If I had a c.v from my years as a Jehovah’s Witness, my experience would be expansive. In my 30+ years in the organization, I was at various times an:
· Elder’s daughter
· Regular Pioneer and Pioneer School graduate
· Delegate to international assemblies (British West Indies, Czech Republic)
· Elder’s wife
· Interviewee on circuit and district convention programs
· Lot’s daughter and Achan’s daughter in district convention dramas
Add in numerous Kingdom Hall quick builds (food preparer and lodging arranger extraordinaire) and the dozens of Bible studies that I conducted. In short, I was no PIMO. I was devout. Until I wasn’t.
Now, decades later, I am a feminist. A lawyer. A writer. But you can call me Vashti.
For the uninitiated, Vashti is introduced briefly in the first chapter of the Old Testament book of Esther. Sometime around the 5th century, a Persian king held a big feast for his nobleman. After seven days of eating and drinking, the king ordered his queen, Queen Vashti, to come in so he could show her off to his boys. Scholars disagree about whether she was ordered to appear naked or to dance for the drunken louts.
In any event, Queen Vashti said, “Not today. I am not the one.”
The king’s noblemen assured him that Vashti’s willfulness might just embolden other wives to ignore their husbands’ demands. Since real men had to keep their wives in check, the king had to make an example of Vashti. So, he deposed his wife. Vashti’s removal paved the way for Mordecai to pimp out his niece, Esther. Esther ascended to the throne in time to save the Jews from a planned genocide campaign and the annual holiday of Purim commemorating that near-miss is still celebrated.
I learned about Vashti the same way that I learned about all Biblical characters, filtered through the patriarchal lens of the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society publications. The intended message was always that Vashti had a haughty, rebellious spirit while Esther displayed modesty and piety.
My takeaway, however, was that Vashti was badass. She wouldn’t put up with disrespect, not even from the king. Her dignity was not for barter, and if you came for her, she would tell you just what you could do with your crown jewels.
Vashti was the role model that I desperately needed.
In the “truth,” as far as I knew, there were no women like Vashti. The marginalization of Witness women was as pervasive as effusive applause at a convention keynote address. Single girls were supposed to keep their spirit mild and their legs closed so that one day, if they were lucky, an elder or an aspiring elder or even a Bethelite might choose to marry them. What single Witness woman wanted to end up as the butt of disparaging jokes:
How is a 40-year-old single, commuter Bethelite sister like a rooster? A rooster says, “Cock a doodle doo!” A middle-aged single sister says, “Any dude’ll do!”
Because let’s face it – was there anything sadder than old, single sisters? Those zealous ones, the never-chosen, lifetime pioneers who depended on the kindness of others to survive. In the 1980s in west Georgia, they tended to live in musty old houses; they clung pitifully to other people’s children, and needed volunteers to give them rides to doctors’ appointments and evening meetings.
As a girl and as a young woman, my Witness-approved life trajectory was pretty circumscribed. Latch onto a man and become his sidekick "weaker vessel" before I got so old that any dude would have to do. Or, become a sad, sack old lady handing out hard candy after meetings to other people’s children.
Fuck That. I chose to become a Vashti.
This blog, Call Me Vashti, is intended to build community, to provide a safe space for former Witnesses and any others who are deconstructing from repressive belief systems to debrief and to celebrate the new lives that they have created for themselves. In her handbook, Exiting the JW Cult, Bonnie Zieman heralds the therapeutic effect of documenting your personal experience and any feelings that your experience engenders. Here, you can share you story, and I will share mine. Note that my experiences and perspectives as a Black Jehovah’s Witness kid in the 1970s and 1980s and as a Black woman in the 1990s and aughts in the southeastern U.S. might differ from the experiences of other former Witnesses. Yet, all authentic experience are equally valid.
Call me Vashti is not intended to be the place for debates about whether an indefinite article should be included in John 1:1 or when the 144,000 were sealed. This is not the place to wrangle about whether Putin or Zelensky or Jon Snow is the King of the North. I have spent too many precious decades debating esoteric Biblical topics that have no relevance in my life. This is a place to talk about the things that matter.
What is your story? How many years were you a Witness? What experiences would be listed on your J.W. c.v.? Subscribe to Call Me Vashti and join the conversation.