When I used the capable female British Intelligence officer’s prediction to Chief Inspector Foyle that her swaggering male superior would overreach and fall of his own volition as a prediction that my enemy would do likewise, I missed the most important question from the standpoint of women’s groups, and everybody knows that I missed it. It is: Why did she have to play second fiddle to him if she was so capable and he was so inept? Why didn’t he have to play second fiddle to her? Why indeed? We both know the answer. She was consigned to play second fiddle because she was a woman.
Back in the days when all were more given to modesty, often was heard the expression: “Behind every great man, there is a great woman.” Women’s groups will second this motion in a heartbeat, but they will also add to it. If she was so great, then why wasn’t she out in the forefront and the overrated bozo back home scrubbing the bathtub?
The one individual who probably did our family the kindest turn of all was a woman who co-owned a dental lab. My teenage daughter suffered a snowboarding accident that broke off half her front teeth—there they were embedded in the snowboard. This followed on the heels of my son’s accident and led me to vow to my wife that we should produce another child for spare parts. It also caught us at a time of financial embarrassment, and this businesswoman, a family friend who had taken a liking to my daughter, said she would make her dental replacements at no cost. She did so, and she worked as closely with our family dentist as he would allow. “It is important to install them in such and such a way,” she urged him, “so that there will not be a barely perceptible line of discoloration at the baseline.” Alas, it turned out as she feared. “I’m not going to let any technician tell me how to operate!” he exploded, and now my daughter has a barely perceptible line of discoloration at the baseline. “I worked so hard not to offend the little man,” she told me later.
Women, no matter how capable, had long had it rough in society. They have long had to put up with a lot. They are at last erupting, as the MeToo movement makes clear. The first female executive in the music recording business, Dorothy Carvello, recently wrote of her early days at Atlantic Records. As a new employee, ages ago, “one executive walked past my office every day and said, ‘Blow me.’ I hadn’t even met him…. [Another] grabbed my ass constantly. I hated it.” She put up with it though. She needed the job and she loved hobnobbing with celebrity clients. She credits the Catholic nuns from high school days with teaching her to hold her own and conduct herself with dignity under the circumstances, as she writes of 25 years in a “circus mixed with an orgy.” “I once went to a lawyer, who advised me that if I sued for harassment, I’d lose my job. Worse than that, I knew I’d be blackballed from the entire business,” so she never did sue for harassment and only wrote her account in 2018.
When the greater world at last wakes up to a problem, as it has with sexual harassment, it overswings. Sexual liaisons, involving various degrees of coercion and sobriety, are reinterpreted as rape. Harassment, and what was once called “getting fresh,” are equated with rape. Complementing a woman’s appearance is even interpreted as harassment by some. How will it resolve? It is too soon to tell. Suffice it to say that the Witness environment is one of the few environments on earth where men can be expected to behave. They will hear about it if they don’t. It is a result of their education at the Kingdom Hall. The occasional miscreant can expect serious chastisement.
That said, do Jehovah’s Witnesses help women to advance in their careers? It is a question not especially relevant. The women of Jehovah’s Witnesses are seldom career-oriented, but that is also true of the men. Both are far more likely to have a job, and not a career. Both feel that their overall career is their service to God. It is an odd view, by today’s standards, but hardly a destructive one.
An activist group becomes aware of an injustice and throws all its weight into correcting it. It grabs the wheel and jerks it around sharply. Those braced beforehand do fine. Nearly everyone else is swept off their feet. “How many women head departments over there in JW headquarters?” one detractor taunted me. Look, they are not activists over there, but they do try to keep up. I cited a few female attorneys, with the observation that those under them had better behave. Woe to any brother who tries to pull rank based upon gender; he will promptly be set straight from on high.
I know one of these female attorneys. On a forum devoted to complaining, some were carrying on about how women lawyers at Watchtower must suffer almost impossibly, ever having to kowtow to their male superiors. However, one of them recalled a woman named Jane from his Bethel days, and threw in his two cents that it could not have been that way with her—“she would not put up with that nonsense for one second.” “So he does know Jane,” I smiled to myself.
Jane showed up for her shepherding call long ago and she intimidated me. I recovered, of course, but I recall the feeling. She didn’t do it knowingly, I am sure. But—it has only happened three or four times in my life—sometimes you run across someone who is so stunningly capable that, well—it takes one’s breath away. The idea at the time was that everyone should receive a shepherding call, not just the ones who “needed” one. That way nobody would think they were in for corrective counsel should elders approach them. Share a few scriptures of mutual encouragement, and so forth—that was the intent.
As congregation secretary, I later drafted Jane’s letter of introduction to Bethel after she had applied. It was unusual for a single sister to apply for Bethel service at the time, where the work focused on heavy machine operation and farming. But they were getting away from that in the then-new age of computers. I felt the need to address undercurrents that I knew existed among some brothers to the effect that Jane (not her real name of course) had made progress in “working under the oversight of brothers less capable than she,” or something to that effect. I was annoyed to think it advisable to insert that, but I did so, nonetheless. Was it necessary? I’ll never know. The circuit overseer, before he ever met me or read my letter, pointed out that capable single sisters are always a gain at Bethel, so perhaps it was not.
She is a gifted woman, not merely a capable one. And she will not like the attention, probably. Of course, there are weak women within the ranks of Jehovah’s Witnesses, too, but no more so than there are weak men, and no more so than there are plenty of both in general society. If she was ever discontent over any male bias within the Christian society, she never gave any sign of it, but then, I might not be the one to know. When she visited our home for a gathering of friends, she said: “If I’m invited to the Harley home, I know it’s going to be a spiritually good time,” probably using words not quite so pious. Though no one in her family was a slouch, it was probably her influence that propelled the family business to million-dollar concern at a time that such status was rare among work-a-day Jehovah’s Witnesses.
They are not activists at Bethel headquarters, but they do, hopefully, skim the residual benefits from any reform movement. With regards to woman’s rights, they have let themselves be corrected whenever discovering that a prior practice was, not primarily biblical, as they may have thought at one time, but more cultural in origin. They don’t put themselves on the cutting edge of culture, but neither do they wish to be on the trailing edge, unless there is good scriptural reason to be.
From the book TrueTom vs the Apostates!