As brought out in other posts under the Women category, Jehovah’s Witnesses believe in a patriarchal arrangement in their religion and the family, meaning ruled by men. Women are to be submissive to men, and husbands are often given special considerations and privileges because they are the “head” of the family and the wife (see this post and this post). In the congregation, only men can be elders, and women cannot teach, pray, or handle any type of responsibility, even minor tasks like distributing and sorting literature and taking attendance.
JWs mention many reasons for this, which the bible actually supports to a certain extent. The bible says that men are to be the head of women, that wives are to be submissive, and that women are not allowed to speak in the congregation. (“If they want to learn something, let them ask their husbands at home, for it is disgraceful for a woman to speak in the congregation.” 1 Corinthians 14:35) This would be all well and good, if the bible didn’t go on to explain why women need to be submissive.
When a JW woman handles any responsibility that should be handled by a man, such as organizing groups for their preaching work, she needs to wear a head covering, meaning a hat or scarf of some sort. This is also needed if she prays in front of a baptized male Witness, including her own son, or if she’s handling spiritual responsibilities in front of her non-JW husband. A woman must also wear a head covering when translating discourses for the deaf, simply because all eyes will be on her.
This is done to show her submission to male members of the organization, and is based on scriptures in 1 Corinthians, starting with verse 4:
Every man who prays or prophesies with something on his head shames his head; but every woman who prays or prophesies with her head uncovered shames her head, for it is one and the same as if she were a woman with a shaved head. For if a woman does not cover herself, she should have her hair cut oﬀ; but if it is disgraceful for a woman to have her hair cut oﬀ or shaved, she should be covered. For a man should not have his head covered, as he is God’s image and glory, but the woman is man’s glory.
This head covering is referred to as a sign of authority, in verse 10:
That is why the woman ought to have a sign of authority on her head, because of the angels.
Just a note about a woman having her head shaved; this might be unsightly, but in bible times, female slaves, those taken captive as war brides, and ones punished for adultery or fornication had their heads shaved to show their lowly, disgraced position.
Nature and Long Hair
While this rule about a woman with a head covering may seem odd enough, note what these scriptures say as to why a woman needs her head covered, in verses 13-15:
Judge for yourselves: Is it ﬁtting for a woman to pray to God with her head uncovered? Does not nature itself teach you that long hair is a dishonor to a man, but if a woman has long hair, it is a glory to her? For her hair is given to her instead of a covering.
Jehovah’s Witnesses have commented on this point about nature and long hair (bold added for emphasis):
Paul calls attention to the naturally long hair of the women in the congregation to which he wrote as a continuous God-given reminder that the woman is by nature subject to the man. … Paul pointed out that the long hair of a woman was a natural evidence of her womanly position under man’s headship. The woman, seeing this natural reminder of her subjection, should, in consequence, wear a form of head covering as “a sign of authority” on her head… (Insight on the Scriptures, Volume 1, pp. 1053-1054)
So, their point is that because women have long hair, this is “proof” of her “natural” subjection to men.
Except … men have long hair too. As a matter of fact, if a man wants short hair he needs to interfere with nature and get it cut.
Some might argue that women’s hair naturally grows longer than men’s, but this is not true. When I was a teen girl and wanted long hair, it never reached past the middle of my back. I knew many other girls the same, whereas many men who grow their hair long can see it reach their waistband and beyond.
Jehovah’s Witnesses attempted to address this in their Insight Book mentioned above, stating that hair length for men and women may vary according to race, but this presents a problem. Your race is not the only thing that determines your hair length, and hair features can vary even within certain races. Many Mediterranean persons have thick, dark hair, but these men can also experience male pattern baldness, and these women can experience thin hair and hair that doesn’t grow very long, as an example. Stereotyping everyone of a certain race when it comes to hair features is shortsighted and inaccurate.
Jehovah’s Witnesses always stress that the bible is scientific and meant for everyone around the world, so if Paul says that “nature” gives women longer hair, and Jehovah’s Witnesses themselves want to say that her longer hair is a “natural” sign of her submission, then they need to take into consideration all races and all persons, not just a few. Otherwise, these scriptures would not apply to women in those races where men’s hair can grow longer!
Femininity and Long Hair
Others might also object that long hair is more feminine and that men look unattractive with long hair. First, “attractive” is very subjective. Brad Pitt, Christian Bale, Daniel Day-Lewis, Johnny Depp, Jason Momoa, Chris Hemsworth, Colin Farrell, and other such heartthrobs have all grown their hair long at one time or another, and these are some of the most attractive, masculine men on the planet. This is just my personal opinion, but the most beautiful men in the world are Native Americans with long, black hair; I can hardly watch the movies “Dances With Wolves,” or “Last of the Mohicans” without being distracted.
Second, if long hair is so feminine then why does a man’s hair grow longer by nature? Why would Jehovah give men a feminine feature, especially if he was going to later say that this feature shows that women are “naturally” submissive to men? This is what I mean by an explanation for a rule calling into question the entire rule itself; it makes no sense to say that the reason you can have authority over women is because Jehovah gave women long hair, when men have long hair as well.
Subjection and Abuse
This reasoning for women to be submissive is not only incorrect when it comes to nature, but it’s also downright silly. A person’s hair should have nothing to do with being “submissive,” any more than their height, skin color, race, or gender. Someone’s ability to lead, serve, minister, understand scripture and make decisions, depends on a person’s intellect, experience, and emotional maturity, not their physical makeup.
As if this reasoning on submissive and subjection were not flimsy enough, the domestic violence I saw as one of Jehovah’s Witnesses shows that this arrangement itself is also very questionable, and leads to far too many abuses. When scriptures make up excuses for men to subjugate and dominate certain members of society based on reasoning that’s questionable at best, and that arrangement leads to abuse and violence more than not, it’s right to call into question that entire arrangement itself.
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