Respecting Women in the Congregation
FOR Christians the Bible establishes a theocratic chain of headship, with Christ in subjection to God, the man in subjection to Christ, and the woman in subjection to her husband. (1 Corinthians 11:3) However, this subjection does not imply dictatorship. Headship in the family is never established by violence, whether physical, psychological, or verbal. Furthermore, Christian headship is relative and does not mean that a husband can be a despot who considers himself infallible.* Knowing how and when to say “I’m sorry, you were right” could help many marriages to be mutually refreshing and long-lasting. Yet, how easily those expressions of humility can choke in the throat!—Colossians 3:12-14, 18.
In their marriage counsel, the Christian apostles Paul and Peter constantly bring us back to Christ’s example. Respect is earned by reason of a husband’s refreshing example as he imitates the model that Christ set, since “a husband is head of his wife as the Christ also is head of the congregation, he being a savior of this body.”—Ephesians 5:23.
Peter’s counsel to husbands is explicit: “You husbands, continue dwelling in like manner with [your wives] according to knowledge.” (1 Peter 3:7) A modern Spanish translation paraphrases these thoughts, saying: “Regarding husbands: show tact in your shared life, showing consideration for the wife.” These expressions imply many factors, including sensitivity in the marital relationship. A husband should not view his wife as just a vehicle for sexual satisfaction. One wife who had suffered from child abuse wrote: “I only wish you could say more about the support a husband can give to a wife who has had this experience. What most of us wives need to know is that we’re truly loved and cared for, not that we’re there just to satisfy some physical desires or as a housekeeper, with no emotional attachment.”* Marriage was instituted by God so that husbands and wives could be companions and helpmates for each other. It is a matter of teamwork and mutual esteem.—Genesis 2:18; Proverbs 31:28, 29.
How a “Weaker Vessel”?
Peter also counsels husbands to assign honor to their wives “as to a weaker vessel, the feminine one.” (1 Peter 3:7) What could Peter have meant by saying that the woman is “a weaker vessel”? Certainly, on an average, the woman is physically weaker than the man. The difference of skeletal and muscular structure accounts for that. But if we speak of inner moral strength, then the woman is by no means weaker than the man. Women have for years endured situations that perhaps most men would not tolerate even briefly—including abuse by a violent or alcoholic spouse. And think what a woman endures in order to bear a child, including the hours of labor during birth! Any sensitive husband who has witnessed the miracle of birth must come away with increased respect for his wife and her inner strength.
On this matter of inner moral strength, Hannah Levy-Haas, a Jewish inmate of the Ravensbrück Nazi concentration camp wrote in her diary in 1944: “One thing here upsets me terribly, and that is to see that the men are far weaker and far less able to stand up to hardship than the women—physically and often morally as well. Unable to control themselves, they display such a lack of moral fibre that one cannot but be sorry for them.”—Mothers in the Fatherland, by Claudia Koonz.
This experience serves to illustrate that there is no solid basis for discriminating against women just because they might be physically weaker. Edwin Reischauer wrote: “In modern times, it is generally accepted that women have more will power and psychological strength than men.” (The Japanese) This strength can be tapped in the Christian congregation when mature women may be able to help other women who are suffering severe emotional stress. Certainly, in some circumstances it is easier for an abused woman to turn to a mature woman for immediate relief than to a man. If the need arises, a Christian elder may be consulted for further guidance.—1 Timothy 5:9, 10; James 5:14, 15.
The blanket dismissal of a woman’s reactions as being emotional, attributing them to “the time of the month” irritates many women. Betty, a practicing Christian, stated: “We know, as the apostle Peter wrote, that in certain respects we are the ‘weaker vessel,’ the feminine one, with a more delicate biological constitution. But that does not mean that a foreman or supervisor has to be condescending and paternalistic, attributing every female reaction to our monthly cycle. We are intelligent and want to be listened to with respect.”
Not all women are emotional, just as not all men are unemotional. Each person should be taken as an individual. Betty, previously quoted, told Awake!: “I don’t appreciate being categorized on the basis of gender. I have seen men weep and be subject to moods. And there are women who can be as hard as nails. So let men listen to us objectively without thinking of gender.”
What Is Needed for a Change?
If there is to be a change for the better, some say that it is not enough that women campaign for their rights and for justice; nor is it enough that men make some token gesture of respect for women. In every culture and setting, men must examine their role in the situation and ask themselves what they can do to make life happier and more refreshing for women.—Matthew 11:28, 29.
Writer and poet Katha Pollitt wrote in Time: “Most men, of course, do not rape or batter or kill. But that doesn’t mean, as too many of them seem to think, that they have nothing to do with violence against women. Each of us in our daily lives helps shape the cultural images and assumptions that define the limits of the permissible. . . . I’m talking about men engaging in some serious self-scrutiny, challenging their prejudices and privileges, taking their fair share of responsibility for the mess we are in.”
But even if men all over the world make a radical change in their attitudes toward women, it will still not be the complete solution to the injustices afflicting mankind. Why? Because men are inflicting injustices and barbarities not just on women but on their fellowmen. War, violence, murder, death squads, and terrorism are still the order of the day in many countries. What is needed is a whole new ruling system for the entire earth. And a new education for all mankind. And that is what God has promised by means of his Kingdom rule from heaven over earth. Only then will true justice and equity exist for all—men, women, and children. Only then will true mutual respect exist between men and women. The Bible puts it this way at Isaiah 54:13: “All your sons [and daughters] will be persons taught by Jehovah, and the peace of your sons [and daughters] will be abundant.” Yes, proper education in Jehovah’s righteous principles will contribute to a new world of mutual respect.
See “What Does Subjection in Marriage Mean?” The Watchtower, December 15, 1991, pages 19-21.
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Often a mature woman can give helpful counsel
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Sharing domestic chores is one way a husband can show respect for his wife