As brought out in this site’s posts under the “Women” category, Jehovah’s Witnesses have a patriarchal arrangement in the family and congregation, meaning ruled by men. Wives are to be submissive and obedient to husbands, and, as I bring out in this post, elders are even instructed to keep secrets from wives about a husband’s marital infidelity, whereas she doesn’t enjoy that same confidentiality.
When it comes to families and women in particular, the information in the literature of Jehovah’s Witnesses is often insulting enough, but many of their articles are accompanied by pictures and illustrations. It’s eerie how often these pictures depict women as being in the kitchen, while the husbands are studying or even interacting with the children.
Perhaps back in the early 19th century, when women didn’t typically work outside the home, it was appropriate for them alone to be caring for domestic chores. However, most women I know today have jobs, and they usually work as many hours as their husband. After putting in a full day, they should be the only ones to take care of domestic chores? Aren’t women as tired as men after working 8 or 9 hours and dealing with rush hour traffic, ringing phones, demanding customers, and so on? Yet, she is depicted as the one caring for the cleanup at the end of the day.
If women are going to help a man with his supposed responsibility of caring for the financial needs of the home, shouldn’t he take a full share in caring for the domestic needs? He works one job outside the home, but she works two; the job she has at the office, and the one she has at home.
It’s also rather stereotypical and sexist to think of cooking and cleaning as “women’s work.” Men can be great cooks, in the same way that women can run a lawnmower and make minor repairs around the house. I myself, as a woman, can unclog a garbage disposal, unclog a toilet, fix a leaking faucet, set up the home’s entertainment center, assemble furniture, refinish furniture, mow the lawn, trim hedges, paint, install new ceiling fans, install new software on the computer, balance the checkbook, lay tile, and caulk a shower. (Don’t get me started on what I’ve done under the hood of a car.) If I can do all those things and work full-time, why can’t a man wash dishes?
Women Part of the Family?
The most disturbing aspect of these pictures is that they often portray men as the only ones having interaction with the children, with a few exceptions:
The wife and mother being portrayed as always in the kitchen is one thing, but is the woman even part of the family? When it’s time to give gifts to children or instruct them, why is she not there? Why is she not a part of the child-raising and family interactions? There have been other pictures of the mother present, but typically only during the structured family study, and you see far too many like these that show just the father interacting with the children, with the mother in the kitchen.
Note, too, this photo from the February 2012 Watchtower, which is depicting a woman who is not one of Jehovah’s Witnesses:
Even when trying to impress a woman who isn’t a JW, the husband is still the one socializing with the men in the comfort of a den, while the woman is sitting in the kitchen with the other women!
All of these pictures show that women are simply in the background, hanging back and cooking or cleaning. It really shows how women are not thought of as equals in the congregations of Jehovah’s Witnesses; you do not see husband and wife both studying with or training children, or even giving a child a gift. The parents are not partners who work together to manage a household and raise the children, but the husband is the one in charge, and the wife is little more than an elevated domestic.
To really illustrate how outdated and sexist these pictures are, not this screen capture from the video “Obey Your Parents,” created for children and available on the website of Jehovah’s Witnesses (see this post). Not only does this video depict the woman as just caring for domestic chores, but she is on her hands and knees, scrubbing a floor with a sponge at that! I would wonder if Jehovah’s Witnesses have any idea about the life of a modern women today, who is able to manage a real career and offer something more to the family than babies, clean dishes, and a well-scrubbed floor, and who might also own an actual dust mop.
Don’t get me wrong; I’m all for keeping a clean house and for women working hard to take care of their families and whatever domestic chores need to be done, as mentioned above. If there is a couple who have agreed between them that the wife does the dishes while the husband handles other chores, that’s absolutely their decision, and I respect that.
However, these pictures aren’t about domestic chores; they are about telling the tale of what Jehovah’s Witnesses think of women in general. You don’t see women in business suits with briefcases in their hands, and you certainly don’t see women with their husbands when he’s studying or preparing for their religious services. Women are not standing by their husband’s side while he’s teaching the children or studying with them, when giving them gifts, or in any other case.
Keep in mind that many women in JW homes have been in the religion as long as their husbands, if not even longer. The women lack nothing when it comes to knowledge of the bible and ability to teach the children or prepare for religious services; in some cases, she may even be more capable and more knowledgeable, if she has been one of Jehovah’s Witnesses for longer than him.
However, even in these cases, her knowledge and abilities are dismissed, as she’s put in the background. In a JW family, the husband will apparently do all the child-raising and teaching, and will handle the important, intelligent things on his own, while the wife can take care of the menial, mindless jobs.
Acting as if the husband is the only capable one in the home, and the only parent in the home, is a form of domestic violence, in my opinion. The wife should not be relegated to the position of domestic servant; it’s bad enough that this is her “place” when her husband is studying or relaxing, but to put her in the background when the children are involved is unacceptable.
I would need to ask, if Jehovah thinks of me as only being good for cooking and cleaning, why should I bother with this arrangement, or any arrangement, in his religion? I’m an intelligent, well-educated, hard-working, capable adult, who has worked a secular job her entire adult life, can run a household on her own, and who has read the bible several times over, so obviously I have much to offer. However, in Jehovah’s eyes, I shouldn’t be speaking or holding positions of authority in his congregation, or in my own home either for that matter. The best I can apparently offer my own family is clean dishes.
If this is the amount of respect I get from Jehovah’s Witnesses and their god, why should I think they deserve my respect in return?
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