Are Jehovah's Witnesses a Cult?

Seriously, Why Can’t Jehovah’s Witness Women Wear Pants?

If you ever visit a Kingdom Hall of Jehovah’s Witnesses, you might notice a few things about their meetings that seem a bit different. One is that all the women will probably be wearing either skirts or dresses. Women are not, as a general rule, allowed to wear trousers of any sort during their meetings or when in the preaching work, and this includes business trousers or pantsuits.

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Gaucho pants; even these are a no-no for Jehovah’s Witness women.

Before I continue, let me note, in all fairness, that this rule applies only to their meetings and preaching work; Jehovah’s Witness women are allowed to wear jeans, pantsuits, shorts, bathing suits, etc., in their everyday life. They are counseled about being modest, so those bathing suits might not be string bikinis, but the “no pants” rule only applies to their meetings and preaching.

It’s also only fair to note that a woman in pants isn’t just turned away at the door. As an example, when I was an active Witness, I knew a woman who worked in a hospital, and often could not leave in time to go home and change, and who would occasionally arrive to the meetings in her hospital scrubs. However, a woman in pants would not be allowed to be on the platform for any type of public participation, and would also not be allowed in the preaching work.

Also, if a woman continued to show up for meetings or preaching in pants without a good excuse, such as mentioned above, she would probably be counseled in some way. Many years ago, there was a woman I knew who was fond of wearing gauchos (for those under the age of 100, gauchos are long, loose shorts) and the men of the congregation put a stop to her habit with a public discourse about appropriate dress, mentioning them in particular.

There are three issues I have with this odd requirement:

Modesty Is Needed

As said, Jehovah’s Witnesses stress modesty to women in how they dress, and in some respects, I don’t disagree with this. Years ago, a woman I worked with was fond of wearing extremely short skirts, and during one meeting, she sat on the edge of the desk rather than in a chair for some reason. Let’s just say I made a complaint to Human Resources, since I don’t expect to have anyone’s genitalia flashed in my face during work hours in the office.

However, what’s interesting is the level of modesty that is expected and encouraged among Jehovah’s Witnesses, and how difficult it can be to achieve when wearing a skirt. Note this picture taken from one of their current brochures. It shows how this photo illustration was edited between printings. Spot the difference?

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This brings up the question then, since modesty is so important, why not actually encourage women to wear trousers? Aren’t they more modest than any skirt? Trousers cover your entire leg; a skirt is always going to leave something exposed, and you have far less risk of even more exposure when you sit down or bend over in pants. Have you ever seen a gust of wind blow a woman’s pantsuit over her head? This picture above would not have required PhotoShop if these women had been wearing trousers in the first place.

Businesslike and Professional

Another problem with this skirts-only policy is that Jehovah’s Witnesses are counseled to look somewhat serious and professional when in their preaching work. JWs often approach the bible with a studious attitude; their services are called “meetings,” they have a public speaking “school,” and on Sunday they “study” the Watchtower. When they go in their preaching work, they are told to “reason” on scriptures with people.

To understand my point, first note these pictures of women going in their preaching work, as found in some recent literature of Jehovah’s Witnesses:

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Now, there’s nothing wrong with how any of these women are dressed; they’re all neat and attractive and everything coordinates, although you might notice that none of these outfits are necessarily flattering to the figure. However, let me ask you, could you imagine any woman dressed like this being in charge of a boardroom, or working in an ultra-professional career? Do they seem authoritative and well-educated?

Take a look at these pictures by comparison:

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I realize these last two pictures are professionally posed with models and designer suits, but even with that thought aside, aren’t pantsuits and a professional look more likely to impress someone when it comes your supposed bible education and the depth of your knowledge?

Some might argue that you can’t judge a person by what they wear, but that’s very shortsighted. If a woman was going on a job interview for a very professional, executive-level position, which choice do you think would impress the interviewer, the skirt and sweater combo, or the pantsuit? What you wear does make a difference in how others perceive you.

This isn’t sexist, as it works for men too; if you were in charge of hiring executives for a Fortune 500 company, and a man showed up in a pair of Dockers and a sweater, would he get the job? Would you assume he’s a competent leader, savvy and well-educated?

If any of those women in the first pictures were lawyers in court, would you think they’re competent and serious when it comes to difficult issues of law? Do they seem like the type who should be standing in front of others, giving testimony and making arguments?

What you wear does make an impression, which is why Jehovah’s Witnesses have requirements for how their members dress in the first place. They acknowledge that wardrobe is important, so no jeans, track suits, shorts, and so on when preaching or at the meetings. My concern is that they’re not making the impression they assume by requiring women to wear skirts and dresses; these women don’t look professional or particularly well-educated and authoritative, which is a look you need when you want someone to think you understand difficult concepts about the bible.

Does the Bible Fit Our Modern World?

Another problem I might mention is that many people today don’t believe the bible fits our modern world. Today, we have science and machines that tell us more about life than we’ve ever imagined, and stories from thousands of years ago can be difficult to apply to the hectic, technologically-based world in which we live. The story of shepherds who lived in tents and made animal sacrifices can be difficult to apply to someone who lives in Manhattan and works on Wall Street. The bible is a book of stories of voices being heard from the sky and through burning bushes, a man parting a large sea so people could walk through it, animals talking, angels materializing, the dead coming to life, and so on. Many today dismiss these stories as outlandish fables.

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A look at the brain during a seizure. No demons here.

Some even believe that the bible is full of ignorant and downright barbaric information. For instance, if someone today is having convulsions, we assume they have epilepsy, not that they’re “possessed by demons.” Polygamy and spanking your children, common in the bible, are often thought of as outdated, sexist, and abusive. This post isn’t meant to argue for or against those beliefs; I’m simply pointing out the impression that many people have about bible itself, that it’s ancient and simplistic and even silly, and has no place for us in our savvy, scientific, educated world.

When women show up at people’s doors to talk to them about the bible, and they’re dressed in outfits that resemble prairie girls, they may not be helping this problem any. If you look again at those first pictures, you may agree that their outfits seem outdated and unfashionable, and this, in turn, can make their message also seem outdated and unappealing. A person living in today’s modern world with a professional career and advanced degree may look at those women and immediately dismiss them and their message as being out of touch and irrelevant.

So, Seriously, Why Can’t Jehovah’s Witness Women Wear Pants?

Because wearing skirts and dresses may actually be detracting from the message Jehovah’s Witnesses are sharing, and because they defeat the purpose of modesty, why aren’t Jehovah’s Witness women allowed to wear pants when at their meetings and their preaching?

This is just my own personal guess, but I wonder if Jehovah’s Witnesses don’t want women in trousers because they feel they’re too masculine; dressing like a man might make you feel as if you’re equal to a man, and we certainly can’t have that. Also, if you dress professionally and as someone educated and authoritative, you may start to feel educated and authoritative, and realize that you shouldn’t be tolerating abuse and a second-class citizenry in your religion. If you keep women in girly clothes, you keep her in a childish position more easily. Those are just my own personal guesses, but considering the poor track record JWs have when it comes to how they treat women, I see no reason to think otherwise.

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41 replies »

  1. What about the men in the Bible who wore long robes – were they looking like women? They didn’t wear trousers back then. Being old fashioned still follows fashion and yet JWs are told not to follow fashions. I remember being criticised for wearing midi dresses back in the 70s – now they were feminine and modest but it took a while before they were allowed. Wearing a trouser suit that isn’t too tight with a pretty top, jewellery etc. and heels would not make you look like a man or be considered someone wearing men’s clothes. Wearing clothing that is clean, fits properly (without showing too much cleavage or leg), reasonable colours, smart etc. should be good enough and not being so pedantic shows respect.

  2. Although the majority of JW’s follows the typical conservative dress code as seen in publications or in kingdom hall, I (artistic/alternative kind of person and JW) just follow the flow I’m living in.
    Wearing pants under my dress, having a quiet freaky folky appearance(I love Cocorosie, Bjork and art-house films) and refusing wearing a badge at the conventions because of my individualistic consciousness, no-one in the congregation says something about it.

    They know it is just who I am and I even get compliments about my style.

    It ‘s only pity you can’t find many fellow believers who are marching to the same tune
    and who do understand that coloring outside the lines can be a must.

    Nevertheless I believe God contains more than a neatly trimmed garden… Just look to wild nature;-D

  3. Am proud to be one of jehovah’s witness. Wearing skirt at the meeting and at the preaching work we show respect.A SKIRT Is good for womens. We wear skirs to show respect and we are comfortable with it. I Will Always be a j.w.org

    • If you read your bible you will see that things stop adding up. Like the teaching on heaven or Paradise Heb 11:16. What happens to those who make predictions in Jehovah’s name (like 1914, 1918, the Generation teaching, etc) Deut 18:22. The unscripturalness of Judicial Committees – 1 Corin 4:3-5. Quite amazing!

  4. In the old testament Jewish women were forbidden to wear anything resembling men’s clothing. The JW can’t control what you wear at home, but when you are at the Kingdom Hall or at an assembly, or out in service, they can. I wore a long floor length dress once or twice and they put a stop to that. It was modest, but a lot of it has to do with control. They tell you how to live every minute or your life and it you don’t, then you get into trouble. I am no longer a JW and am happy I learned who Jesus really is and now am saved. The JW is a cult and control is their thing.

  5. Christ never went around with a suit on and carrying a brief case. He had a beard on and wore a rope. So who are the jws trying to impress? As long as you are a good person and follow what is right that is all that matters. Now upon what you wear to church or meetings etc.. As long as you look modest and approprite for however your religious afliation meets , is all that matters.

  6. Jw’s are so judgemental, conditional and hypocritical. Their all full of boloney. I cant stand when they go out and preach the holy word with twisted truths and concepts from their fake and twisted bible. If you are going to teach something from the bible, teach it with the honest truth not what the watchtower lies about. People want to hear and learn something postive and manmade lies.

  7. Of course JW is a freakn cult or a brain washing religion, the jehovas witness destroyed my family’s faith and now my gran pa denounce his faith and he accepts Christ and now we’re praying for my gran ma, and my moms aunt the woman who introduce jw to my family.

  8. Very interesting read. I’m not a religious person ( I dont particularly care for the way women are treated especially in abrahamic religions) but I have to tell you that I agree about the dress code making Jehovah’s Witness women seem out of touch.

  9. Thank you for writing on this subject, Alexandra. It always bothered me that we ladies couldn’t wear nice pants and a tunic for instance. Due to some health issues I found it very challenging going out in the winter months because of this silly rule of having to wear dresses and skirts. And quite frankly I used to think that we weren’t endearing us to a lot of people with our attire, I think JWs are starting to look more and more like the exclusive brethrens, bar the head scarf. On the same token also the men, the sameness is downright crazy. Fashion sense has moved on, and what’s wrong with wearing a beard? The society seems to have a real issue in regards to hairiness, take for instance Jesus, he seems to have very sparse body hair versus the unrepentant evil doer sports quite a lot of body hair and the repentant has sort of medium hair growth. Really, WT this is downright bat pooh crazy.

    • Thank you Liz, it’s such a ridiculous thing in this day and age and, like you said, may just backfire on them. They do look like an out-of-touch cult when they knock on the door in a skirt and matronly sweater.

  10. This is so silly. I’m not a JW, but I can say that it’s silly to criticize a relgions arbitrary dress codes. If I’m not Amish, do you think it’s silly for me to complain how Amish people dress? As an outsider, these regulations may seem restrictive and overbearing, but in reality, they are small sacrifices (if you could even call them that) to someone who believes in and loves their God.

    • No, it’s not a sacrifice for their god; it’s another level of control a man-made religion extends over its members for no reason. It’s also grossly hypocritical to tell women to be modest but then demand they show their legs. Rules, rules, rules are how religions just drain the life out of their congregants and keep them constantly afraid of violating those rules.

      • I respect your beliefs, but I can’t help but say that a matter such as this is entirely subjective to the person. Maybe we are both right; for some, it’s a small sacrifice to do what they BELIEVE is right, and for others it’s a point of major criticism and they feel controlled.

        May you find whatever it is you’re seeking Alexandra.

  11. This ‘no trousers’ rule bears down heavily on older wonen who feel they must wear stockings with all the suspender stuff if they can’t wear ‘slacks’. Just as the requirement for men tio wear a suit and tie is burdensome – why, when at miost meetings it’s all other JWs, so who would be ‘disrepected’ by a JW, male or femals, in smart-casual attire. Also, the problem here is a ‘thermostat’ effect; psychologists well know that, for example if you make cars safer, people drive them more dangerously; if you make finance less risky, people take greater financial risks. Same with cleanliness (which as the JWs recognise is both physical – clean body, clean clothes – also moral, clean religious standing, virtue etc). If people put great store on attending a religious service in neat, clean, clothes, their virtuosity will decline, they become more standoffish, less willing to help others, more cliquey. In fact it’s worse because you start a culture where the women especially get very competitive, edgy, neurotic, over who has the best dress; the men put great store by ‘shiny shoes and a well=pressed suit’ and ignore all the true signs of a Christian – humility, willingnes to get hands dirty helping others, study and deep analysis of the Bible. Dress and grooming, because its easy, immediate, superficial, and uber-competitive, (my shoes can always be just a bit shinier than yours) becomes the be-all and end all of a JW meeting. Just remind me, didn’t Jesys criticise the Pharisees for ultra opulent ostentatious dress (and grooming)?

    • That’s a very good point, that they put too much emphasis on show and not enough on what’s really going on behind the scenes. You’ve actually given me inspiration for a new column, so stay tuned!

    • You can’t respect Jehovah in a pantsuit? Says who? Since when did covering your legs completely become less respectful than wearing a skirt?

      You wear what you wear because the governing body makes up random rules that appeal to them and which definitely “go beyond the things that are written.”

      • Alexis so a person wearing pants is disrespectful? Show me anywhere in the bible it explicitly says women should not wear pants? It doesn’t. Its a matter of the personal choice. As long as its modest that’s what should matter.

      • Beautifully said, as a recent member it’s important fully accepting rules, & hearing why, so massive thanks sis!

  12. They’re stuck in the 50’s. The answer I got was, “we believe in looking our best.” I said, well then, I look my best in a nice slacks suit.” Dead silence. It’s not about what you look best in, it’s about compliance and looking submissive and mousey.

  13. Maybe if they first let grown men have beards, that way the men would be wearing something that women can’t wear. Those men on the Governing Body need to liberate their own gender first before they free up the ladies.

  14. Sorry to say, I saw a woman who was at the flea market giving away bible literature, she looked sluggish, her face show the face of a pure adulterous woman, to my surprise saw the same woman today and she was a JW, but I also seen this type of harlot character in other no JW witness, but I in other Christian churches. Religion is false if it is not put into practice from the heart, otherwise, it is just an act. So to obey is better than to sacrifice.

  15. “My concern is that they’re not making the impression they assume by requiring women to wear skirts and dresses; these women don’t look professional or particularly well-educated and authoritative…”

    Maybe that’s the whole point. It’s a very subtle method of devaluing a woman – after all, she’s not supposed to “teach” or even to be as smart as a man (that’s according to JWs). Making women dress in clothing from the 80s is just part of the brainwashing.

    • You’re coming to the same conclusions I am! Put her in little girl dresses and she’ll feel like a little girl.

  16. Simply, because it is a totalitarian business corporation. Men have to wear business suits, be clean shaven and have short haircuts just like the politicians, lawyers and corporate America. Funny, thought we were not to imitate the world and its ways in the control of Satan the Devil. Oh, I forgot, it is a business.

    • Darn good question. Interesting that in their literature, women are often pictured wearing skirts in the new system, in casual settings, etc. Not always, but very, very often.

      • The WTS does not want us women to relax ever! They want us women to be put in our place and be naive and sweet all the time.

      • My old hall organised a tour of the British Museum a couple yrs ago. I got up early on my one day off and commuted for over an hour into central London in casual wear thinking it was a normal day out. I got there and everyone was dressed like the meeting. The brother giving the tour whispered and whispered with one of our brothers while we all gathered waiting for it to start and then our brother came over to me, walked me far off to the side and told me I wasn’t allowed to join the tour of a PUBLIC library because I was wearing trousers and to go home. Commute all the way bk home. I protested but was met with ‘ur giving a bad witness to the public wearing trousers’. The rest of the cong watched me disapprovingly like I’d rocked up with a fag in my mouth or something. And somebody in the comments will no doubt say, oh get over it it was just one thing. But it’s not one thing. It’s a whole accumulation of ‘things’. There is a bigger picture.

    • That’s very good question. Perhaps it is to distinguish who is worldy and JW. JW follows the rules while worldly people do not know the rules so therefore the bethel police will catch them and throw them out??

    • Bethel is the capital and where all the literature comes from, it’s a sign of respect. When doing anything(literally) related to the JW organization, women must follow the dress code along with any other rules that are in place.

      • You can show respect while in pants. How is it “disrespectful” to be in jeans in a factory of all places? Or business casual dress, which would be trousers and a nice blouse? Skirts can be especially immodest when in a factory, if you’re on an elevated catwalk where everyone can look up at you. Wearing a skirt means shoes with some type of heel, and that’s downright unsafe in a factory. It’s actually disrespectful to the woman to expect her to dress in a way that exposes her legs (and perhaps even more) and puts her safety at risk, for absolutely no good reason. Asking JWs to respect others, especially women, is too much though. They make up nonsense rules that serve no purpose and as Sarah said, everyone is just supposed to follow no matter what. One sign of a cult, for sure.

      • Deuteronomy 22:5 as follows: “The woman shall not wear that which pertains unto a man, neither shall a man put on a womanÂ’s garment: for all that do so are abomination unto the Lord your God.”
        This is speaking of attempting to look like the other sex deceit .
        what men and men wore back when these words were written is not what we wear today or anything like it MOST MEN would not wear women’s pants or clothing and MOST WOMEN do not wear men’s pants and clothing .The whole matter is be modest and respectful in how we dress. I am only 18 years old and I’ve grown up being a JW I hope this text from the bible helps you to understand . Have a great day.

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