“Now Dinah the daughter of Leah, whom she had borne to Jacob, went out to see the daughters of the land. And when Shechem the son of Hamor the Hivite, prince of the country, saw her, he took her and lay with her, and violated her”—Genesis 34:1-2 (NKJV).
Since we live in a patriarchal and sexist society, a woman’s worth is oftentimes defined by her proximity to or relationship with a man. That is why when someone wants to insult a woman, they talk about her singleness or her fatherlessness because her worth is determined by if she’s been chosen by a man or if there is a paternal presence in her life. To insult women, people may say things like, “That’s why you’re still single. That’s why nobody wants you. That’s why your daddy left,” because women’s worth is minimized to how men or a specific man, like a father, value her.
This issue of value or worth is extremely important because most of the time, we, girls and women, internalize these toxic and false notions of what it means to be worthy and valuable. As a result, some of us never truly grasp our true worth and value, but instead, place our value in trivial things. Some attribute their value to how their father views them. This can be positive or negative because all fathers are not emotionally and mentally healthy. Some think their value lies in their beauty or body. Some women even think their value is determined by their skin color or proximity to whiteness. Women even deem themselves to be more valuable if they hold onto their virginity before marriage. These are a few ways women wrongly determine their worth and value. And these wrong ways of thinking lead some women to place themselves on the upper echelons of a hierarchy of women. This manifests as women putting down other women because “she slept with so many people,” or “she is a single mom,” or “she is single at 40,” and the list can go on and on.
In the dating arena, the idea of a person being “damaged goods” is very prevalent. When this term is used for women, many times people mean, the woman has had such a negative history with men that she may act out in certain ways or she may have walls up. It can mean she has an extensive sexual history. It can also mean that a woman has an attitude that many men don’t find appealing. There are so many definitions of what it means when someone says a woman is “damaged goods.” Many times, it means the woman has experienced trauma or abuse, and people are not willing to look past it.
In Genesis 34, we meet a woman who would be considered “damaged goods.” Dinah was the daughter of Jacob and Leah. She wanted to go out one day and visit the daughters of the land, and the Bible says that a man named Shechem saw her, wanted her, accosted her, and raped her. Now, the entire chapter deals with this story. Shechem and his father try to make a deal with Jacob and his sons to marry Dinah, but ultimately Dinah’s brothers take revenge on the Shechem, his father and the men of the land by killing them because their sister was violated.
Now, I’ve never heard this text preached in a pulpit in my almost 20 years of ministry. However, I know that the first question that many people would ask when approaching this text is why did Dinah leave the safety of her family to visit the daughters of the land, thus placing the blame of her rape on her. It’s the same reason why after a girl or a woman is violated people ask, “Why didn’t you scream? Why did you go to the club? Why did you wear that? Why didn’t you say anything? Why didn’t you tell him to stop?” The onus of the assault or violation is almost always placed on the victim. You can’t even debate me on this point because we’ve seen this play out in society time and time again. The blame and shame are oftentimes placed on girls and women, and if they don’t know their worth and value, they will internalize what’s happened to them and they will carry the label of “damaged goods.” The girl or woman won’t think she’s worthy of good things and good relationships because of what’s happened to her.
I have been very transparent about the abuses I’ve suffered in my life. Honestly, I used to label myself as damaged goods as a result. I grew up with a single mother. I didn’t know or meet my biological father until I was a teenager. I was sexually molested at 14. I didn’t realize it at the time, but I was also molested by a dentist as a teenager. He rubbed my breast with his arm as he worked on my teeth. I’ve been sexually harassed at work. As a high school student on my first job, an adult male threw himself against my behind as I bent over in the storage room to pick up crates. I was physically attacked by a man whom I dated for a couple of months. And I’ve been verbally and emotionally abused by my biological father. One Sunday he drove two hours to my church to bad mouth me to my pastor by saying I was a “false prophet” and should not be ordained. Thankfully, my pastor recognized the threat and had security usher me to safety when I arrived at church. I have voicemails and screenshots from my biological father today of him bashing me because I chose to protect my own heart and sanity from his emotional and verbal abuse. As a result of all of this trauma in my life, I used to believe I was “damaged goods.”
I spent most of my 20s allowing the Lord (through prayer, reflection and counseling) to heal me of that negative way of thinking. I know now that I, like many other girls and women, was living life petal open, as Zora Neale Hurston would say, when men like Shechem when he saw Dinah, saw me and decided they would do whatever they wanted to me. It took me years to realize that these incidences weren’t my fault. Those people had/have issues that had/have nothing to do with me. I was just the person in their pathway. I am sharing all of this again because I want you to know that if similar things happened to you, it wasn’t your fault, and you’re not damaged goods. Your worth and value do not lie in what people do to you. You are worthy and valuable because God says so. You’re God’s fearfully and wonderfully made daughter – no matter how people have tried to devalue and demean you. Your Heavenly Father sent His son to die for you because He loved you that much. God’s Holy Spirit lives in you. That’s how sacred you are despite what’s happened to you.
I’m also being transparent again because I want one of my abusers (who stalks my social media and blog) to know that his insults don’t hurt me anymore.
And I know I’m really talking to the devil because of how God wants to use me, but…
You tried to devalue me, defame me, break me, hurt me, and you know what? I’m still here. You wanted me stripped of my title in the church? I’m still Reverend. I’m still called. And the funny thing is I’m the illegitimate child. God called the illegitimate child to carry the paternal family legacy of ministry. How about that? I’m still serving. I’m still anointed. You know why? Because GOD SAYS SO. The faith and confidence I have today didn’t come from you, and you can’t take it away. You can’t shame me because God is using my story and testimony to heal other women.
So young girl, young lady, be encouraged. You’re not damaged goods. You are worthy. You are valuable. It doesn’t matter what you’ve done or what has happened to you. God can redeem it all. Trust God. Have faith in God. God will enable you, too, to stand confident and assured.
2 Replies to “Damaged Goods? A Woman’s Worth”
This ancient story is very odd in many ways, all I could find was society was very sexist back than and a man was considered the owner of a woman’s virginity. The original language just says Dinah was “defiled” which also meant sex before marriage and some scholars take this to mean she was “seduced”, but no one really knows and the story never lets Dinah give her thoughts on anything.
Her brothers primary concern instead appears to be how the “Sister being treated like a harlot” affects their family’s reputation rather than Dinah herself. And they used the attack to rape and capture the women of Shechem, in other words, used the violence against a woman as justification to bring more violence against women that had nothing to do with their sister’s assault.
Arguably the most problematic thing is that Dinah’s voice is never heard, all we get is her brother, her assaulter, and her father’s voices, but never her own! At least Jacob condemned the brother’s actions, but we never get this thoughts on Dinah’s distress. Dinah’s story needs to be told.
Thanks for this insight! Blessings!