Historically, Quakers have challenged traditional gender roles by accepting women as ministers. How does that attitude manifest today? Maggie Harrison explores this question.
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- Historically, Quakers challenged traditional gender roles by accepting women as ministers. How does that manifest today?
- How are Quakers stirring things up in our cultural conversation around gender?
If someone comes into a Quaker Meeting, and they see all of these people acting out of their usual roles—you see all these women that are really out there and leading and, I don’t know, being amazing and powerful and exciting, that’s what I think, or we see these men that are being so tender and listening really deeply and well to the people around them and making space for females to voice without being overtaken—someone might think, “Wow, how did these people get like this?”
How Quakers Challenge Traditional Gender Roles
In my assessment, we definitely have such a strong history of male and female empowerment and that we want it to be equal. That goes back to the very first days of Quakerism, and I think that whether we’re conscious of it or not, there’s a way that we want to carry that forward. Women in our society: not treated equally, not listened to as much, not given as much respect. And so in Quaker meetings and Quaker communities, we really want to make that more possible than what you might see elsewhere.
Growing Into Who We Could Be
I think another thing is—consciously or not—it’s a critique of how oppressive our gender dynamics are today, and that’s something I see in the queer community too. It’s a lot of people saying,“Woah, hold up. This whole thing that we have going on in society is really violent.” Whether it’s physically violent, but it’s emotionally violent. It’s violent towards us growing into who we can be, for men and women… that men have to be huge and they have to be strong all the time and they have to be loud and they have to be the leaders and they have to have all the responsibility. That is violence against men.
Men don’t have to be all that way. If it’s how they are and how they are feeling led to be and how their natural gifts are coming out, great! I love for men to be that way. But they don’t have to be, and forcing them into that box is just as oppressive as forcing women into the box of: you have to be accommodating, you have to be listening, you have to be supportive. You have to take the back seat if the man has a really good idea he’s excited about, you have to just follow, whether you like it or not. That’s also oppressive and violent towards women. So there’s this way that we’re exploring. What is taking away that violence against men, and taking away this violence against women, what would that look like?
Exploring Alternative Gender Roles
And so one of the ways that I think Quakers are exploring that is: if I’m a man, what if I really learn how to take a step back and let others lead? Let women lead? What if I really learn how to listen attentively and absorb and even check in to make sure that I really got it and that I really listened? So there’s this exploration of sort of gentle manhood and also listening manhood that maybe I don’t see other places, and also women leading, women being listened to, being held up.
And it’s not always, you know, it’s a bumpy road. Sometimes we have women that are totally unbound and they’re just going off and you’re like, “Ok, well, some balance there would probably be good.” and sometimes we have these men that actually feel like they can’t be strong and big because they maybe would be a bad liberal Quaker, which I disagree with but I really get why it would pan out that they would feel that way.
It’s such a funny dynamic in our communities, that we have this loudness and this quietness. We have this forward, leading, passion, visionary, and we have this gentle, listening, open, tender thing. We have both.
The views expressed in this video are of the speakers and do not necessarily reflect the views of Friends Journal or its collaborators.