing re­la­tion­ship with a 20-year–old man. Thirty years is an im­pres­sive age gap in any re­la­tion­ship, but what about 45 or 50 years? Can a 25-year-old and a 75-year-old really find mu­tual at­trac­tion and sat­is­fac­tion of any and ev­ery kind?

Well, it worked for Char­lie Chap­lain! Chap­lin was 54 years old and Oona was 18 years old when they mar­ried in 1943. The couple had eight chil­dren to­gether. The youngest was born when Char­lie was 73 years old. Oona and Char­lie re­mained to­gether un­til his death on Christ­mas Day in 1977, prov­ing, I think, that if it is con­sen­sual and what they both want, why not?

Of course, if it is a ques­tion of force, of rape, most of us would pub­licly de­nounce it, I sup­pose. But as of 2006, you might be sur­prised to learn, there were still 53 coun­tries in the world – that's about one in ev­ery four – that did not rec­og­nize rape within a mar­riage; the woman was the man's property to be used as he wished. It even took Ger­many un­til 1997 to cre­ate a cat­e­gory of mar­i­tal rape. The hus­band had com­plete con­trol over his wife's sex­u­al­ity. She was his chat­tel.

His­tor­i­cally, women have been the property of men, most of­ten their fa­thers, broth­ers or hus­bands. Rape came un­der the head­ing of violence against property in many le­gal regimes, which meant that the vic­tim was not the woman who was raped, but the male who owned her. Amaz­ingly, the rem­edy for rape was the trans­fer of own­er­ship in which the rapist paid the “bride price” to the fa­ther or brother and she be­came the rapist's property.

For many who seek the truth in the Bible, the truth is there to be found. Deuteron­omy tells us in 22: 28-29 that the an­cient He­brews had no quar­rel with this ar­range­ment: “If a man meets a vir­gin who is not be­trothed, and seizes her and lies with her, and they are found, then the man who lay with her shall give to the fa­ther of the young woman fifty shekels of sil­ver, and she shall be his wife.”

I won­der about the phrase “and they are found”; did that mean that if the woman kept quiet about it noth­ing ever hap­pened? If so, she was set­ting one hel­luva prece­dent! You see, rap­ing a woman who did not be­long to any man was not con­sid­ered a crime at all. It was like pick­ing up a lost coin from the dirt.

In June 1972, Werner Braun, a Ger­man liv­ing in Ire­land, sued Stan­ley Roche for "de­bauch­ing" his wife Heidi at var­i­ous lo­ca­tions. Werner told Dublin's High Court that he'd been tipped off about the af­fair in an anony­mous Christ­mas card that ac­cused him of "pimp­ing" his wife. At one point the an­gry hus­band had "struck" his wife in a row over her af­fair. On hear­ing this, the judge re­marked, "No man of spirit would have done oth­er­wise."

Award­ing Werner £12,000 in dam­ages for what was deemed the theft of his wife, the judge pointed out: "In this coun­try a wife is re­garded as a chat­tel, just as a thor­ough­bred mare or cow, and the jury is con­cerned merely with com­pen­sat­ing Mr. Braun for the value of the loss of his wife and the dam­ages to his feel­ings."

Chang­ing the cli­mate of re­spect be­tween men and women is not just a mat­ter of a de­gree or two, it is go­ing to take a mas­sive ef­fort and com­mit­ment in all seg­ments of global so­ci­ety to erad­i­cate the ef­fects of mil­len­nia of abuse.

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