"I do not permit a woman to teach or to exercize authority over a man, but to be in silence." These inspired words are frequently quoted to help define the role of women among Jehovah's Witnesses. The logic behind such a limitation applied to one sex is explained in the verse that follows: "For Adam was formed first. then Eve. (The logical extension of such reasoning would be to place Adam under the animal's supervision, since in relation to Adam they were "formed first". But before the animals get too big for their britches, they are newbies compared to green vegetation. Perhaps, the venus flytrap should be lord and master of all.)
Jehovah, the Great Anesthesiologist, put the first man into a deep sleep, pulled one of his ribs out and used that bone material to make the first woman. No forensic scientists had a chance to compare the DNA of the first couple, but Adam himself declared them a perfect match: "This is at last bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh. This one will be called Woman because from man this one was taken."
Jehovah adjusted the role of women after Adam and Eve sinned. Despite the fact that, according to Scripture, Eve was tricked and Adam was not tricked, Eve and all woman after her seemed to bear the brunt of Jehovah's harsh words: "I shall greatly increase the pain of your pregnancy. In birth pangs you will bring forth children and your craving will be for your husband and he will dominate you."
Wow! Jehovah doesn't care much for people who get tricked! Of course, Eve could only guess what increased birth pangs would be like since he had not as yet given birth. I'm a little confused though. Would man have dominated women if Eve had not allowed herself to get tricked? Is man's headship part of the punishment women receive because of the first woman being "thoroughly deceived" or was man's domination part of Jehovah's purpose all along? Anyway, Jehovah put the man who sinned intentionally in charge of the woman who was fooled into sinning.
The perfect law Jehovah gave to his "name people" further helped women to understand their role more clearly. Natural functions like menstruation and childbirth actually made women "unclean". Should she give birth to another female, she would be unclean twice as long as she would giving birth to a male. To atone for her "uncleanness" she could slaughter a sheep and turtledove or pigeon and give it to Jehovah. If she was dirt poor, Jehovah would accept two dead turtledoves or pigeons. If a man suspected that the wife he married was not a virgin, her family had to bring proof of her virginity. If they could not, she was stoned to death. If a man hated his wife, he could divorce her, giving her a "certificate of divorce". If her new husband died, her first husband could not take her back. Jehovah said "no!". She was now "defiled".
All-wise Jehovah gives further instructions to deal with women in Numbers 5. If a husband merely suspects his wife of unfaithfulness, he may bring her before the priest. She is made to drink holy water mixed with dust from the floor and swear that she has been faithful. If she is lieing her belly swells and her "inner thigh" wastes away. The is no such test of unfaithfulness for the man.
Let's fastforward to modern times and the role of woman among JW's.
Although Jehovah's Witnesses view the Mosaic Law as "perfect", they are not bound by it. Christ "fulfilled the Law", they say. Still woman are to be subservient to men among JW's. "In turn the head of the woman is the man."(1 Cor.11:3) They have to "obey" their husbands. Even if a woman makes a foolish vow to Jehovah, her husband can anul it.
JW woman are free to preach to the public. They do the majority of the public work. "The woman declaring the good news are a large army" is the verse the Watchtower loves to quote. Woman in the congregation are not exactly "silent" as the Bible recommends. They are permitted to comment. In 1958 it was announced at the international convention in NYC that woman would be given the opportunity of being in the Theocratic Ministry School, not giving talks to the audience, but "presentations" to other "sisters".
Occasionally, when no baptised males are present, a sister may be called upon to do something normally done by a male. This might be praying or conducting a meeting for service. In that case, she must wear a headcovering to show her submission. Many sisters carry a scarf or dinner napkin in their purses for that very purpose. If there is a 12 year old baptised boy present, there is no need for a head covering. The 12 year old officiates to the delight and relief of the woman present.
I have a 45 year old nephew who is severely retarded, but a devout servant of Jehovah. My sister-in-law coaches him each week to be able to read the day's text and lead the sisters in midweek field service. Many of the sisters have expressed to my nephew what a "blessing" it is to have him there midweek to "take the lead."
Sisters are free to join in congregational singing during meetings. Years ago, some even played piano to accompany the singers. That role has been replaced by a tape player.
Married sisters may serve at Bethel. Some secretarial roles are open, but usually taken by the wives of Bethel heavies. A newbie sister will likely be handed a toilet brush.
There are many opportunities in the congregation for sisters to use their cooking skills. Circuit overseers, visiting speakers and Kingdom Hall workers all need to be fed. In the case of a Kingdom Hall feeding, likely a sink will not be available. Casserole dishes, pots and pans will have to be taken back home and scrubbed.
Since sisters cannot serve as elders or ministerial servants, the most prestigious role in the congregation for a woman is being the wife of an elder. She possibly could simply marry an older man, a widower. Or she could take her chances with a younger man and develop him into an elder. Some sisters push their husbands into field service, write out their talks, press out their clothing and even conduct the family study.(The husband turns in the report, though, after his wife fills it out for him.) This can all pay off finally when hubby is appointed an elder.
An elder's wife is the envy of other sisters. She may be inconvenienced almost weekly when he has to stay after the meeting for an impromptu "short" elders meeting lasting 1-1/2 hours. After spending all day at the circuit assembly, she watches all the elders with their attache' cases file away to the elder's meeting with the circuit and district overseer. She is stuck in the main auditorium to meditate or keep the kids from killing each other. Other elder's wives congregate in little cliques while she waits another hour for her man.
Just a brief look at the role of women after the first one got tricked.