Regarding Daughters and Sisters
Ever since I was a boy, long before I had a wife and daughters, I have always thought and keenly felt that rape is a capital offense, a crime worse even than murder. For the rapist, says the book of Deuteronomy, “death by stoning.” It has never seemed to me too cruel or excessive a punishment.
No one taught me to feel this way; indeed, I am sure I never discussed such topics with anyone until well after I was a family man. Though it seems incredible in these shameless times, nice people 40 or even 30 years ago did not talk much about sex in any form, let alone chatter away in lurid detail about rape, incest, or sodomy. A certain decorousness prevailed, both in deed and in speech, at the center of which was a high regard for womanly modesty, itself an inarticulate yet profound tribute to the awesome procreative power central to the silent mystery of womanliness. Paradoxically, the very sense of shame that inhibited explicit speech about sex silently taught us the enormity of the crime of rape.
About the Author
Leon R. Kass, the Hertog fellow at the American Enterprise Institute and professor in the Committee on Social Thought at the University of Chicago, served from 2001 through 2005 as chairman of the President’s Council on Bioethics. In somewhat different form, this essay will appear in a volume on religion and the American future to be published later this year by the American Enterprise Institute.