Debunking Watchtower Misinformation For and About Women

Contributed by: Sue Hall

I was recently reminded of the damaging effect of Watchtower misinformation about women, and how and why many Jehovah’s Witness women do the things they do. My reminder occurred whilst reading a blog in which a woman made a comment trying to defend a convicted JW child molester. Not only was her defense poorly written, she also believed that everything written about this guy was a lie. The fact that he had experienced a jury trial and was now serving time in prison didn’t appear to register with her.

Her response made me ponder. What kind of misinformation must this woman have assimilated whilst growing up as a Jehovah’s Witness? It also led me to question why she and so many JW women like her find themselves attracted to manipulative and controlling men.

A Real Life Example

In Richard E. Kelly’s second book, The Ghosts from Mama’s Club, he attributes the lion’s share of blame to “bad parenting.” He believes that is a consequence of Watchtower policies that violate basic human rights and the prolific publishing of misinformation by the Watch Tower Society. Richard reports that during the 1950s his sister, Marilyn, was not encouraged by their JW parents to get a good education or to learn critical thinking skills. This was due to what is now a 134-year-old crème de le crème of classic Watchtower misinformation: “Armageddon is just around the corner.” Even if Armageddon was a “little late” in coming, their parents were confident that Marilyn would have no problem finding a smart man to marry who would support her financially.

Marilyn and Richard grew up in a Watchtower world that sadly minimized a woman’s role in society. In fact, today, sixty years later, nothing has changed. While their mother never stated it exactly this way, according to Richard the bottom line for most JWs is: “Jehovah loves all His earthly children just the same. But He’s persnickety about protocol. All living creatures have their place in His hierarchy. First there is Jesus and then the angels. Below them are men. Next in the pecking order are women. Below women are animals.”

In his book, Richard also discusses Marilyn’s poor choices in men and the abuse she experienced at the hands of her second husband, a JW. At one point, while confiding to the elders about his abusive actions toward her, she asked, “What if he kills me? What happens then?”

Sue Hall

Sue Hall

The response from her biological brother (who was also a JW elder) was, “Marilyn, that isn’t going to happen. If it should, you will always have the hope of the resurrection – if you’ve been a loyal and faithful wife.”

Marilyn eventually had the courage to leave her physically abusive husband and, for a time, her life improved.

Marilyn’s story echoes true for me and for many other ex-JW women. Richard calls this the “Ghost of Dependency” – a fatal attraction to highly controlling men – another consequence of Watchtower misinformation. Sadly, Marilyn’s final choice of a husband (who was also highly controlling) sealed her fate. That man eventually murdered her.

The Effects of Watchtower Misinformation

Another haunting echo for me are the words my friend recently shared about young JW girls. When she was a Witness she felt sorry for many of the young wives who had been born into the religion. “They seemed to be trying to look like Barbie dolls for these half-sex-crazed men.”

If you need more evidence of Watchtower misinformation, read the following advice published in a 2012 Watchtower directed to members of the JW faithful:

Selma recalls a lesson she learned from the Witness who studied with her. ‘On one particular day,’ reports Selma, ‘I didn’t want to have a Bible study. The night before, Steve had hit me as I had tried to prove a point, and I was feeling sorry for myself. After I told the sister what had happened and how I felt, she asked me to read 1 Corinthians 13:4-7. As I did, I began to reason, ‘Steve never does any of these loving things for me.’ But the sister made me think differently by asking, ‘How many of those acts of love do you show toward your husband?’ My answer was, ‘None, for he is so difficult to live with.’ The sister softly said, ‘Selma, who is trying to be a Christian here, you or Steve?’ Realizing that I needed to adjust my thinking, I prayed to Jehovah to help me be more loving toward Steve. Slowly, things started to change.’ After seventeen years, Steve accepted the truth.[foot]April 1, 2012 Watchtower, page 29[/foot]

Women Have the Power to Change the Course of Their Lives

For now I will “rest my case.” But it seems to me that far too many JW women, by their often unconscious choices, allow themselves to have their power taken from them because of misinformation and bad advice from the Watch Tower Society – recommendations made against and in sharp contrast to good, healthy advice from professionals.

PsychCentral offers some good advice about shaping healthy relationships:

“If you’re always on the giving end in the relationship; if you’ve accepted indifference, abuse, or manipulation because you don’t believe you deserve or can get better, it’s time to take charge of your life and to make some changes. If your guy will agree, try out couple’s therapy. Couples can and do change with commitment to the process and love for each other. If your boyfriend won’t join you in the project, get some therapy for yourself. Build your self-esteem, develop the skills you need to be successful in the world, and increase your confidence. A stronger you will help you find the loving relationship you deserve.”[foot] [/foot]

Women can enjoy mentally healthy lives by educating themselves and doing what women have always done: sharing their stories. We can stop the abuse by raising young men who value women as equals. There is hope and guidance available for both genders, as modern experts in the field of mental health like Margaret Singer and Steven Hassan[foot][/foot] have created models to increase understanding about abusive relationships and unethical mind control. Their useful and well-researched information – along with the help of qualified therapists – can definitely debunk any and all Watchtower misinformation.

This article was posted the day before International Women’s Day, March 8th, 2014. On March 5th, 2014, a new survey report was launched by the European Fundamental Rights Agency. The report is based on interviews with 42,000 women across the 28 Member States of the European Union (EU). It presents the first results from the most comprehensive survey to date at the level of the EU (and worldwide) on women’s diverse experiences of violence. This is particularly important because many women do not report their experiences of abuse to the authorities, (and among Jehovah’s Witnesses, women are not encouraged to report abuse). The result has been that most violence against women continues to be hidden and perpetrators are not confronted. Here is a link to the report:

Here is a link to the press release associated with the launch of this report:

In this video, a survivor of abuse expresses the importance that those who are in a position to help need more than just one-half day’s training. Jehovah’s Witness elders receive no training at all for dealing with such matters and, therefore, should always refer all cases of violence or abuse to trained professionals. Violence Against Women Survey

Comment from AAWA editors:
If you have a story to tell that could help other women, we would love to share your experience. If you are interested, please contact Steph Le Gardener or Lee Marsh.

sue-hall-logoAbout Sue Hall

Sue was raised as a JW and left in 1982. Since then she has had a full, rich life of education, travel and work in international development and policy. For the past five years she has worked as a consultant and journalist.

She is a Brit, but now lives in a warmer European Country where she grows vegetables and travels to book festivals. She hopes her work with AAWA will help her family and others have an easier journey to recovery from Watchtower abuses.

[Credit for graphic “Long Hair” – Vassiliki Koutsothanasi]


Debunking Watchtower Misinformation For and About Women — 15 Comments

  1. Sue, my kudos to you for sharing this story and links. For me personally, this means a lot. While I cannot bring back my sister, it is nice to know that her story and articles like this are being shared. The non-JW world needs to know that the Watchtower has turned a blind eye on the plight of so many women who are experiencing domestic violence. It must stop!

  2. Sue, an exceptional write up! I remember when I first started studying (Truth book), when we got to the family part and all the crap about women being submissive, etc., I told the sister that if I do what this book says, my husband will treat me worse than he already did – and he did. This unnatural submission to abuse continued thru much of my life as a witness, all in the name of pleasing God. I began to wise up in later years, but so much damage was done, not just to myself, but my two daughters. This is just another way that this false religion takes a persons love for God and distorts it into something exceedingly harmful. I hope AAWA gets a lot of feedback from your great story.

  3. Any movement, or ideology which disregards women and children cannot claim any credibility whatsoever. A True Religion shouldn’t have principles that goes against the conscience and considering a hierarchy question between man and woman is just against conscience.

    Men seemed to prefer seeing themselves above women throughout the history, and in some cases, they tried to justify it by taking the Adam and Eve account or similar, which is simply nonsense – even for someone who believes in the Bible (or at least, some parts of it 🙂 ). There is no way a clear thinking individual could accept this.

    The question about women having to show submission to men was an intriguing question to me, about which I made some basic research. I’m quite suprized the narrow-mindness, even in some parts of the Bible, and how this is just taken as is by people who base their faith upon it;

    Thank you for this article. I just would like to say, while it’s perfectly fine having beliefs and trying live according these, people should try to be honest with their conscience too and not silence it. It’s impossible to do such harm to women, even just by coercing them towards “submission”, and still pretend trying to follow the “Golden Rule”.

  4. Thanks for the comments. For a long time, I, like many stayed silent, not least because we did not want to upset our families. With so many leaving and wanting help to be free from the old messages, it was important to write about violence, including psychological violence, against women, especially this week, when the focus is turned to International Women’s Day. I encourage everyone to send this link to their local and national newspapers. When religion undermines women it is psychological violence. Lets not be silent any more.

  5. This piece perfectly iterates one of the things that, growing up as a JW, I always “just knew.”

    This particular issue is near and dear to me and I can’t tell you how important I feel it is that it gets made public. I only hope someone who may be going through problems as a JW wife/woman will see this and use it as inspiration to make a change for herself.

    Thank you for sharing this Sue!

    • Thank you for this article. I am a “born in” and got married at 16 to escape an alcoholic, abusive mother. The man I married studied and became an elder. He is very controlling and neglected me and his children, preferring to let his home become condemned because of not maintaining it, while he shepherded the flock. He used emotional, sexual, and financial abuse against me, After 40+ years of marriage, I am still with him, because I am afraid to be poor and alone. I take anti-depressants and have not attended meetings in many years. The congregation ignores me and believes I am mentally ill. These days he and I are more like house-mates. I clean and cook, and he supports the home. I have a few real friends who value me, and I would NEVER marry again. I just want peace. As an elders wife, I never did it right, and what I did was never enough. Let that be a warning to the younger ones.

  6. As I was reading this article I said to myself that this article is New York Times-worthy. It’s a no wonder. She’s a journalist! And a great writer.

  7. JWintellect, Thank you for your kind words. My initial draft was aided by the excellent editing of the AAWA team.
    Happy International Women’s Day everyone!

  8. Watchtower talks of ” unlawful female influence”…

    *** re chap. 10 pp. 53-54 par. 20 Abhorring the “Deep Things of Satan” ***
    In 1918 when Jesus came to Jehovah’s temple for judgment, the vast majority of organizations claiming to be Christian were sullied by idolatry and spiritual immorality. (James 4:4) Some based their beliefs on the teachings of strong-minded women of the 19th century, such as Ellen White of the Seventh-Day Adventists and Mary Baker Eddy of the Christian Scientists, and more recently many women have been preaching from the pulpit. (Contrast 1 Timothy 2:11, 12.) Among the different forms of Catholicism, Mary is often honored ahead of God and Christ. Jesus did not so honor her. (John 2:4; 19:26) Could organizations that admit such unlawful female influence really be accepted as Christian?

  9. Janka,
    The quote was removed from the site on the same day as it was posted. It was a long tirade and may have had legal implications, as the survivors of the abuse, by the perpetrator, were called liars.

  10. Hakizimana Jean de Dieu,
    Thanks for your quote. It reminded me that some women have often challenged, sometimes subverted and sometimes just gone along with the status quo. Personally, as a non-chrisitan, I am glad that most women do not have to answer your question. Women now have choices and opportunities for education. Having said that, not all women are able to take advantage of those choices, especially if they have to release ingrained childhood messages first.

  11. My dad was abusive, and all the elders did when she went to them was read scriptures on wives being submissive. One elder told mom if she left, she was setting my dad up to commit adultery because she wouldn’t be giving dad his “due”. They never talked to my dad about being a good husband and father. When I showed mom he was looking up mail order brides on the internet she finally said that he was going to kill us and get a new family if we didn’t leave. We made our escape and didn’t bother telling the elders until we were gone. I will never go back. Now if I can just unbrainwash my brother.

    • OMG! Songofecho’s comment: “all the elders did when she went to them was read scriptures on wives being submissive. One elder told mom if she left, she was setting my dad up to commit adultery because she wouldn’t be giving dad his “due”. They never talked to my dad about being a good husband and father.”

      This happened to me too, that I was not giving my husband his “due”. I was thinking: “dudes! how about my needs?? In the end, I left and divorced him.

  12. There are many happily married JWs and lovely to see them together. BUT. It is the organized part of the whole JW thing that gets me. Every one has an individual relationship with Jehovah and it is that persons heart that is judged by Him. The conduct of that person is governed by his or her conscious. As in every organized establishment, there is abuse of power and in JWs the most powerful are men.
    It would be wrong to judge all by a few. It seems to me that all religious organisations are much the same in the respect of women being submissive. No one should have to be subjected to abuse because of thier religion. I often wonder WHY anyone has to follow religiously just one religion. Why can’t ws be allowed to love and learn about God and stay a single entity. After all, isn’t it God that judges us and not a body of elders. We should be able to talk to each other, men and woman as equals and let the law that God has put into place on earth as it is now take its course. Rapist, child molesters, adulterers and spouse bashers should be reported to police. Isn’t it egotistical of elders to think they have the right to take the law into their own hands, allowing illegal events to go unpunished. Being disfellowshiped is a tap on the wrist as they are soon forgiven (because God forgave David his sexual indiscretions and plots of murded). It is so sad that the organization is ruining so many beautiful, spiritual .peoples lives by enforcing their fabricated rules, manufactured from interpreting the bible to suit what they want. What about the book of Thecla and Paul, left out of the bible. Thecla was disciple look it up on the internet. Read about a great woman if who had have been included in the Bible would have changed the course of woman and religion in this world.

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