Who can I rape today, to make the angels rejoice?
This month I have, as one does, found myself singing a few carols. Love ‘em or hate ‘em, they’re a seasonal fixture for any singer. On the whole it’s not a bad thing: some pretty tunes, a lot of nostalgia, and occasionally something with musical interest. Though of course it becomes really nasty when muzaked through a sound system into a public place.
One of these was a new setting of the words of “the angel gabriel”. Unfortunately the setting is about as dreary as they come, and being slower than the well-known tune, I couldn’t help noticing those words. Glad tidings of …. well, of the Droit du Seigneur. The right of the feudal lord to first claim on a new bride’s virginity. I can’t claim to know the history of such rights, beyond the fact that Enlightenment artists like Mozart and da Ponte took the p*** out of it wickedly, and their 18th century audiences would presumably have known what they were talking about – just as a modern audience understands about slavery or Harper Lee’s Mockingbird.
Is the Droit du Seigneur in fact a form of rape? By modern standards, there can be little doubt. Rape no longer implies violence or even coercion: rather the definition centres on a notion of consent. A notion fraught with such difficulties as to raise questions over whether consent can exist if a woman is too drunk to know what she’s doing, or is mentally disturbed. But I think the Droit du Seigneur looks much more clear-cut: where there is compulsion, there cannot be valid consent. So when the carol says:
Then gentle Mary meekly bowed her head
To Him be as it pleaseth God she said
she is – in modern terms – merely paying her taxes with good grace. The alternative of struggling vainly against the inevitable would be akin to mounting a legal challenge to your tax bill: futile and self-destructive.
OK, the Christmas story is a Droit du Seigneur, which is in turn a pretty clear case of rape in today’s terms. And we celebrate it unthinkingly. One silly carol may be negligible, but the whole culture surrounding it is not. We all know this story. We teach it to our children from infancy, so by the time they grow old enough to understand or question it, it’s become second nature to them: so deeply rooted that they wouldn’t think to examine it, regardless of whether they believe in christianity, or in any part of the christmas story as historical.
Much of the world is celebrating rape today, and the angels are rejoicing.
 Bear in mind that Virgin Birth was perfectly common in biblical times. It was only much later that the word Virgin took on its modern meaning precluding the sexual act.
 Could a man being similarly drunk or disturbed work as a defence?