Jehovah’s Witnesses believe in a patriarchal arrangement in the family, meaning ruled by men. Men have absolute authority over their wives, who need to be submissive to them even if their behavior is abusive.
While Jehovah’s Witnesses often give sporadic advice to men about loving their wives, when it comes to how they address women, they are typically unsympathetic to the abusive, domineering behavior they tolerate from husbands. This behavior has often been encouraged and even condoned by elders in the congregation.
For this post I’m going to quote the February 15, 2007, Watchtower, and the article, “Wives-Deeply Respect Your Husbands.” Note how they outright dismiss the woman’s feelings and even speak for her when it comes to what makes her happy in marriage.
Woman’s Liberation Hasn’t Made Us Happier?
The article begins by talking about how god took a rib from Adam and made Eve, and instituted marriage. It then says:
Despite that fine beginning, a movement called women’s liberation—an attempt by women to break free from male domination—began in the early 1960’s in the United States.
Notice the huge leapfrog in logic here; they talk about a fine beginning, but despite that, women’s liberation was formed. They openly admit that women’s lib was created to break free from male dominance, but they don’t say, “Despite that fine beginning, men began to dominate women, and eventually women wanted to break free from this dominance.” The implication is that marriage was great, then suddenly out of the blue women’s lib appeared.
So are women happier? No. In some countries, about half of the people who marry eventually divorce.
This supposed logic is also ridiculous and far-fetched. First of all, who are they to say that women are not happier? They openly admit that women’s lib was started to escape male dominance, but then claim that this ability to escape has not made women happier?
They seem to think that their claim of half of marriages ending in divorce supports their statement that women are not happier. I will admit that women’s lib has not magically made marriages happier or work out perfectly every time, but who is to say that women are not happier? Some people, men and women both, are actually happier after a divorce, even a difficult one.
Has the effort by some women to improve their marital situation made matters better or worse?
If a woman takes advantage of her liberation to file for divorce from a domineering husband, is that better or worse for her? Yes, it adds one more divorce to the statistics, but do they really think the marriage was working before? Do they think the “marital situation” was better for her before that divorce? They seem to think that as long as marriages were intact, everything was fine and better for women, despite even admitting how many of these marriages were marked by “male dominance.”
Their logic here seems to be, “Women were stuck with dominating men, but because their liberation from that domination didn’t make marriages work out perfectly each time, and because people are still getting divorces, obviously those women are not happier.”
As if these presumptuous statements about women in marriage were not offensive enough, consider that the article goes on to put the responsibility for getting into a domineering marriage at the feet of the women.
The reason that a woman in particular should give attention to whom she marries is the Bible’s caution: “A married woman is bound by law to her husband.” … A woman should consider seriously what could be involved in being under the law of a man who proposes to her.
Yes, what might be involved in being under the law of the man when you’re one of Jehovah’s Witnesses? Your husband has authority to “correct” you with firmness as if you’re a child, even over personal matters such as your clothes or hairstyle, while you have no authority to correct him even if he’s abusive to you; see this post. You may be subject to domestic violence, which you’re expected to simply tolerate; see this post.
One wise counselor long encouraged young people to get to know the parents of their prospective marriage mate as well as to observe carefully that one’s interaction with parents and other family members.
Yes, getting to know a prospective marriage mate is important for both husbands and wives, but do they really think that an abusive and domineering man will reveal this side of his personality before marriage? Many abusers are masters at manipulation, showing a very charming side to people on the outside while saving their horrific abuse for when they’re behind closed doors. Even family members of domestic violence victims sometimes have a hard time believing their tales of abuse because that abuser can seem so sweet and downright innocent.
This advice, of getting to know one’s mate beforehand, is somewhat dismissive and doesn’t take into account the fact that Jehovah’s Witnesses are not allowed to live together before marriage and are counseled to always bring a chaperone when dating. Despite this limited chance to really get to know a man’s true personality, they put this responsibility of finding out everything about a prospective mate at the feet of women.
Their Supposed Solution and Advice
So what is their solution to this very real risk that you may be in a domineering, suffocating, obscenely insulting arrangement?
In many places today, a woman can choose either to accept or to reject a marriage proposal. Yet, making a wise choice may be the hardest thing a woman ever does, since her desire for the closeness and love possible in marriage can be very strong.
That’s right, their solution is to just not get married; give up the “closeness and love” you get from marriage if you cannot tolerate the idea of being under the thumb of a man. That also means giving up sex, children, and being in a better financial state, as women often struggle to make ends meet. But, that’s just too bad, as far as they are concerned. They dismiss the arrangement of marriage and everything it brings with a simple sentence.
A single woman, therefore, needs to ask herself, ‘Am I willing to enter into an arrangement in which I will come under the law of this man?’ The time to consider this question is before getting married, not afterward.
To me, this statement is one of the most dismissive and insulting I’ve ever heard addressed to women. If you find yourself stuck in a suffocating marriage to a domineering man, well, you should have thought about whether or not you could live with that before you got married, not after. It seems to imply that women who are unhappy with how restrictive, condescending, and degrading it can be to be dominated by their husbands just didn’t give the situation enough thought before they got married. Shame on them for not thinking seriously about whether or not they could be humiliated, controlled, treated like a child, and dominated before they got married, rather than having concerns about how terrible the situation is after the fact.
Lest anyone think I’m overreacting to this information, this article was one of the last I ever read before deciding to fade away from the JW religion. I could not in good conscience go out in their preaching work and try to leave this information with other women, ones who may be in a marriage where they are treated as equals and with respect as adults, and tell them that their husbands had the right to lay down the “law” and that they should have thought about this before marriage. I could not say the same thing to women in abusive marriages. I hated looking at the faces of women in the congregation who I knew were subject to all forms of violence in their home, even with Jehovah’s Witness husbands, and thinking that “the time to have decided if you could live with this was before you got married, not after.”
Please share with others so women can better understand what to expect when becoming one of Jehovah’s Witnesses, and so that perhaps Witnesses can better understand the hatefulness and hurtfulness of their words.