Watchtower's View of Women
Jehovah's Witnesses are a patriarchal society where women are to view men as their head. Only males are permitted to hold positions of responsibility and teaching in the congregation. Watchtower continues to portray sisters with the demeaning viewpoint of "belonging in the kitchen."
If you are a female Jehovah's Witness, your self worth is being diminished by Watchtower’s view of women. Being aware of this will help you avoid undervaluing your abilities, and be alert to sexist men using such views to victimise you on the basis of your gender. The results of a misogynistic, male dominated religion can be tragic, with three areas particularly worthy of consideration; domestic violence, child abuse and rape.
The Headship Arrangement
Watchtower strictly follows selective Bible advice on the role of females. Paul's comment that “The head of a woman is the man” (1 Cor 11:3) forms the foundation for the headship arrangement, underlying the position of women in the congregation and in marriage.
The May 15 2010 Watchtower describes the headship arrangement as "orderly," of "divine origin," and to be considered "a privilege and a joy."
"Women, Why Submit to Headship? ...
Why is the headship arrangement in marriage beneficial? The headship arrangement is of divine origin. After Adam was created, Jehovah God went on to say: “It is not good for the man to continue by himself. I am going to make a helper for him, ...
... You wives, be in subjection to your own husbands, in order that, if any are not obedient to the word, they may be won without a word through the conduct of their wives, because of having been eyewitnesses of your chaste conduct together with deep respect.”—1 Pet. 3:1, 2." Watchtower 2010 May Study Edition pages 12-17.
Click for scans of page 12, page 13, page 14, page 15, page 16.
In 2022, it was recommended that due to men being imperfect, a woman's happiness depended on her spirituality, being submissive, patient, generous and carefully choosing a spiritual husband.
"Tuesday, July 26 The head of a woman is the man. —1 Cor. 11:3.
All Christians come under the perfect headship of Jesus Christ. However, when a Christian woman gets married, she comes under the headship of an imperfect man. That can present a challenge. So when considering a potential marriage mate, she would do well to ask herself: ‘What indication do I have that this brother will be a good family head? Do spiritual activities play an important role in his life? If not, what makes me think that he will be a good spiritual head after we get married?’ Of course, a sister also does well to ask herself: ‘What qualities will I bring to the marriage? Am I patient and generous? Do I have a strong relationship with Jehovah?’ (Eccl. 4:9, 12) The level of happiness a wife will experience in her marriage will depend to some extent on the decisions she makes be- fore getting married. Millions of our Christian sisters set an excellent example in being submissive to their husband. They are to be commended! w21.02 8 1-2" Examining the Scriptures Daily 2022
Positions of Leadership
All leadership roles within Jehovah's Witnesses are filled by men. Sisters fill only the very bottom position of the organisational hierarchy. The most senior position for women is that of pioneer, and whilst presented as a privilege is really just a sales role utilising free labour to grow the religion.
Watchtower leaders have disturbingly expressed that women are less capable than men. Samuel Herd, who went on to become a member of the Governing Body, justified female subjection on the basis that their smaller brain size makes them less intelligent.
"You know, scientists say that the cranial capacity of a woman is 10% smaller than that of a man so now this shows that she's just not equipped for the role of headship. Her role is one of subjection to the man. Her role is that of submissiveness and that means that she should recognize that she is a woman and be glad to be a woman. Never want to be what you are not equipped to be. ... Sometimes we hear her say, "oh if-if-if-if I-I were a man I'd do this and I'd do that as if to be wishing to be something that she is not designed to be. Do you know what that borders on? That borders on homosexuality. And do you know what the Devil is doing nowadays? He's taking women who want to be men and makes men out of them. ..." The Value of Our Theocratic Sisters Samuel Herd, Oakland CA 1971
It is disturbing the Governing Body is run by men that resort to such ignorant statements to support their sexist views. The concept that a female is less capable because the female brain is smaller than the male brain is untrue. Whilst on average females are smaller than males, brain sizes vary greatly, and there are women with larger skull and brain sizes than men. Einstein's genius is considered to be almost without peer, yet his brain was of average size. Brothers with small heads are not prevented from being elders, as it is not physical size but behaviour and capabilities that determine suitability to shepherd the congregation. The article Study finds some significant differences in brains of men and women - Michael 11 Apr 2017 presents results from the UK Biobank study of 500,000 people, showing women have thicker cortices than men, the area of the brain associated with cognitive and general intelligence tests, supporting why IQ tests show the average intelligence of males and females is the same. In countries with equal access to education, the top ranked students each year includes both boys and girls.
Judit Polgár, Marilyn vos Savant, Manahel Thabet and Ruth Lawrence are four of the smartest people alive, with intelligence far greater than any elder or Governing Body member, crushing Herd's claim brain size relegates females to a position of submission to men.
The other striking comment in Herd's talk was to liken assertive women to homosexuals, whom Watchtower describes as loathesome and worthy of everlasting destruction, a comparison offensive on many levels, designed to vilify capable sisters prepared to make use of all their talents.
Sisters are not to teach brothers in spiritual matters. At the Kingdom Hall, only brothers are to give teaching assignments such as the Public Talk.
"Nowhere in the Bible, however, are women told to stand before the congregation to teach. Rather, the apostle Paul instructed them to “keep quiet in the meetings.” Why? One reason, he wrote, is so that things would be done “in a proper and orderly way.” (1 Corinthians 14:34, 40, Today’s English Version) For the congregation to run smoothly, God has assigned the role of teaching to one group." Awake! 2010 Jul p.29
When sisters are assigned parts on the platform, it will be practicing a presentation, or answering questions from a brother handling a talk, and hence considered a learning experience for the sister.
Image: Watchtower 2013 Nov 15 p.30
This is graphically illustrated by viewing the videos on JW Broadcasting, which are hosted only by brothers, predominantly older white men. The following tv.jw.org snapshot was from March 2019.
Old white males fill leadership positions globally, including many Branches in Asia, Africa and the Pacific Islands.
Image: Corona Virus Report Mar 2020 jw.org
Watchtower extends preventing women from being seen as teachers to truly pedantic extremes. In the 2016 edition of the songbook “Sing Out Joyfully”, the song "Guard Your Heart" was changed to "We Guard Our Hearts." The reason for such a seemingly minor change is astonishing. When a sister sang "guard your heart" it could be taken that she is telling a brother what to do.
"The change of the title “Guard Your Heart” to “We Guard Our Hearts” was most considerate. Why? In the audience at our meetings, assemblies, and conventions are many new ones, interested ones, young ones, and sisters who by singing the words would be put in the awkward position of telling others what to do. So the title and the lyrics were modified." Watchtower 2017 Nov study ed. p.7
When I was living at Bethel headquarters, females were not allowed to sit at the foot or head of the dining room tables, a misogynistic rule without any Scriptural support.
If a male is unavailable to handle teaching assignments, requiring the role be assigned to a female, they woman is required to wear a head covering as demonstration of their submission to the headship arrangement.
Announcements 1 April 2020
How To Remain in God's Love 2017 p.244
"Occasionally, though, circumstances may require that a Christian woman be called on to handle a duty normally performed by a qualified baptized male. For instance, she may need to conduct a meeting for field service because a qualified baptized male is not available or present. Or she may conduct a prearranged home Bible study in the presence of a baptized male. * Because such activities are really extensions of the Christian congregation, she would wear a head covering to acknowledge that she is handling the duty normally assigned to a male."
Keep Yourselves in God's Love (2015) Appendix "Head Coverings — When and Why?"
"A sister should wear a head covering and would normally be seated when conducting a meeting for field service." Kingdom Ministry 2015 Mar p.6
"Occasionally at meetings for field service, it might be necessary for a baptized sister to offer prayer if there is no qualified brother there to represent the group. She would need to wear an appropriate head covering. If it is likely that a qualified brother will not be present at certain meetings for service, the elders should assign a qualified sister to take the lead." Our Kingdom Ministry 2000 Jun p.3
"Generally speaking, a Christian woman ought to wear a head covering when she cares for matters that are normally the responsibility of her husband or a brother in the congregation." Watchtower 2009 Nov 15 p.12
Image: Watchtower 1964 Apr 1 p.207
It is even the case that a mother must wear a head covering when praying in front of her young son once he has been baptized.
"However, if the father is absent, then the mother should wear a head covering if she conducts a Bible study with the young baptized son and the other children." Watchtower 2002 Jul 15 p.27
A submissive wife submission is praised. Whilst it is said subjection to men is not undignified, Watchtower makes it so encompassing that it is hardly anything but.
““Let wives be in subjection to their husbands as to the Lord,” wrote the apostle Paul. (Eph. 5:22) This statement in no way suggests an undignified position. ... There is also the matter of being economical. A foolish woman likely squanders her family’s hard-earned resources. A supportive wife is not like that. She cooperates with her husband in financial matters. Her way of doing things is marked by prudence and economy. She does not pressure her husband to work overtime. ... Being exemplary in a supportive role may be a challenge for a wife when her husband makes a decision she disagrees with. Even then, she manifests a “quiet and mild spirit” and cooperates with him to make his decision work.” Watchtower 2011 May 15 pp.8-10 (page 9)
"Before studying the Bible, I didn't think that my husband ought to be the head of the family. I liked to make many decisions on my own. However, I gradually found that applying Bible principles contributed to the peace and happiness of our family. (1 Corinthians 11:3) Slowly it became easier for me to be submissive, and my husband has noticed these changes in me." Watchtower 2008 Nov 1 p.12
A stepfather becomes the head of his wife and stepchildren.
"What if the stepparent is the father? Does not the Bible say that the father is the head of the family? Yes. (Ephesians 5:22, 23; 6:1, 2) However, a stepfather may wish to delegate the matter of discipline for a while, especially if it involves punishment." Watchtower 1999 Mar 1 p.6
Well into the twenty first century, Watchtower illustrations reflect the sexist view that women belong in the kitchen.
I have heard sisters claim to be happy not to have the work load of their elder husbands, and it is true that congregational positions of authority carry a large workload without any financial reward. Whilst it may seem of little consequence that sisters take a back seat in the organization, the results of a misogynistic, male dominated religion can be tragic. There are three areas in particular worth considering:
- Domestic Violence
- Child Abuse
Watchtower speaks out against domestic violence, insisting husbands show love and kindness to their wives and a wife is permitted to leave an abusive husband.
"Should the battered wife leave her husband? The Bible does not treat marital separation lightly. At the same time, it does not oblige a battered wife to stay with a man who jeopardizes her health and perhaps her very life. ... Since the Bible does not forbid separation in extreme circumstances, what a woman does in this matter is a personal decision. (Galatians 6:5) No one should coax a wife to leave her husband, but neither should anyone pressure a battered woman to stay with an abusive man when her health, life, and spirituality are threatened. ... Spouse abuse is a brazen violation of Bible principles. ... No husband who claims to be a follower of Christ can really say that he loves his wife if he abuses her." Awake! 2001 Nov 8 p.12
Whilst allowing separation, articles praise sisters that remain with abusive husbands, enduring violence with the hope that the non-believing mate with be "won over," change and convert. Such experiences have regularly be printed over the decades. (w58 7/1 p.400; w69 12/15 p.740; g70 12/8 p.10; g74 1/8 p.11; w76 5/15 pp.292-293; w82 7/15 p.7; w86 8/1 p.21; w90 8/15 p.21; yb90 p.64; yb93 pp.179-180; w94 4/15 pp.27-29; yb94 p.145; w96 5/1 pp.22-23; g97 4/22 p.31; w99 1/1 p.3; yb99 p.60; w04 8/15 p.10; w07 4/15 p.6.)
In January 2008, Awake! covered the topic "Violence Against Women, What is the Bible's View?" Whilst the main articles spoke out against domestic violence, the same issue included the article "Headship in Marriage," explaining why women must be submissive to their husbands. The article tried make the headship arrangement appear acceptable by discussing how a loving husband considers his wife when making decisions. The article points to Abraham and Sarah as a fine example of the headship arrangement. In this marriage, Abraham took Hagar as concubine with whom he bore a child, and ignored Sarah's pleas to dismiss her for decades. He did not give in to Sarah's request until the child was a grown man. The article makes clear that whilst a wife "provides valuable input concerning family decisions .... as the family head, the husband is responsible for making final decisions." Including this topic in a magazine discussing domestic violence was in particularly poor taste as the concept a man is the head of his wife has helped underpin the dominance and mistreatment of women.
Watchtower exerts social pressure for victims of domestic violence to remain with their husbands. In 2012, a truly shocking article was released that praised women for staying with husbands despite violent abuse.
"Selma recalls a lesson she learned from the Witness who studied with her. “On one particular day,” says Selma, “I didn’t want to have a Bible study. The night before, Steve had hit me as I had tried to prove a point, and I was feeling sad and sorry for myself. After I told the sister what had happened and how I felt, she asked me to read 1 Corinthians 13:4-7. As I did, I began to reason, ‘Steve never does any of these loving things for me.’ But the sister made me think differently by asking, ‘How many of those acts of love do you show toward your husband?’ My answer was, ‘None, for he is so difficult to live with.’ The sister softly said, ‘Selma, who is trying to be a Christian here? You or Steve?’ Realizing that I needed to adjust my thinking, I prayed to Jehovah to help me be more loving toward Steve. Slowly, things started to change.”After 17 years, Steve accepted the truth. Watchtower 2012 Feb 15 p.29
This article received criticism for the danger it posed to women, such as at "Dangerous message about domestic violence" Apr 30, 2013. Forums were filled with experiences from Jehovah's Witnesses that had experienced such violence.
"I have horrible memories of sitting with two elders and my abusive (now ex) husband. I was told to “not keep count of the injury.” So did that mean my husband could keep on hitting me, hurting me, throwing me across the room, sometimes in front of my two little boys?" jwsurvey.org/mini-surveys
Rather than take such important criticism on board, a 2018 Watchtower article once again encouraged Jehovah's Witness wives to endure domestic violence as a way to praise Jehovah, on the off-chance an unbelieving "mate became a true worshipper."
Separation was only sanctioned for "extremely physically abusive" situations, and wives that remain despite extreme abuse are praised as "loyal Christians." This is shockingly dangerous advice, and creates social pressure for Jehovah's Witnesses to remain as victims of severe abuse and violence.
"He might be extremely physically abusive, even to the point that she feels that her health or life is in danger. He might refuse to support her and the family or severely endanger her spirituality. ... some Christians have personally decided that ... a separation is necessary. But other Christians in comparably difficult situations have not; they have endured and tried to work on improving matters. ... Many loyal Christians have remained with an unbelieving mate under very trying circumstances." Watchtower 2018 Dec p.14
Separation is advised against despite such dangerous conditions because it can lead to "challenges."
"What of her material and sexual needs? What about loneliness? Are there children to consider? Would a divorce make it harder to raise them in the truth?."Watchtower 2018 Dec p.12
Rather than focus on emotional and physical safety, Watchtower seems more concerned that the wife's sexual needs will lead her to the sin of adultery. The marriage bond remains because abuse is not grounds for divorce, and hence leaving may result in the woman committing fornication.
Another point to note is that Watchtower articles paint the offender as "an unbelieving mate." Enduring the horror of domestic violence may eventually pay off for the submissive wife, when her husband recognises her strength as proof Jehovah's Witnesses have the truth, change his ways and convert. Not only is conversion rare, it is not the case that domestic violence is only at the hands of unbelieving partners.
I have personal knowledge that domestic violence also occurs when the husband is a Jehovah's Witness. My Father dealt with Domestic violence as a Circuit Overseer. In his very first Circuit in the 1990's in the state of New South Wales, Australia, he had to remove elders for domestic violence in a number of congregations. I was in Bethel at the time, and he told me this because he found it very disturbing. Whilst an elder may suffer the consequences of losing their position of authority in the congregation, other domestic violence cases can lead to little or no action, particularly since Jehovah's Witnesses are discouraged from seeking "outside" help, and hence do not report to the authorities.
Misogynistic teachings about women and headship fosters domestic violence. 'Submit to your husbands': Women told to endure domestic violence in the name of God 22 Oct 2018 presents research into fundamentalists Christian groups. Whilst it does not discuss Jehovah's Witnesses it makes the interesting observation:
"As theology professor Steven Tracy wrote in 2008: "It is widely accepted by abuse experts (and validated by numerous studies) that evangelical men who sporadically attend church are more likely than men of any other religious group (and more likely than secular men) to assault their wives.""
Watchtower handling of child abuse accusations applies to both genders, but is included here as it is more common to affect female Jehovah's Witness children. Further, the antiquated processes show evidence of being formulated by old male leaders, with most of the Governing Body being childless. When Barbara Anderson, who was one of the writing department in the 1990s, identified child abuse was a huge issue propped up by Watchtower policy, her recommendations went unheeded, resulting in her leaving the organization.
Watchtower has come under extensive criticism for how it deals with accusations of child abuse. The 2015 Australian Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse highlighted numerous ways in which Watchtower policy protected the guilty in favour of child victims of child abuse. One area discussed was that it is entirely inappropriate that a young woman is required to sit alone in front of three older men, and previously the male perpetrator as well, to determine their own guilt and that of the pedophile. Such an arrangement would never have been instituted if women had a role in assisting with establishing Watchtower policy.
The requirement for an innocent victim to appear before alone before three male "elders" extends beyond child abuse and is required for a range of judicial cases. It is intimidating enough for another male to be in this situation, let alone a young female. When a Judicial Committee is formed to judge a case of a sexual nature, elders ask a series of very private and intimate questions, and I have had many friends relate how disgusted they were expected to respond to such an inquisition.
There is no Scriptural precedence for a victim to be forced to appear alone before 3 men, with neither the terms "disfellowship" or "judicial committee" appearing in the Bible. Watchtower's format of Judicial Committees is not based on Bible principles, as the Scriptures discuss that a wrongdoer was to appear at the town centre, not be interrogated in private.
There is Scriptural precedence for women to be involved in working alongside elders. The Old Testament speaks of Deborah, who was a Judge and Prophet. There is no reason that an older sisters could not be involved in a Judicial Committee, in the same capacity as the elders, or supporting the accused.
An indication of how clueless Watchtower's male leaders were in formulating policy around child abuse, elders were required to fill out a questionnaire answering whether "the victim was somewhat at fault or willingly participated in the acts?"
If a minor, wittingly or not, was to encourage inappropriate sexual behaviour, it is the responsibility of the adult to guide the minor, never to use their behaviour as an excuse to abuse them.
Watchtower implies that a girl can bear responsibility for being raped.
"Thus if a Christian woman does not cry out and does not put forth every effort to flee, she would be viewed as consenting to the violation. The Christian woman who wants to keep clean and obey God's commandments, then, if faced with this situation today, needs to be courageous and to act on the suggestion made by the Scriptures and scream. Actually this counsel is for her welfare; for, if she should submit to the man's passionate wishes, she would not only be consenting to fornication or adultery, but be plagued by the shame." Watchtower 1964 Jan 15 pp.63-4
"Also, that if she did not scream she would ruin her relationship with Jehovah God and the Christian congregation; that then she would be disfellowshiped or excommunicated from it and that this would be worse than being killed as far as she was concerned." Awake! 1974 Mar 8 pp.13-16
"A Christian woman is under obligation to resist, for the issue of obedience to God's law to "flee from fornication" is involved. (1 Cor. 6:18) By no means would it be proper for her willingly to submit to being raped." Watchtower 1980 Oct 15 p.7
"Why you should resist an attacker from the first moment: ... Your conscience will be clear. (Even if you are raped, you will not sacrifice your self-respect or cleanness before God)" Awake! 1986 May 22 p.23
While advising that lack of resistance constitutes sin, Watchtower had already written articles showing they were aware it is common for rape victims to freeze in terror, and be unable to scream or fight back.
"“The primary reaction of almost all women to the rape was fear.” And the problem is that such fear can be paralyzing. ... "I was overwhelmingly confused and defenseless against the whole suddenness." . . . Profound terror in the face of physical threats simply renders most women helpless." Awake! 1980 Jul 8 pp.5-6
As if the horror and lasting affects of rape is not enough to bear, Watchtower burdens Jehovah's Witness rape victims with the guilt they may have been responsible and sinned in the eyes of Jehovah. This deplorable concept is unforgivable in light of Watchtower writers being fully aware that the natural response of many women is to freeze in terror. How hard a victim should resist is a subjective measure, leaving victims struggling with the guilt of whether they they did not fight back hard enough to be forgiven by Jehovah for being raped. A woman never deserves to be blamed for her own rape, regardless of whether or not she fought back or screamed.
Watchtower even advises that in the face of rape, take some time to consider that the attacker may have endured difficult circumstances and show respect to the intended rapist as a fellow human.
"Treat Him Respectfully – The intended victim should remember that the rapist is a human. No doubt there are circumstances in his life that have precipitated his behavior. So although a woman should not cower in fear and permit a rapist to intimidate her, at the same time she should treat him understandingly as a fellow human." Awake! 1984 Feb 22 p.24
1993 seemed to signify change when Awake! stated a rape victim does not bear responsibility and has not committed fornication.
"Myth: A rape victim bears part of the blame unless she actively resists. .... It is the rapist's use of force against an unwilling victim that makes him a rapist. Thus, a rape victim is not guilty of fornication." Awake! 1993 Mar 8 pp.4-5
Yet Watchtower still leaves the victim feeling that if they do not struggle enough there is uncertainty as to how Jehovah will prescribe blame.
"In understanding the application of Deuteronomy 22:23-27, we must realize that this brief account does not cover all possible situations. For example, it does not comment on the situation where the attacked woman cannot scream because she is mute, unconscious, or paralyzed with fear or is forcibly prevented from screaming by a hand or tape over her mouth. However, since Jehovah is able to weigh all factors, including motives, he deals with understanding and justice in such cases, for "all his ways are justice." (Deuteronomy 32:4) He is aware of what actually took place and of the efforts the victim put forth to fight off her attacker.Therefore, a victim who was unable to scream but otherwise did all she could under the circumstances can leave matters in Jehovah's hands. ... Even so, some Christian women who have been attacked and violated are incessantly pained by feelings of guilt. In hindsight, they feel that they should have done more to prevent the incident from happening." Watchtower 2003 Feb 1 pp.30-31
My Book of Bible Stories is still in distribution, and appeared on jw.org as of 18th Mar 2019. Story 20 discusses the rape of Dinah, asking the question, "Why did Dinah bear a measure of responsibility for losing her virginity?" Whilst it is wise to be aware of dangers posed in certain circumstances, it should never be indicated that a person bears "responsibility" for rape.
The 2013 art project “What were you wearing?” by Jen Brockman and Dr. Mary A. Wyandt-Hiebert graphically highlights clothing is not the cause of rape, showing a range of clothing styles worn by victims.
Watchtower justifies its requirement to scream by reference to Deuteronomy 22. Despite the Mosaic Law being superseded by the death of Jesus, Watchtower looks to it when formulating doctrine, resulting in these shocking and ignorant statements regarding rape.
Deuteronomy 22:23-27 “If a virgin is engaged to a man, and another man happens to meet her in the city and lies down with her, you should bring them both out to the gate of that city and stone them to death, the girl because she did not scream in the city and the man because he humiliated the wife of his fellow man. So you must remove what is evil from your midst. If, however, the man happened to meet the engaged girl in the field and the man overpowered her and lay down with her, the man who lay down with her is to die by himself, and you must do nothing to the girl. The girl has not committed a sin deserving of death. This case is the same as when a man attacks his fellow man and murders him. For he happened to meet her in the field, and the engaged girl screamed, but there was no one to rescue her."
There is no basis to refer to this passage and whether a woman screams in determining a victims compliance and guilt. The same passage commands stoning to death an adulterer, and that if a virgin is unengaged when she is raped, she became the property of the rapist; he was to purchase her as his wife. Neither of these rules are followed by Jehovah's Witnesses and instead regarded with horror in modern times. Watchtower misses the point that the reason the virgin was to scream was to alert those around that she was not compliant in the sex act, otherwise those in the town may mistakenly stone her to death as an adulterer. It was not to alert the rapist that she did not want to be raped. Whether or not a word is spoken, a rapist is fully aware that his advances are not welcome, and saying "no" is the most a woman needs to do to convey this message. Watchtower's indication otherwise is the pinnacle of misogynistic ignorance.
Mormons doctrine has also oscillated around whether or not a woman has committed fornication if they did not scream with enough vigour or fight back aggressively enough when being raped. The Salt Lake Tribune discusses whether Mormon doctrine created a rape culture.
"It was encapsulated in a 1974 LDS First Presidency statement, which asserted that only if a woman resisted an attacker "with all her strength and energy" would she not be "guilty of unchastity." ... Today, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints takes a healthier approach in its official pronouncements. ... Rape victims "often suffer serious trauma and feelings of guilt" and "are not guilty of sin," Handbook 1 for local lay leaders states. .... Mormon women, especially at LDS-owned schools, continue to be bombarded with the notion that they are at least partially responsible for sexual assaults by what they wear or do, or how hard they fight back." How outdated Mormon teachings may be aiding and abetting ‘rape culture’ (6 May 2016)
This equally applies to Jehovah's Witnesses in light of Watchtower quotes.
Jehovah's Witnesses are expected to be modest in their attire, with sisters directed to wear modest dresses or skirts to the Kingdom Hall, Bethel and out preaching. Reasons provided include not drawing undue attention to oneself, and that sexually attractive clothing can be arousing, even leading to rape.
"Why should we think about how our clothing affects our Christian brothers and sisters? One reason is that God’s people work hard to follow the advice: “Deaden, therefore, your body members that are on the earth as respects sexual immorality, uncleanness, uncontrolled sexual passion.” (Colossians 3:2, 5) Some of our brothers and sisters gave up a sexually immoral life, but they may still be fighting against wrong desires. If we are not careful, the way we dress could make it even more difficult for them to follow the Bible’s counsel and fight against those desires." Watchtower Study Ed (Simplified) Sep 2016
"Remember, even children and women in their 80’s are sometimes attacked. And since sexy attire is a factor in some rapes, it is wise to dress modestly." Awake! 1980 Jul 8 p.11
The Awake! rightfully says, "there can be no excuse for a man’s forcing a woman to submit to sexual relations." (p.8) Whilst reasonable, it is not women's clothing, but men's attitude that needs to be addressed, and women should not be made to feel that they are somehow at fault.
Watchtower speaks highly of Jehovah's Witness sisters, praising their many areas of accomplishment and value to the organization. It is said God directed for women to be respected, and not considered inferior, such as in the 2012 Watchtower titled "Does God Care About Women?"
"Did God create woman inferior to man? No.
What shows God’s concern for women? ... the Law commanded honor and respect for both father and mother." Watchtower 2012 Sep 1 p.4
This Watchtower does not once mention the headship arrangement. Note though that this is the public edition of the Watchtower, used in the preaching work to attract people to the religion.
Articles such as "Faithful Christian Women—Precious Worshipers of God" (w2003 Nov 1) appear regularly, discussing examples of faith and the effort applied in the preaching work.
" ... there are more than 1,000,000 Witnesses in the full-time service. In most lands, the majority of these are women. Jehovah has given women the privilege to represent him. Thus, the words of the psalmist have certainly been fulfilled: “Jehovah gives the command; the women proclaiming the good news are a large army.” —Psalm 68:11." Watchtower 2014 Aug Study Ed.(Simplified)
In light of Watchtower's view of women in relation to men, this praise is condescending, recognising the work they do in their limited capacity within Watchtower's organisational structure. Even when attempting to appear positive, Watchtower terminology is demeaning.
"The woman was a gift from God to Adam. And she was a perfect helper for him." Watchtower 2014 Aug Study Ed.(Simplified)
Paying lip service to equality deflects attention from the core teaching that women are to submit themselves to men, who are to be viewed as their head. The headship arrangement devalues women and has tragic consequences in situations such as domestic violence, child abuse and rape.
This condescending attitude is nowhere more apparent than a 1930 article in which Watchtower posited that once the earth has transformed into a paradise, and there is no more need for childbirth, women may transform into men.
"Whether the identity of the sexes, as such, will be preserved, we do not know. There have been some well authenticated instances in which women have been transformed into men, and it is possible that this transformation may become general and we shall all be brothers together."
Golden Age 1930 Apr 2 p.446
Quotes such as this, along with those on rape, child abuse and domestic violence should make Jehovah's Witness followers question whether the Governing Body truly are fit to dictate on such important topics. Watchtower's leadership structure, strict imposition of the headship arrangement and minimisation of women's role in teaching means positive change is unlikely any time soon.
I would ask my mother how she coped having to watch brothers "taking the lead" in areas where she had greater capabilities, as she was a competent and domineering person. She justified the situation as beneficial. In order to comply, she had convinced herself that women are in fact inferior, and justified the Watchtower stance as necessary because women are too emotional to manage and lead. In my working life I have had many female peers and bosses with tremendous abilities and leadership qualities. This has been proven time and again by women in government and corporate leadership positions. It is sad my family, and Jehovah's Witnesses as a whole, are forced to accept damaging claims otherwise.
Watchtower's Governing Body is predominantly composed of old males of white privilege. They may believe themselves to be doing what is best for women and following God's will in the matter, pointing to articles that speak highly of women, but their view of women is out of place and damaging. Women are positioned as inferior, despite rhetoric to the contrary.
Written March 2019, latest update July 2022.