The December 2018 Watchtower study edition offers some horrific advice to women, including encouragement to consider staying in abusive homes; see Dangerous Advice to Domestic Violence Victims, With a Disturbing Twist.
The article, “Honor ‘What God Has Yoked Together,'” also discusses marital infidelity, first saying that an innocent wife can decide to divorce in that situation. However, after that brief statement, there is an entire paragraph speaking against divorcing an unfaithful man:
“Significantly, Jesus did not say that a mate’s immorality (por·neiʹa) must absolutely lead to divorce. For example, a wife might choose to maintain the marriage despite her husband’s having been immoral. She might still love him; she might be willing to forgive him and work with him to improve their marriage. Realistically, if she got a divorce but did not remarry, she would face challenges. What of her material and sexual needs? What about loneliness? Are there children to consider? Would a divorce make it harder to raise them in the truth? (1 Cor. 7:14) Clearly, the divorced innocent one would face serious issues.”
“Work With Him”
First, it says a wife might “work with” her unfaithful spouse to “improve their marriage.” My question is, why would an innocent spouse need to work to improve the marriage? She didn’t cheat, betray her vows, or break that marriage bond.
I agree that no marriage is perfect and perhaps the husband wasn’t happy with the relationship, but that’s still no excuse for infidelity! When a husband is unfaithful, he needs work and improvement, first and foremost, not “the marriage.”
This sexism is more apparent when you compare this information to the February 15, 2007, Watchtower:
“As the family head, the husband has the authority and responsibility to correct family members, including his wife. While firmness may be needed, this correction should be given in a kind, loving manner … If there is a fault that needs attention, husbands should not necessarily expect that their sincere efforts to correct it will meet with immediate success … Changes in attitudes and conduct often take time and are gradual.”
This 2007 Watchtower tells a husband to “correct” his wife if he feels she’s doing something wrong; it doesn’t say he should “work with” his wife to improve “their marriage.”
Yet, the 2018 Watchtower says nothing about a wife “correcting” an unfaithful husband. Instead, she might “work with him” to improve, not him as a person and husband, but “their marriage.”
As always, the wife is not an equal partner in the marriage or an adult able to counsel her husband, even after he’s been unfaithful; she’s an underling, there to support him and his needs.
All the Problems If She Divorces … None If She Stays
The magazine notes problems a woman might face if she divorced and didn’t remarry. As a single woman, I will agree that it’s challenging at times (and probably even more so for Jehovah’s Witness women who aren’t allowed sex outside of marriage). That being said, there is a two-fold misogyny in how this information is presented.
You’re Lost Without a Man
The first issue is that Watchtower talks about challenges a woman might have without a man; for example, her materials needs. Certainly women might struggle to make a living; however, women are also quite capable of earning a paycheck! I’ve always supported myself financially; while my bank account has gone up and down over the years, never once in my adult life has a man paid my rent.
The magazine also notes a divorced woman might be lonely; again, I agree it’s nice to have a “special someone” in your life, but single women and their families are also quite capable of keeping each other company without a man around! A divorced woman might also find she has more time to do the things she enjoys and that makes her feel fulfilled, minimizing her loneliness.
The Watchtower then mentions children. Not being a parent, I can’t comment much on the challenges of single mothers, but I do know that many women have raised children on their own quite successfully.
Note, too, that having a man in the home doesn’t automatically mean he’s sharing child rearing responsibilities. Not to discredit hard-working, involved fathers, but let’s be honest; some men still see disciplining children, helping with homework, taking care of a sick child, meal prep for the kids, etc., as “women’s work.” Also, if a husband is lazy about cleaning up after himself or helping with chores in general, his presence can also mean more work for a wife and mother, not less.
No Problems If She Stayed?
The second problem is that the paragraph says nothing about the “serious issues” a woman might face if she stays with an unfaithful man; for example:
- What message would this send to her husband and children; will they think it’s okay to cheat on a woman and that she should simply tolerate such behavior?
- Was the husband unkind in the time leading up to his infidelity, perhaps constantly faultfinding as a way of justifying his unfaithfulness? Will that self-justifying, blaming attitude continue if she takes him back?
- Would the wife be able to trust the husband, or would she always live in fear of him cheating again?
- Is there any risk of sexually transmitted diseases or of the husband having gotten the other woman pregnant?
- An unfaithful husband has demonstrated a gross lack of regard for their innocent mate’s feelings; would he continue to show such blatant disregard for his wife’s feelings and dignity?
- Does the husband show selfishness or a sense of entitlement to attention outside the marriage and would this continue if she takes him back? For example, does he flirt with or “gawk at” other women, even if this hurts his wife’s feelings?
One last note; if a woman feels she must stay with an unfaithful husband because she’s unable to support herself, might get lonely, or cannot handle the children, and not just because she loves him, this is a red flag that it’s time to make changes in general!
Every person should be able to support themselves financially so that they never need to stay in an abusive or unhappy relationship simply for a roof over their heads. A mother should also be strong and capable on her own, and children should be taught respect for mothers and the family in general, with or without a father in the picture.
Also, the Watchtower mentions that a divorced woman might struggle with loneliness, but a woman might be just as lonely, if not even more so, married to a cheating spouse who shows little regard for her as a person.
Obvious Bias Toward the Men
The bottom line is that this article has an overt bias toward men; of course women should consider challenges a divorce might bring, but the Watchtower says nothing about the drawbacks and “serious issues” of staying with an unfaithful spouse! There is also, as usual, no encouragement or empowerment for women who deserve better than to stay with an unfaithful man, and not one word about how taking back that cheating spouse might affect her or her children.
I can’t help but think that this information, instead, empowers men tempted to have an affair, knowing the pressure an innocent wife feels to forgive him. Unfaithful men, as well as elders and others in the congregation, might also put added pressure on an innocent wife to stay, implying or saying outright that god is disappointed at her for divorcing, she’s not following bible counsel, is now bad association, etc., or that she’s even to blame for the marital breakup for choosing to divorce.
Watchtower has never tried to hide their power-hungry, snarling, insulting misogyny when it comes to how women are treated, even in their own homes and marriages, and it’s downright depressing to think that they obviously never will. I can only hope fewer generations accept this sexist, hurtful garbage as time goes on.