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.
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?
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:
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:
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.
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 then 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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