God's View of Women According to the Watchtower Bible & Tract Society
The Bible and Women
"Favour [is] deceitful, and beauty [is] vain: [but] a woman [that] feareth the LORD, she shall be praised. " - Proverbs 31:30-31, King James Version
For any reader of the Bible, it isn't difficult to see how God has viewed women throughout history. One doesn't have to travel far into the book of Genesis to find that women have a major impact on spirituality and society in general.
From the very beginning, God made clear that women were vital for life. To be candid, not one of us exists without a woman. Even for evolutionists, it would be impossible to argue that we are all born of a woman and literally place our lives in her hands from conception....often times....until death. At Genesis 2: 24, God himself states "That is why a man will leave his father and his mother and he will stick to his wife, and they will become one flesh." (NWT)
In one verse, God encapsulated a man's entire life: "wife" and "mother."
The Bible is filled with examples of brave, strong, compassionate, powerful women! A person can literally take their pick of those women who risked lives, reputations, in fact entire nations (see: Esther)....and one would be remiss to state the most important example of all: Mary's motherly love for God's Son, Jesus Christ.
It's no small thing that God saw fit to include so many women in his inspired book. Sure, as is the case with so many men, there are mentions of mistakes, often deadly. Eve, Miriam, Dinah, Delilah, Job's wife, Bathsheba, etc. But there are far more examples of incredible women; handed down to us to not only learn from, but emulate. Consider the example of Rahab risking her life to hide the spies sent by Joshua in her home. How can one measure the bravery of Abigail as she came out to meet King David; stopping him from murdering her husband. Ruth's bravery leading to her family tree including Jesus himself or how about Sarah, Abraham's wife, who, without complaint, lived in tents, risked her life in Egypt and was eventually mother to a nation?
The list is could go on and on. God's view of women is plainly stated in the Bible. He values, loves and trusts them as givers of life... and extends it to what is undoubtedly some of the most important aspects of life. His love and respect for women is clear.
The Watchtower and Women
"Women have ever been the most beautiful and most dangerous amongst the creatures of earth. Her beauty and attractiveness allure man, and blind selfish man to higher and nobler things, and induce him to forget God. It was such seductive influence exercised by the charming Eve that led Adam to a criminal’s grave." - Joseph Rutherford, President, Watchtower Bible & Tract Society, Creation, pages 79-80
The Watchtower Bible & Tract Society have a long history of a much different view of women. Without question there are those that would argue against any negative view of women within Jehovah's Witnesses. In addition, you cannot paint all Jehovah's Witnesses with a broad brush, in effect, claiming that all those within the organization view women as subservient. That would be dishonest, as there are those that openly acknowledge the many benefits women bring to the organization. It is Jehovah's Witness 'sisters' that due the bulk of their preaching activity worldwide. It is the 'sisters' that have a wide influence on a congregation's warmth.
However, there is no question that the Watchtower's comments, publications and leaders have long taken a different tone. While some of the messages regarding women are subtle, there is no question they share a demeaning tone. In fact, it goes well beyond disrespect and falls squarely in dangerous territory at times.
Early on, at a convention in Missouri in 1941, President Joseph Rutherford quoted a Rudyard Kipling work and referred to women as "a hank of hair and a bag of bones." For several years, Rutherford's books openly discouraged marriage and childbearing. In his book Vindication, Volume I, pages 155-159 he likened any equality among the sexes with satanic influence. He went further by claiming the custom of men tipping their hat to a woman or politely standing when a woman approached was a scheme designed by Satan the Devil and a tool to turn men from God; indicating an effeminate weakness in any man that practiced it.
Despite his rumored history of philandering, much of which has been confirmed, Rutherford made sure women 'knew their place' in the organization.
This history continues down to this day. Jehovah's Witness 'sisters' are not allowed to hold any position of responsibility in the congregation. They are not allowed to 'teach' in the congregation. They are not allowed to serve as elders, ministerial servants, branch presidents or any other position of leadership. Some in their ranks would argue that women CAN be "pioneers"...which means they can volunteer up to 90 hours a month (a past goal, an ever changing hour requirement) in door to door ministry. In layman's terms, they can bring in converts and place literature. They are also approved to work on Kingdom Hall construction and to serve food an several special events. If you are reading this and thinking "free labor" you would be correct.
Dangers to Women
While misogyny is in itself a terrible view, The Watchtower has at times crossed over from terrible views to downright dangerous counsel, all made under the umbrella that they are 'God's organization' and demand obedience.
The organization's view of women is highly noticeable when one considers their view of rape
''...if a woman does not cry out when attacked, it indicates she is submitting to the man and is committing a sin against Jehovah'' - Awake! 1989 August 22 p.24
''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''. - Watchtower 1964 January 15 pp.63-4
Their view on rape and violent crimes has even vacillated at times, depending on who was writing the articles.
In recent times, the Watchtower has felt painful repercussions for their hard and fast rules that often times have left women deeply damaged. The recent exposure of pedophiles that have run rampant in their organization for decades, has mostly been brought to the forefront by adult women who were harmed by men in positions of power among Jehovah's Witnesses. In 1989, the Watchtower and Governing Body of Jehovah's Witnesses, published a policy instructing elders to keep reports of child sex abuse secret from Kingdom Hall members.
Without question, young boys have been harmed by this rule as well. However, it has been the pleas of women, one time girls, that organization elders have ignored for several decades.
In a recent court ruling, the Watchtower Bible & Tract Society is on the hook for $28 million dollars to a young woman, Candace Conti, in Fremont, California. This young woman tried on several occasions to alert congregation elders as to the abuse she had endured at the hands of a one time Ministerial Servant, who had committed sexual assaults in the past. To no avail. Continuing to ignore her pleas for help at 26 years old, she took to the courts.
Jehovah's Witness Women and Dating
Aside from the heinous rules and eventual results mentioned above, women also face other distinct disadvantages as one of Jehovah's Witnesses.
Among those disadvantages is the limited pool of 'brothers' that are available for marriage. It isn't uncommon to visit a Kingdom Hall and see several single women gathered together week in and week out due to a lack of a social life. In many congregations, you will find older women who have either lost husbands or can't meet any eligible men. It is rumored among Jehovah's Witnesses that women outnumber the men 2:1, leaving a very limited pool of prospective suitors for female members to choose from.
Why? The Watchtower is strict in it's belief that Jehovah's Witnesses should only date and marry other Jehovah's Witnesses.
"Would it be wise, then, for a dedicated Christian to pursue courtship and marriage with someone who has been accepted as an unbaptized publisher, since, strictly speaking, Paul’s counsel recorded at 2 Corinthians 6:14 could not apply in that case? No, that is not wise. Why not? Because of the direct counsel Paul gave regarding Christian widows. Paul wrote: “She is free to be married to whom she wants, only in the Lord.” (1 Corinthians 7:39) In harmony with that counsel, dedicated Christians are urged to seek marriage mates only among those who are “in the Lord.” - July 1, 2004 Watchtower, page 30
This same article goes onto explain what Paul meant by 'only in the Lord.' Of course he meant only one of Jehovah's Witnesses according to the writer. The result has been thousands of women who either stay single out of necessity or marry the first eligible man that comes along within the congregation. Again, while this effects both male and female Witnesses, there are more women in the organization...leaving their choices in life almost nil.
While staying single can be the choice of many, not having any options but to marry a Witness man or risk becoming involved with an 'unbeliever' and being labeled 'weak', has left many women loyal to the Watchtower Society very lonely.
One Woman's Experience
A Difficult Life
With so many challenges facing women within Jehovah's Witnesses, it is no wonder that depression is often a common malady.
When a person couples some of the aforementioned challenges with weekly messages of unworthiness and the push for 'more'... it is not difficult to see how a woman would be affected by these messages.
I was often shocked at how many were taking antidepressants within the congregation I served as an elder. While I cannot site figures or statistics, I can tell you from personal experience that the vast majority were women. I received the same feedback from many other elders over several years. But perhaps the most shocking revelation was that many of them were the elder's wives or daughters. On more than one occasion I was called out in the middle of the night to comfort someone having suicidal thoughts. After several years of experience, it became evident to me that life inside an elders family was brutal. Never was this more evident than in the neglect and pressure felt by their wives.
It pains me to say that at the time of this writing I know of many elderly women that are staying faithful to the organization despite such difficulties. It is surely a testament to their character. However, it is also a testament to following an organization that is not based on Biblical principles. The unending messages of 'undeserved kindness' and 'subjection' heaped upon women in the congregation's of Jehovah's Witnesses cannot be ignored; the affects are evident.
Another Woman's Experience
Does the Watchtower Represent God's Opinion?
Consider God's View of Women
All of this is in sharp contrast with God's view of women. Throughout the Mosaic Law, women were cared for and taken into account in any future dealings. Proverbs Chapter 31 is in fact a chapter devoted to the amazing character of a good woman.
Consider too, that Jesus Christ treated women with great respect and reverence. The first person he ever revealed his identity as the Messiah to, was a Samaritan woman at the well. He showed deep devotion to his mother, even caring for her future needs as he died. At Mark Chapter 5 we see one of my favorite accounts in his handling of the woman with the flow of blood. The examples are literally endless.
To compare the remarks, printed words or direction of the Watchtower Society to God's view of women is criminal. While it is impossible to label every teaching or person among Jehovah's Witnesses as demeaning to women, it is clear that much of what a woman is exposed to at her local Kingdom Hall is harmful. Whether it be in repetitious teachings she is exposed to or the dangers enforced by Watchtower legality, she clearly must be aware of what she allows into her world.
All of this is easily seen in Jesus use of the word 'daughter' when speaking to women. The unconditional love of a parent. A far cry from Watchtower President Joseph Rutherford's claim that a woman is a "hank of hair and a bag of bones."
About the Author
Darrin Hart was a Jehovah's Witness for over 40 years, 16 of them as an appointed elder and ministerial servant. He is the author of Leaving Jehovah's Witnesses - Practical Thoughts To Help You Survive and Thrive.