Jehovah’s Witnesses believe in a patriarchal family, meaning ruled by men. The men have authority over their wives and wives must be submissive and silent before their husbands and men in general. JWs often try to present this arrangement as being beneficial for all involved, and give sporadic advice to the men about loving their wives, but generally speaking, men are adults to be respected and women are treated like children.
As an example of what I mean by this, I’m going to reference the February 15, 2007, Watchtower, which has an article addressed to husbands and then one to wives. The article for husbands starts off well and good, telling them that they need to imitate Jesus in how they treat their wives and should “assign her honor,” treating her as their “own flesh.”
However, as is typical with much information addressed to JW husbands, the article then dissolves into advice that belittles women and put them in the position of children.
Correcting Women as Children
Note the following quotes from the magazine:
As the family head, the husband has the authority and responsibility to correct family members, including his wife. While firmness may be needed, this correction should be given in a kind, loving manner … For example, a husband may need to point out in a kind manner why some adjustment is needed if her dress or use of jewelry or cosmetics begins to stray from the modest pattern recommended in the Scriptures.
Consider the wording. The wife may need “correcting” with “firmness.” They are not two adults with two differing opinions, but she gets “corrected,” and you “correct” someone when they are wrong, not when they simply have a different opinion. If the husband says she is wrong, then she is wrong. Not different; wrong.
The dictionary defines firmness as “fixed; settled; unalterable; steadfast or unwavering.” Think about what this means; if the husband thinks that the wife needs to be “corrected,” then she gets corrected, and he is to be unwavering and fixed. No discussion, no matter her opinion, no input from her. If he thinks she needs to change, then she needs to change, period.
The article continues:
If there is a fault that needs attention, husbands should not necessarily expect that their sincere efforts to correct it will meet with immediate success … Changes in attitudes and conduct often take time and are gradual.
So the husbands need to be patient as they correct their wives on their faults while still expecting changes in her “attitude” and conduct.
Attitude. The wife needs to change her attitude.
Does this really sound like two grownup adult people who respect each other, or more like a parent raising a child? When you’re speaking to a child and make a decision, that’s the end of it. The child no longer has input but must do what the parent thinks is best. The parent’s decision about what is correct is the end of the matter; if the child doesn’t like it, he or she has an “attitude.”
When discussing things between two adults, this is not supposed to be the case. Adults compromise, or they respect one another and their own decisions. If I were to tell my husband that I’m not crazy about a shirt he’s wearing or how he shaves his facial hair, of course I would expect him to take my opinion into consideration, but isn’t the final decision his? If I tell my sister that her hairstyle is not attractive or that she’s showing too much cleavage, she might listen to me, but as an adult, she needs to determine for herself if her style is outdated or immodest.
My husband, my sister, or any other adult for that matter is just as intelligent as I am, and just as capable of making these personal decisions for themselves. That’s what it means to be an adult and not a child.
Respecting Husbands as Adults, Even When Abusive
Consider now the article in the same magazine addressed to wives, and the contrast between the two. The article talks about how wives could “win favor” with their husbands by their conduct, which includes respecting a husband even to the point of tolerating abusive and neglectful behavior:
Wives who have become believers have won over their husbands by their Christlike conduct. At a recent district convention of Jehovah’s Witnesses, a husband said of his Christian wife: “I guess I was a jerk in the way I treated her. Yet, she was very respectful of me … Her attitude started to arouse my interest in the Bible. And, well, here I am!”
And another example:
As Peter emphasized, it is not so much what a wife says but what she does that produces positive results … The next meeting night, he threatened: “I won’t be here when you come back.” Well, he was not—he was gone for three days. When he returned, she kindly asked: “Would you like something to eat?” Agnes never budged in her devotion to Jehovah. Her husband eventually accepted a Bible study, dedicated his life to God, and later served as an overseer with many responsibilities.
Notice these examples. When one husband is a self-professed “jerk” and the other actually leaves the house for three days, what are the wives supposed to do? Give them “correction” with “firmness,” the same as the husbands? Of course not; their job is to be respectful and tolerant and to simply take the abuse, in the hopes that one day he’ll join her as a JW.
The Double Standard
Don’t get me wrong; I’m all for both partners in a relationship working on their faults and both may point out areas that need improvement. However, this privilege of noting needed “correction” is not extended to the wives, but only to the husbands. Wives are not to “correct” their husbands and their behavior, even when that behavior is abusive. Their husbands get respect and tolerance no matter what they do, whereas the husband can be “firm” about telling the wife his expectations for her behavior, even in how she dresses and wears her makeup!
This arrangement is not only detrimental to the wives in expecting them to stay in abusive marriages but also elevates the husband to the position of an adult, who is free to make his own choices about his behavior and conduct. The wives, however, are diminished to the position of children, who need “correction” with “firmness.”
Not only is this a double standard in the families but this arrangement is also very hypocritical. The first article to husbands says that they are to love their wives “as their own bodies,” and makes the bold claim that Jehovah thinks of women as equals. However, how are husbands loving their wives as they do themselves when they demand and deserve respect but she deserves unwavering correction? That certainly doesn’t involve treating her as you treat yourself.
I would also call into question the claim that Jehovah loves women equally, as he certainly doesn’t treat them equally. How can anyone claim that god loves his creation equally and cares about their welfare equally when he elevates one to the position of an adult but degrades the other to the position of a child? How can anyone claim that god thinks of women as equals when they are not given equal authority, in the congregation or even in their own marriages? Women do not have equal privileges of teaching, equal rights to speak, equal regard as to their opinions and decisions, and obviously not equal respect.
Please share with others so women can fully understand the damaging policies and counsel given by Jehovah’s Witnesses and recognize this type of abuse.