Respecting Women in Everyday Life
IF WOMEN are to be respected more than at present, when and where must the change begin? Well, when and where do biases and prejudices usually form? At home and at school, during the formative years. We develop our attitudes to a large extent under parental influence. So who, logically, can have a powerful effect on the future attitudes of young men toward women? Obviously, the father and the mother. One of the keys to the problem therefore is proper education that can penetrate homes and influence parents.
How Women Are Viewed
That prejudice is built in at home is illustrated by Jenny, a married secretary, the eldest of four daughters, who said: “As young women, we were always conscious of the fact that in the United States, there are more women than men. So if you want to get married, you have to make yourself catchable.
“Then, too, women are conditioned to think that they are lesser creatures. Sometimes even your parents make you think you are worth less than the boys. When some man comes into your life, he sends the same message, that you are inferior to men.
“And why should our self-esteem have to be based mainly on bodily proportions and endowments or the lack thereof? Are men judged that way?”
Betty, married for 32 years, formerly a store manager, made another point: “Why are women judged by their gender rather than by their experience, ability, and intelligence? All I ask is for men to listen to my mind. Don’t put me down on the basis of my sex!
“Too often men view women as if we were all dumb or stupid—too dumb to make a right decision. You know what I say? Let them treat us as they would want to be treated. That will soon change their perspective!” All she asks is that men apply the Golden Rule, ‘Do to others as you would have them do to you.’—Matthew 7:12.
These women raise some valid points. A woman’s true worth should not have to be based on superficial physical appearance and charm or on cultural prejudices. A Spanish proverb expresses it this way: “A beautiful woman pleases the eyes; a good woman pleases the heart. If the former is a jewel, the latter is a treasure.”
The Bible makes a similar point in a different way: “Your beauty should not be dependent on an elaborate coiffure, or on the wearing of jewelry or fine clothes, but on the inner personality—the unfading loveliness of a calm and gentle spirit, a thing very precious in the eyes of God.” And just as we should not judge a book by its cover, so we should not judge people by their gender.—1 Peter 3:3, 4, Phillips.
Showing Respect in the Home
A legitimate complaint of many women, especially working wives and mothers, is that husbands fail to recognize household chores as additional work, and they usually do not do their share. Susan Faludi, previously quoted, says: “Nor do women enjoy equality in their own homes, where they still shoulder 70 percent of the household duties.” What is the solution to this injustice?
While perhaps not palatable to many husbands in some cultures, a fair domestic arrangement should be worked out, especially if the wife also has to go out to work. Of course, any sharing of duties might also take into account fields of activity that are usually the responsibility of the male—caring for the car, tending the yard and the garden, plumbing, electrical work, and so forth—which, however, seldom match the time a wife spends in domestic chores. In some countries husbands even expect the wife to keep the car washed and clean, as if it were an extension of the home!
In a way, this suggestion to share in domestic chores is in line with the apostle Peter’s counsel to husbands to dwell with their wives “according to knowledge.” (1 Peter 3:7) Among other things, this means that the husband should not simply be an impersonal, insensitive roommate or house partner. He should respect his wife’s intelligence and experience. He should also understand her needs as a woman, wife, and mother. This involves more than the need for a breadwinner to bring home a paycheck; many working wives also do that. He has to understand her physical, emotional, psychological, sexual, and, above all, spiritual needs.
For the husband who claims to follow Christian principles, there is a greater responsibility involved—that of imitating the example of Christ. He extended a beautiful invitation to all those who were “toiling and loaded down,” saying: “I will refresh you. . . . I am mild-tempered and lowly in heart, and you will find refreshment for your souls.” (Matthew 11:28, 29) What a challenge for Christian husbands and fathers! Each one should ask himself: ‘Do I refresh my wife or repress her? Am I kind and approachable, or do I tend to be a tyrant, a despot, or a dictator? Do I show “brotherly affection” at Christian meetings and then become unbearable at home?’ There should be no Jekyll-and-Hyde husbands in the Christian congregation.—1 Peter 3:8, 9.
Therefore, there can be no justification for the description of a husband given by one abused Christian woman: “The macho Christian head who is so nice at the Kingdom Hall and buys gifts for others but treats his wife like dirt.” Proper respect for a wife leaves no room for repression and humiliation. Of course, this is a two-sided coin; a wife should also show proper respect for her husband.—Ephesians 5:33; 1 Peter 3:1, 2.
In effect confirming the above, Dr. Susan Forward writes: “A good relationship is based on mutual respect.” That makes both partners responsible for success. She continues: “It involves concern for and sensitivity to each other’s feelings and needs, as well as an appreciation of the things that make each partner so special. . . . Loving partners find effective ways of dealing with their differences; they do not view each encounter as a battle to be won or lost.”—Men Who Hate Women & the Women Who Love Them.
The Bible also gives fine counsel to husbands at Ephesians 5:28: “Husbands ought to be loving their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself.” Why is that statement true? Because marriage is like a joint bank account in which both have deposited 50 percent. If a husband misuses any of that money, he harms the financial status of both. Likewise, if a husband harms his wife in any way, then in the short term or the long, he also harms himself. Why? Because his marriage is a shared investment. If you harm that investment, you harm both parties to it.
There is one vital point to be remembered about respect—it should not be demanded. While each spouse owes the other respect, it must also be earned. Christ never got respect by trying to impose his superior power or position.* Likewise, in a marriage husband and wife earn respect by their mutually considerate course of action, not by using Bible texts as sledgehammers to demand it.
Showing Respect at Work
Do men need to view women as a threat to their male ego? In her book Feminism Without Illusions, Elizabeth Fox-Genovese wrote: “In truth, many women today want what many men want: to make a decent living, to have a rewarding personal life, and to get on in the world without rocking too many boats.” Should that desire or ambition be construed as a threat to men? She also stated: “Why should we not recognize that, notwithstanding all the changes our world has undergone or may undergo, differences persist and can be enjoyed?”
Christian men who serve as foremen or overseers especially need to respect the dignity of their female fellow workers and recall that a married woman has only one man as her “head” in the Biblical sense, her husband. Others may be in positions of oversight and are respected for that; but again in the strict Biblical sense, no man except her husband is that woman’s “head.”—Ephesians 5:22-24.
Conversations in the workplace should always be edifying. When men resort to conversation that includes double meanings or sexual innuendos, they are not showing respect for women, neither are they enhancing their own reputations. Paul wrote to Christians: “Let fornication and uncleanness of every sort or greediness not even be mentioned among you, just as it befits holy people; neither shameful conduct nor foolish talking nor obscene jesting, things which are not becoming, but rather the giving of thanks.”—Ephesians 5:3, 4.
Changing a job assignment without taking a woman’s feelings into account is another way of failing to show respect. Jean, a nurse, said: “It would be so nice if there could be some consultation before changes are made in our work assignments. Certainly it would be good psychology. Women need compassion and need to feel that they are of value and are esteemed.”
Another aspect of respect in the workplace is the barrier that some women call the “glass ceiling.” This means the “institutional biases that prevent women from getting senior managerial positions in private industry.” (The New York Times, January 3, 1992) As a result, a recent study in the United States showed that a low percentage of higher level jobs are occupied by women, ranging from 14 percent in Hawaii and 18 percent in Utah to 39 percent in Louisiana. If respect is shown, promotion at the secular workplace will not be based on gender but on ability and experience. Director for research Sharon Harlan said: “It’s getting better, but . . . there still are a lot of structural barriers in place for women.”
See The Watchtower of May 15, 1989, pages 10-20, “Showing Love and Respect as a Husband” and “. . . as a Wife.”
[Box on page 14]
RESPECT What Can Women Do?
● Have and maintain SELF-RESPECT
● Make clear what you allow to be said and done in your presence
● Set proper boundaries of acceptable conduct and speech
● Do not try to compete with men in the field of obscenity and dubious jokes; it makes you less a lady and does not make them gentlemen
● Do not dress provocatively, regardless of what the current fashion might be; the way you dress shows your own degree of self-esteem
● Earn respect by your comportment; treat men with the respect you expect from them
● Do not be flirtatious
RESPECT What Can Men Do?
● Treat all women with respect and dignity; do not feel threatened by an assertive woman
● Do not be overly familiar with one not your wife, using uncalled-for terms of affection
● Avoid off-color jokes and suggestive stares
● Do not be overly complimentary, and avoid inappropriate touching
● Do not belittle or undermine her work or her person
● Consult, listen, and communicate in an objective way
● Express appreciation for the woman’s work
● Help with domestic chores. If you feel that it is beneath your dignity, what about hers?
● If you are living with your parents, be sensitive to the pressures your wife bears. She is now your first responsibility and needs your support (Matthew 19:5)