Ask a Former JW: Women and Careers

Ask a Former JW: Women and Careers

“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.


7 thoughts on “Ask a Former JW: Women and Careers

  1. I’m very curious about the JWS Hierarchy.
    1. Is there any clergy?
    2. If yes, how are they trained?
    3. Who actually writes the Watchtower?
    4. Who is responsible for interpreting the Bible?
    5. How do people advance in the organization?
    6. Does anyone earn a salary for their services.
    7. Who makes the decisions?

    I’d really appreciate an answer.

  2. Clergy. They wouldn’t call it that, exactly. All adult-baptised (no infant baptisms) JWs are considered “publishers” or equal members of a ministry. If you ever read about a JW in the news, they will claim that they are a minister. That just means that they are a member of the congregation. Theoretically, women are ministers too, but you will rarely if ever hear that word used. They have a “theocratic ministry school” at one meeting a week, to illustrate how to witness to others – and there is an informal apprentice-type training with more experienced witnesses. I was witnessing even as a child.

    Witnesses keep track of their hours and report them, through the congregation, to New York. Pioneers and auxillary pioneers – who witness door-to-door for a specific number of hours per month – have special status. I’m not sure what the required hours are now – I believe they have been reduced somewhat.

    In each congregation, there are also “ministerial servants” which is the mid-range position for a man judged to be responsible and upright, and then there are a group of congregational “elders.” They receive “direction and guidance” (rules, a handbook, and “public talk” -sermon- topics and outlines for each week) from headquarters in New York. There are some training centers for various functions within the organization, but congregational elders are discouraged from pursuing any real training in pastoral work, theology, history, or anything like that. The only qualifications are that you are a male in good standing when there is a vacancy and that the elders approve of you.

    District and circuit “overseers” travel around, inspect each congregation and discipline the elders, and they give special “talks” to the congregation. From there, it’s a little hazy and secretive.

    There is a “governing body” of men in New York, and a president of those men. JW can find out who they are, but somehow that’s not really a line of thought that many JWs pursue. They are usually aware of who the president is, but beyond that they are careful, under the idea that no-one should be receiving too much attention. That is also the reason stated for not saying who writes the Watchtower articles. In fact, there are writers, but everything has to be vetted by the governing body, since the “guidance” provided is taken as straight from God. The “governing body” is considered to be “God’s channel” on earth. It is assumed that they are all of the chosen, the elect, the faithful and discreet slave, of the 144,000 who will rule as kings with Christ in heaven after the destruction of this system of things. The “great crowd” of other believers who are not killed will live on a paradise earth (that’s the big draw). There are other living members of the elect, but they appear to have no say in much of anything.

    There are other workers – a pretty serious legal team, writers, the whole publishing house, farms, outposts in several countries, and so on. Some people do receive pay – and housing – but it’s not very much. The primary salesforce is of course unpaid, although the hours are reported.

    The Watchtower is the thematic bible interpretation, with articles that are “studied” in the second hour of the Sunday meeting. The Awake! has human interest stories, and articles of wider interest.

    People advance by adhering to rules, not asking awkward questions, and expressing commitment and absolute loyalty to the organization. There are stories, both good and bad, about life among the Bethelites, but the average JW is pretty disconnected from that. JW life is centered at the congregational level, except for local and national “assemblies” which energize them with guidance
    for days at a time.

    Who makes the decisions? At the family level, the man is the head of the household. At the local level, the word of the elders is absolute and the congregation is to submit to them. The elders in turn submit to overseers and New York. The governing body gets it right from God, they say. It’s a top-down organization – they refer to it as a theocracy, and they mean it (despite the fact that one of their early rallying cries was “religion is a snare and a racket”).

    There was a restructuring a few years ago, partially to separate different interests into organizational structures for legal protection. And there may be a lot more to unravel here, such as the financial arrangements, ownership of the kingdom halls and other properties, and so on. Much of this is opaque.

    But I think I’ve answered your questions?

  3. Hi, im not sure if this is the right place for me to comment, but i just dont understand why these former jws have decided that it is not the truth. im a 18 year old jw, im not very strong but i still belive that it is the truth. i have had people try and tell me other wise but i can always back up what i believe. how can people who are older than me not see that it is the truth.

    please reply to me, im not sure how this works, if i get a reply on email or if i have to come back here, i would just like a better understanding on how other people feel and why they have decied not to be jws anymore.

    thanks mel

  4. my friend from scool is a jw, we r both 15. she always impreses me because she never swears smokes or anything like the others. and she is always friendly and seems to really care about my feelings. i can never find any fault in her. she never imposes her beliefs on me. if i ask her she tells me. she always looks for the best in people, and she seems very hapy too. so i dont know how ‘virus head’ can be so bitter towards them. also my grandma was a jw she died when i was 9. i sumtimes went to the ‘meetings’ with her because I wanted to. i actually miss it. i miss the family kind of atmosphere. and unity. everyone cared about each other. i might go bac one day.

    btw: if ‘virus head’ decided to stop being a jw because their academic acheivments were not rewarded, then it is clear that you just want praise for your ‘knowlege’, which is not what jw s feel is the most important. accademic supiriority is not a part of jws so i gather. all jws are equal. in fact its probably a good job youre not a jw, or youd give them a bad name.

  5. im an 18 year old female jw too, and i decided not to go to college when i left school. no one pushed me into this decision, i made it myself (i did well at school too). the reason i made this decision was because i wanted to put my spirituality first. some people think im wasting my life, but youre only wasting your life if your not doing what makes you happy.
    also it is not true that the elders in a congregation pressure us not to go to college, i have never felt under any pressure. iv always made my own decisions and so have all my friends (any elder that does put pressure on someone, is not doing the right thing, and this does not represent the beliefs of all witnesess). my mum sometimes worried that when i was agreeing to what she said, i was not making my own decisions, and would one day resent her for it. but iv always made my own mind up all my life, even though im shy.
    what people need to do, is give us some credit, and understand that we are capable of using our own minds, making our own decisions, and making the right chioces concerning our lives.
    also jw women dont go for lesser jobs, my mum trained as a nurse before she was a jw (she could still have done this after she became a jw). she earns just as much as my dad.
    i hope this helps. and if this girl is happy thats all that really matters.

    thanx xxxxx

    ps. ‘virus head’ seems to dislikes jehovahs witnesess. if you want more accurate information about our beliefs please contact actual jehovahs witnesess, who will do their best to help you.

    something is wrong with the anti spam thing. this is the 3rd time iv tried to post my comment :S

  6. Technical issue first: Multiple submissions are not required. You simply have to wait for me to approve your comment. This blog is moderated. Also, Libby and Liz are posting from the same IP.

    JW’s are certainly encouraged to make their own decisions – just so long as they are in alignment with the goals of the guys in Brooklyn. Jehovah’s Witnesses receive constant “guidance” on even the smallest issues. If you want more official JW sources, a reading of even the cleaned-up versions at the official site will give you a sense of things. Putting your spirituality first is encouraged – that’s one way to put it.

    As far as wanting to be praised for my academic achievements, I have to say that it’s a pretty common (and tired) objection. Is that the best you can do? Can you not understand that my purpose here is to be a resource for others who have been JWs or who are dealing with JWs? Frankly, it’s not rocket science to be able to do that. It just takes the experience of having grown up as a JW, in a JW family, and paying attention, and being able to draw a line – even in the Christian tradition – between following the authority of the Watchtower Society (or any other authoritarian group or party) and the higher values (which do not seek to control others) of compassion, spirituality and wisdom. My academic studies certainly helped me to understand how misguided some of their teachings and biblical interpretations are, but I rarely get into that sort of thing here.

    There are many reasons why each individual former JW decides to leave. In my own case, there were multiple reasons. Ultimately each person’s spiritual path is their own. We are all unique, and each has their path to follow.

    My opposition is not to rank and file JWs, who for the most part mean well and who simply follow what they believe God wants them to do, as laid down by the corporations of the Watchtower. It simply doesn’t occur to the average JW to question why he or she should serve in an unpaid salesforce to such a wealthy set of corporations. They don’t ask who owns their Kingdom Hall. They don’t ask why they aren’t allowed to help non-JWs (except by bringing them what they call “good news’), or why they are discouraged from supporting the larger community in any way – even by voting. They listen to mindless, boring and repetitive brainwashing for hours a week, and believe that independent thinking and research are against their religion. I only have pity for such, not anger. My quarrel is with the authoritarian leadership who controls so many aspects of a JW’s life – and doubly so for women. I see no evidence whatsoever that any god approves of them.

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