How Modern Quakers Challenge Traditional Gender Roles

Historically, Quakers have challenged traditional gender roles by accepting women as ministers. How does that attitude manifest today? Maggie Harrison explores this question.

Jon Watts

Jon Watts launched and directed the QuakerSpeak project for its first 6 seasons. Keep up to date with Jon’s work at his website.

3 thoughts on “How Modern Quakers Challenge Traditional Gender Roles

  1. This reminds me to speak a word of appreciation to the American Friends Service Committee for action that they officially took in the early 1970s. I had been working in the Chicago office as “Peace Education Secretary,” and we learned that we were about to have a baby.

    So the Personnel Committee (clerked by the late George Watson) met with us to hear our suggestion that Nancy and I “split the job.” We would each have 2 days of the week in the office, and the 5th day we would bring in our new baby.

    That committee was fully supportive, and approved our re-alignment of the position, so we were “Co-Secretaries for Peace/War Issues.” They also approved a month or so period of “Paternity Leave.”

    The benefit to AFSC was immediate, because Nancy had skills and determination in areas of work that I either had been avoiding or wasn’t good at, particularly relating to our oversight committee, and arranging conferences and public speaking. I was able to give more attention to my passion: working with conscientious objectors and resisters in and out of the miliary.

    But the biggest benefit in my eyes was that I got to be a Daddy as much as Nancy could be a Mom. Up until then, the traditional idea of fatherhood was that, besides the biological part, one’s main responsibility was to bring in income and enforce discipline. Equal parenthood was a refreshingly (and to some, threateningly) New Idea.

    George Watson said that he was eager to move ahead on this model — sharing the paid work, and sharing the parenting — because he and Elizabeth had wanted some such arrangement in the mid-1940s, and Friends weren’t ready for it at that time.

    One more example of Quakers being less rigid and more open on things having to do with gender (or in the language we used at the time, “Sex-Role Stereotypes.”)

    I then was able to launch on one of the biggest and most satisfying adventures of my life, enthusiastically being a Dad.

    Thanks, Friends!

  2. Awesome Maggie! Wonderful concise spotlight on the dynamic that has been alive in Friends from the very beginning…..that’s what led me to join Quakers, and to travel to England to explore how the early Friends had the courage to take this bumpy road! Kudos to Friends Journal and to Jon Watts, AFSC, FCNL, and FWCC for lifting up these very special aspects of Quakerism.

  3. Thank you, Maggie.
    I love your experience in West Philly and the optimism you have. I can relate to your dreamy idealistic view of Quakerism. But Quakers, I learned after 7 years, are people, a cross-section of society. Quakers have all of the shortcomings and are conditioned growing-up in our society like anyone else. We think we’re better, and I agree, Quaker Core values drew me in.
    True, at my meeting, Quaker women are strong, take charge, and I love them. They often lead and are respected. The men appear to be listening. like you said, but, who knows, most eyes are closed during Meeting — I see our guys as gentle in word and deeds.
    I have to face, however, that my Meetings are not diverse. We would be richer if we had POC attendees and Friends who came out as LGBTQ, but we don’t.
    Plus we have to face the reality of Quaker racism, (hopefully unconsciously.) But I’ve experienced the denial and discomfort when Black Lives Matter issues are raised. I continue to have hope in my Friends.
    Go, West Philly!

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