Womanist Interpretation of Judges 19-21
Koala Jones-Warsaw’s womanist interpretation of Judges 19-21 draws upon the complex social dynamics that black women experience in their everyday lives, focusing on the intersectionality of gender, class, and race. Jones-Warsaw asserts that womanist hermeneutics unearths the “significance and validity of the biblical text for black women who today experience the ‘tridimensional reality’ of racism, sexism, and classism.”She analyses Judges 19-21, she analyzes the text from the viewpoints of four main characters to portray the social experience of black women: (1) the concubine, (2) the father-in-law, (3) the Benjaminites, and (4) the Levite.
First, Jones-Warsaw argues that the concubine in Judges 19-21 represents the self-dismemberment that black women must experience for social acceptance.Similar to the concubine, black women are at the bottom of the social ladder.Society imposes the beauty and goodness standards of white, middle-class women on black women. Black women must assimilate white male behavior for societal acceptance and ascension up the social ladder.Pursuing this goal of acceptance leads black women to dissociate from themselves by separating their femaleness from their blackness.As Jones-Warsaw explains:
“We are constantly being required to cut off pieces of ourselves—white feminists ask us to downplay our concerns for racism in order to support the battle for equality for women; black men ask us downplay our concerns for sexism in order to support the battle of racial equality.”
However, as Jones-Warsaw affirms, black women only attain liberation through the unification of both their female and black identity. Dismemberment of race and gender reinforces the status quo of social acceptance.
Second, according to Jones-Warsaw’s womanist interpretation, in Judges 19-21 the father-in-law represents the manipulation that black women must use to survive in hegemonic society. This process stifles their own, holistic identities.They are like the father-in-law who has no direct power over deciding the fate of his daughter. For instance, he uses the weapon of manipulative speech to avert the son-in-law’s actions.Jones-Warsaw explains that “such manipulation has been recognized as one of the few weapons which oppressed persons have had against the oppressor.”However, continual deception threatens to change the deceiver into the image of those in power. No longer does she have a voice, but she reinforces the voice of oppressive forces.Similarly, black women’s tactic of manipulation aids in their social, but also ensures that they remain unliberated as black women.
Third, according to in Jones-Warsaw’s interpretation of Judges 19-21, the Benjaminites capture the complexities that black women face in maintaining racial solidarity. They sacrifice their voices for the voice of the collective black community.The Benjaminites’ refusal to surrender guilty individuals to the Israelites leads to the near destruction of the tribe.Similarly, black women face the choice of maintaining racial solidarity or speaking out against injustice irrespective of the perpetrator’s race.The backlash from both black men and women against Anita Hill’s public exposure of Clarence Thomas’ sexism illustrates the negative consequences black women face when they speak out against black men in positions of power.The status quo within the black community requires black women to hide faults of prominent black men, for often they fear that white hegemonic scrutiny will tarnish the ability of black men to represent their race with authority.This aversion destroys the significance of black women’s voices. Like the Benjaminites in Judges, black women choose to stifle their voices in favor of racial solidarity and survival.
Fourth and finally, the Levite represents the need for black women to retell their stories carefully so that others are unable to appropriate them. Just as the Levite shares specific elements of his story to benefit his cause, white people and feminists appropriate elements of black women’s stories to serve their agendas. The fragmented elements create caricatures of black women that are different from their story. Jones maintains that such fragmentation earns a sympathetic hearing from those in power, but it ultimately serves to stifle the unique voices of black women.
In conclusion, Judges 19-21 mirrors the societal experience of black women. The concubine represents the dismemberment of black women from their identity for social acceptance. The father-in-law represents the manipulation that black women use for survival. The Benjaminites represent the silence of black women towards injustice within their own race to maintain racial solidarity. The Levite represents the necessity of full disclosure of black women’s stories to avoid appropriation for oppressive gain. Each of these characters uncover the survival tactics that black women use to face their tridimensional oppression of racism, sexism, and classism. These survival tactics ultimately keep black women from experiencing liberation in hegemonic society. Overall, the four characters represent the struggle of black women holistically.
Koala Jones-Warsaw, “Towards a Womanist Hermeneutic: A Reading of Judges 19-21,” in Feminist Companion to Judges, ed. Athalya Brenner (Sheffield, England: JSOT Press, 1993), 182.