“Ask a Former JW” Mailbox:
Hi, I like this girl, I won’t name her, she is a JW. She recently graduated from High School as #2 in her class. I am a grade below her. Anyways, she took an secretary position at the school instead of going to college. And she has a sister who also graduated with honors, and is working as a legal secretary. I don’t understand, how could one person work so hard in HS only to reject college? Now, I like her and everything, is it wrong to keep questioning her decision even though I did it like once. I know that she is very involved in “preaching”, and I want to know if it might have something to do with her decision. Do JW’s women often go for the lesser jobs, or does the devotion to the religion cause them to choose differently? Help. Thank You. – Vincent
Dear Vincent: Female Jehovah’s Witnesses get significant pressure not to pursue higher education and careers. First, educational ambitions are not rewarded, to say the least. Depending on the country and congregation, college is discouraged and sometimes even prohibited.
Why? First, there is the idea that the door-to-door service is the ideal career choice. Although the sales force for the wealthy Watchtower Bible and Tract organization is unpaid, they feel that they are doing the most important work on the globe – giving everyone a chance to become part of “God’s organization” before this “system of things” is destroyed by God. Since they have believed for a century that the time is short, and since they believe that all members are called to this service, no other career is taken very seriously. College, by definition, is a waste of time.
Like some other authoritarian groups, they have also noticed that higher education tends to, well, educate. A JW who goes to college may learn the difference between a strong interpretation and a weak one; or become accustomed to asking questions and hearing multiple points of view; or find role models – women in positions of leadership, accomplishment, teaching; or develop intellectual curiosity; or be able to make contextual ethical judgments; or find that not all “worldly” things are of Satan. In college, it is not possible to limit one’s reading to the Watchtower publications. The texts are more challenging than in high school, and simple memorization of rote responses is not enough to get a good grade in a college class. You have to develop a critical sense. You have to be able to write and defend a coherent point of view, based on evidence. Such skills are threatening to the organization for the same reasons that they threaten any group that has a firm, and nearly totalitarian, grip on the lives of their followers.
The other problem with college is that members of the congregation tend to be so controlled that when they do get a little freedom, they are not always able to moderate their own behavior – they can make self-destructive choices. Expecting the college environment to be a swarm of temptations, and having an either/or, all or nothing kind of mindset, they may throw themselves into every aspect of that of whatever they find – once they have done even one stupid thing.
Generally speaking, JWs have not been encouraged to find their own voice and their own way, and so the learning curve can be steep – and costly.
A JW that goes to college is thought of as being selfish, rather than as thinking always of God. Considerations of one’s own individual calling, contribution to the larger society, future income potential, and things like that don’t enter into the discussion.
So, from the point of view of the JWS, college wastes time that should be spent in service, and it can change the perspective of the JW in ways (for good and ill) that are out of the control of the Society.
So far, the objections to higher education apply to both women and men.
Women, however, have the added burden of the gender role expectations. Although women usually outnumber men in any given congregation, positions of leadership (they use the opposite terminology of slave and servant) are held only by men. Only men can be elders or ministerial servants or district/circuit overseers or one of the guys in Brooklyn who decide on the rules for all. Only boys carry a microphone (that’s the closest equivalent to an alter-boy). Only male members can stand to address a congregation or an assembly.
Women are very much second-class citizens.
Jehovah’s Witnesses are not alone in this view, of course. Still, it is very clear that the normative role (and career) for a JW woman is to spend as much time in service as possible, find a promising JW man to marry, and raise their children to be upstanding JWs. That’s it. Some people have chosen not to have children, either, considering the times.
An intelligent and capable young woman, such as the one that interests you, gets her only chance to shine in the public schools. After graduation, she will find whatever job she can with that level of education.
And now, back to you, Vincent.
If you wish, you may ask her about her choices. It’s not wrong to do so, although she may feel it is intrusive. She may use it as an opportunity to “witness” to you, or she may tell you that it’s none of your business, or she may confide secret wishes (if she has any). I couldn’t say.
If you are thinking of her in a romantic way, you’ve got a difficult road ahead even if she is interested in you.
For the JWS, dating is to find a marriage partner, period. Eventually, you would have to convert, or she would have to choose to leave the JWs. If you convert, your children would have to raised as JWs. If she leaves, she will be cut off from her family and friends.
If you like her, I would advise you to be her friend – really her friend. You sound very sweet and sincere, and such a friendship might be treasured, if it could be accepted.