Gender Equality and the Religious Society of Friends

Coming to the end of my week with Quakers at the Friends General Conference held in Grinnell College in Iowa, I have been wondering about the experiences of Quakers who currently or have ever identified as female. I know that for a long time Quakers have aspired to gender equality, but as a male identified/male-bodied person (aka cisgender male) I know I have blind spots.

So I have a query (fancy Quaker language for a question that hopefully will encourage deep thinking and sharing.) My intention is to hear exclusively from people who currently or have ever identified as female. THEREFORE I want to exclude other cisgender males like me from commenting. I know that may seem very un-Quakerly of me, but that’s how I want to go about this query for now. Some folks may identify as genderqueer, so I will let them decide for themselves if this is a relevant query to their experiences. I imagine we can have a huge and full discussion about gender non-conformity and Friends at some point.

I do not have fully formed opinions about the topic of gender equality and Quakers. I imagine there will be a mixture of responses. For some, the Religious Society of Friends may be a space of equality and respect far different from the wider world. Others may have and still do experience sexism and misogyny as they bump up against male privilege. As Friends we value integrity, equality, and social justice, so I ask the following query?

As someone who currently identifies as female or has identified as female, in regards to gender and gender equality what are your experiences among Friends at local Quaker meetings and in the wider Quaker world?

Again, cisgender men like me (birth sex=male and gender identity=male) refrain from commenting. Don’t make me elder you 😛

20110708-192038.jpg (photo from South Africa’s Constitution Court)

This post has 26 Comments

  1. Kristin Rawls on July 8, 2011 at 7:36 pm Reply

    Sorry to be the language police, but one quick thing: cisgender male=male gender identity and cissexual male=male birth sex. That’s why people sometimes use cis* with the asterisk–to denote both.

    That said, no experience with the Quakers, but I do have some experience with the liberal end of the Mennonite Church-USA, and I’m curious to know whether or not there are some “historical peace church” similarities. In general, I find the Mennonites to be nice and well-meaning but to have little experience of the kind anti-oppression work that involves critiques of sexism. So, I sometimes feel like there needs to be a lot more education. (This is something I noticed at WGF as well, and I wonder if that has to do with the evangelical influences, as well as the Anabaptist and possibly Quaker involvement. I do tend to find, say, mainline UCC folks more literate in that rhetoric than I ever found Mennonites.)

    The other interesting thing that a friend mentioned to me the other day (who is now a Mennonite church member, but was raised in a fundamentalist tradition) is that the Mennonites in general seem to be fairly isolated from the excesses of the Christian Right. They don’t know that much about them, No one has ever heard of Rushdoony, and because they’ve always separated themselves from government, they don’t really understand (or have a lot of awareness of) Christian Dominionism.

  2. Kristin on July 8, 2011 at 9:02 pm Reply

    I was raised by a Quaker mom and my family has a long history of involvement with Friends. I haven’t personally been highly involved with the Society but I do go to meetings (less often than I would like) and I’ve never felt that the group wasn’t living up to Quaker teachings on equality. Of course Toronto meeting is very involved with all sort so social justice and there are many amazing an impressive women who call our meeting home.

    I’ve also spent a lot of time talking to my mother about Quakerism. She’s been quite involved her whole life and attended meetings in different regions as well as several yearly meetings. I can’t say she’s ever spoken to me of experiences within the society as a whole that made her feel like she was seen as anything less than equal.

    This is a great query and I would also love to hear more from other queers (of all stripes) about their experiences with the Society of Friends.

  3. Eileen Flanagan on July 8, 2011 at 10:03 pm Reply

    My short answer is that Quakers in the US (the only ones I know experientially) live closer to the ideal of gender equality than any other group I’ve been part of, but that doesn’t mean that we’re perfect or immune from the influence of the wider US culture. More specifically, I (a life-long female) have felt my gifts affirmed, nurtured, and respected among Friends. In my meeting (and my former meeting), women hold and have held key leadership roles for a long time, in contrast to the church where I was raised. Also in contrast to the church of my childhood, gender neutral language for God seems to be the norm, something that was very important to me when I first stumbled into meeting at a crucial point in my spiritual journey. The combination of gender neutral language for the Divine, the history of Quaker social witness (including for for gender equality), and the way I personally felt treated (after coming from a very sexist university environment) were all important parts of what made me feel at home among Friends.

    That said, I can’t help noticing that our meeting falls into certain patterns of gender roles, and from what I hear, we are not alone. The First Day School Committee and the Hospitality Committee are usually predominantly female. The Finance Committee has long had a female clerk, but most of the members are male, like the Property Committee (I think). We’ve had several female clerks and assistant clerks, but we always seem to have a male treasurer. Given that most people in our meeting are convinced Friends–and many recently–it’s hard to say whether these are problems with our Society or the wider society, though I do think it’s important to ask how our meetings and organizations can actively counteract the sexist conditioning we all receive in the wider world.

    I have pointed out in monthly meeting the need for men on the First Day School committee, but other than such occasional comments, I don’t think there is a lot of overt discussion about gender in our meeting. This may be a problem, but it’s not always clear when and how it’s operating. For example, the only personal situation when I felt that sexism may have been involved occurred when I was filling in for the clerk during monthly business meeting. When people realized the regular clerk was gone and the assistant clerk was taking over, people (both men and women) suddenly seemed a bit unruly and wanted to talk out of turn and add agenda items that hadn’t been cleared ahead of time. It felt to me that sexism played a role, but also agism and little bit of the substitute phenomenon. The next time I clerked business meeting, I simply stood up and reminded people that they needed to be recognized by the clerk. That solved the problem, and I felt no resistance to my leadership from that point. But I felt that I couldn’t clerk from a seated position, like our former older male clerk. I just needed to project authority a little more deliberately.

    Hope this is helpful. I’m curious what others have experienced.

  4. Deanna Nipp-Kientz on July 8, 2011 at 10:55 pm Reply

    In the first Quaker meeting I attended (late 1970’s, New York State), I found it interesting that the person who most frequently felt led to speak out of the silence was a male. I thought it was a reflection of the broader society the group functioned in more than of the group itself.

    Now I have been attending local and yearly meetings in the south regularly since 2001. In my local meeting, males contribute to our shared meals and always do the dishes. In my experience of the meeting, all of the meeting clerks have been female. In my yearly meeting, both males and females have been in positions of responsibility. It does my heart good.

    I notice that I find it easier to share in Quaker groups than in other groups. Part of the reason is that the male members of the groups aren’t dominating conversation and even encourage participation of others.

    I have found these experiences to be very healing.

  5. Eileen Flanagan on July 8, 2011 at 11:06 pm Reply

    P.S. Rereading the original query and the sensitivity to language in it, I wonder if a broader definition of gender issues was intended. The fact that I’ve never heard the terms cisgender and cissexual before probably reveals something about where my community is on transgender issues. We approved same-gender marriages a long time ago, and have, I sense, a broad support of gay and lesbian equality, but I suspect we’re probably pretty ignorant about transgender questions and probably out of ignorance a less friendly place for transgender people. I do believe than any person’s liberation helps to liberate all of us (even if that’s not their intension). As a heterosexual married woman, having committed gay and lesbian couples in my life helps me to see traditional gender roles in a fuller way and helps to make my own marriage more conscious and equal. I suspect that a further exploding of gender confines by trans people will further this process for many others as well, especially those who identify as female.

  6. Jeremiah on July 9, 2011 at 12:32 am Reply

    I have been a Quaker for most of my life, and I was identified by other Quakers as female for 31 years until I came out as a transgender man 16 years ago. And, yes, I have experienced different treatment in Quaker settings based on how my gender is perceived.

    This difference has been most notable among Quakers who don’t know my gender history, i.e., when they meet me for the first time, they see a person with a beard and a masculine name. (I don’t hide my transgender identity, but I don’t constantly announce it either.)

    Some of the different treatment is just amusing, such as assuming that I know a lot about football (which never happened when I was seen as female).

    Other experiences have been more disturbing, such as noticing that my male voice seems to be heard more than my previous female voice and other female voices. For example, I’ve been in committee meetings where a female person would suggest a new idea, which would be ignored until a male person repeated that idea, which would then get attention (and often get attributed to the male person as the originator of the idea unless he specifically pointed out that he was repeating what she had already said). I’ve had that experience more than once (and from both sides).

    P.S. The words used in the trans community have been evolving rapidly over the last couple of decades.

    “Transsexual” is a word that was coined by non-trans people and used mainly to diagnose us as mentally ill, so that word is not so popular in the trans community.

    Holly Boswell was the first person I know of to use the word “transgender” and that has become popular as an umbrella term for any person whose affirmed gender identity (mental, social, spiritual, etc.) does not correlate as expected by society with the anatomical sex observed at birth and legally assigned to that person on their original birth certificate. (This umbrella includes both people who fit the medical definition of “transsexual” and people who do not fit that definition because their gender identity is more fluid or outside the gender binary.) For instance, my obstetrician observed female anatomy when I was born, so my original birth certificate said that I was female, but I knew from a very early age that my gender identity was not as a girl/woman although I knew that was expected for me as a female-bodied person. I did not feel like I was being my true self until I started using a masculine first name, started taking testosterone, and began to grow a beard. Other transgender people make more changes or fewer changes or no changes. What we have in common is that we know that our gender identity does not follow our anatomical birth sex in the way that it does for most people.

    Years ago, I used chemistry nomenclature to coin the word “cisgender” to refer to any person who is not transgendered. I remembered from organic chemistry class that a molecule with identical atoms on the same side of the molecule was called “cis” and that a molecule with identical atoms on opposite sides was called “trans,” so “cis” was the opposite of “trans.” I didn’t like the term “non-transgender” so I started using “cisgender” to refer to people who are not transgender. (Other people might have also independently started using the word “cisgender.” I just know that I hadn’t heard anyone use it before I did.)

    Kristin’s post above was the first time that I ever saw anyone use the words “cissexual” or “cis*.”

  7. Kristin Rawls on July 9, 2011 at 9:56 am Reply

    Jeremiah: Hmm, that’s interesting. I have been instructed to use cis in that way, but certainly, it may not be as widespread as I had thought.

  8. kiwihelen on July 9, 2011 at 1:53 pm Reply

    Hi, I’m a nearly 41 year old Quaker woman having been a member since my 21st year and attending since I turned up at 19 with shaved head and attitude, I can officially say that I’ve never experienced sexism as a woman. I love that when I was struggling with the challenge of being unaccepted by men of my age group in my late teens and early 20s because I was generally a whole heap brighter than most that I met, it was a 70 year old male member of my meeting who said what I needed to hear, about how beautiful my mind was. It took nearly 15 years to find someone who saw the same as his, but it has been well worth the wait!

    I wish I could say I have never seen gender assumptions made against anyone, but sadly I have seen rather a lot of mysandrous behavior in some Quaker meetings, where men are put down for being male and assumptions are made if there is a disagreement between a man and a woman, that the woman is in the right and the man is in the wrong.

    This has led me to read a lot into the MRA and become involved in some internet based projects supporting men who have experienced domestic abuse at the hands of their female partners. I don’t yet rate my work as a “concern”, but I am not averse to raising the issue with Friends when I see it now.

  9. Jess R. on July 9, 2011 at 3:26 pm Reply

    As a Grinnell student a few years ago I was looking for a gay-affirming church in town and visited the Quaker one a few times. Nobody said anything about homosexuality…positively or negatively. I had reached a point in my life where this just wasn’t good enough; I wanted to know that the friends I made in the pews weren’t suddenly going to turn on me if my private life became public. So I emailed the pastor and asked for some sort of official church stance. As I recall, his reply essentially said that homosexuality was too divisive of an issue to bring up on Sundays but then he quoted an OT scripture about being damned if you come into contact with mold and admitting to having mold in his bathroom.

    A friendly compromise, if you will, though not strong enough to patch the hurt I’d been feeling after hiding in a non-affirming church for so many years.

    I use this story as an example for why church *neutrality* through silence isn’t possible in the larger Christian context of condemnation. If they invited you to come it sounds like they’ve made progress on the issue.

    • kiwihelen on July 10, 2011 at 4:06 pm Reply

      Jess,

      I was on the group that drafted the minute on Aotearoa NZ YM being a reconciling community, celebrating and affirming homosexual partnerships in 1998.

      Britain Yearly Meeting (UK) has made a statement of support of treating civil unions as having the same status as marriages, and are working towards having the law changed so we can hold civil union ceremonies on religious premises.

      So some parts of the RSoF are very much gay affirming.

  10. Kristin on July 9, 2011 at 7:41 pm Reply

    Jess R. I think this is largely going to depend on which meeting you’re at. I attend a non-programmed meeting and there is no pastor so it’s really about the community of that specific meeting. I find our meeting to be very inclusive and my sister married her partner at Friends’ House in Toronto in 1994, long before legalized same-sex marriage was a fact of Canadian life.

    As with all matters of religion and spirituality, it’s not just about finding the right denomination, it’s also about finding the right meeting for you and your needs.

  11. Kelly Worrall on July 10, 2011 at 12:37 pm Reply

    i think that Jess’ comment brings up an extremely important point, which Peterson alluded to in the formation of the query when he wrote:

    “at local Quaker meetings and in the wider Quaker world”

    There are sometimes wider cultural distances between FUM, EFI, Iowa Conservative and FGC than we are always comfortable with as “Quakers”. It is difficult to speak to the “Quaker” testimony on diversity when there are a variety of perspectives.

    The query, however, does not relate to diversity or the LGBTQ concerns; it is a fairly gender-binary query that does not look for insight into questions of preference.

    I have no experience with Quaker gender equality outside of FGC and FGC-affiliated meetings and gatherings. While I have identified as female for quite some time, I had not presented as female in the Quaker community prior to last week.

    At this stage of my life, I am very clearly a trans woman, and believe that I was treated at Gathering (and elsewhere) specifically as such… either a “transwoman” or as a “person”, but I am not at a stage of my transition yet where I would be treated by anyone as as a “woman”, so I can’t speak to differences in gender treatment from a first-person perspective yet.

    I can say that in all my experience with FGC-affiliated Quakerism, the vast majority of committee & business leadership has been female. There has been an effectively equal divide in volunteer work. I have never seen a situation that gave me pause to consider the possibility of sexism within the society.

  12. Anonymouse on July 11, 2011 at 4:59 pm Reply

    I was raised in the Society of Friends, and remain active in my local meeting and my Yearly Meeting.

    Sexism within the Society of Friends is increasingly preventing me from feeling spiritually at home among Friends.

    For example, a while ago on Facebook, a friend posted a fake commercial for a device that would “translate” women speak into guy speak. The “joke” was that women are passive-aggressive liars who never say what they mean.

    I didn’t think it was funny, so I replied, “wow, that’s really sexist.”

    The Friend who posted it politely responded that he didn’t agree.

    Then another friend of his, who also claimed to be a Friend, commented, mocking me for my comment and insinuating that I was taking the “joke” seriously because it applies to me (ie, that I’m a passive-aggressive liar that doesn’t say what I mean).

    I replied as politely as possible that I took offense to the video because it perpetuated sexism, not because I took it personally, and tried to explain the basics of gender privilege.

    He responded by telling me to shut up, calling me a “little girl,” and claiming that gender privilege didn’t exist.

    The original poster did not tell his friend that he was out of line, or ask him to stop disrespecting me–instead he told us both to stop talking about it around him because he didn’t want to hear it anymore. When I emailed him privately to try to explain why I was hurt and ask him to forward a message on to his friend–a gently-worded eldering on Friends principles and gender privilege–he responded by telling me his friend was having a rough year and I should leave him alone.

    Ever since then, I haven’t felt comfortable in Meeting, and have not attended Meeting with the Friend who posted the video. I no longer feel safe or respected enough around him to even explain why.

    I felt thrown away, silenced, and disrespected–an experience I’m finding more common the more I try to challenge sexism among Friends. No matter how polite, gentle, and loving I try to be about it, the response I’m met with is invariably to insist that I’m wrong, that either sexism isn’t real or that the behavior I’m questioning is not sexist, and that I’m out of line for questioning other Friends’ “Good Liberal” credentials. It’s very tiring and I’m tired of doing it.

    Friends are gung-ho to talk about how Quakers were involved in Women’s Suffrage, and how we gave leadership roles to women in the 1650s. Trying to get them to talk about the challenges women face NOW, and the ways in which Friends perpetuate those challenges, is like talking to a wall. I can no longer live with the illusion that refusing to speak truth in the face of these injustices serves God, but I struggle to find the strength to live this truth when the community that I used to turn to for support in such leadings has made it clear that they’d rather I shut up. I love the Society of Friends, but I’m no longer sure I’m at home in it.

    • Kelly Worrall on July 12, 2011 at 3:21 am Reply

      I think that it would be as large a mistake to allow one or two immature Friends to represent Quakers as it would be to allow the 9/11 perpetrators to represent Islam.

      Outside of an individual refusing to support your finding a joke distasteful (and it sounds like it was a distasteful, sexist joke), do you find there to be a lack of gender equality among Quakers?

    • spandrella on July 13, 2011 at 9:19 pm Reply

      i am sorry that was your experience, Anonymous. i’ve had similar facebook exchanges that left me feeling unheard and unsafe, though not with Friends. Such an event would definitely compound the feelings of frustration, loss, violation, etc. quakers tend to hold each other in high regard and have high expectations. we don’t always like to admit we’re people, and subject to the same privilege and prejudice traps as everybody else.

      do you feel safe enough to talk to your ministry and council committee? (or whatever your particular meeting calls it, the committee that cares for people in physical, emotional, or spiritual distress of its members. i’ve also heard it called ministry & worship). i feel like the other Friend needs to hear that regardless of whether he agrees with you or is open to hearing about gender privilege, shutting people down like that is not okay anywhere, even on facebook. either way, i hope you will not drift away from the society as so many people do, but make clear why you no longer feel safe there. were you a member of my meeting, i would want to know what had happened, even if there was nothing i could do for you in particular–but it would make me more vigilant to make sure that i am doing my part to keep the members of my community safe. i dont mean to sound like you owe it to the rest of us to do something that’s really hard–you don’t. this is just my initial (and admittedly uninformed) reaction.

    • kiwihelen on July 13, 2011 at 10:22 pm Reply

      Anonymouse,

      I would say you experienced relational bullying in that encounter with this Friend, and I would take copies of this communication to your Elders/Overseers and ask them to support you in confronting him in his abuse. That is what Elders/Overseers are for…

      My own beloved and I have an ongoing battle to get people to accept that as a male parent he has similar commitments to his children as a female parent would, and those commitments are his main form of witness in this phase of his life.

  13. RantWoman on July 11, 2011 at 11:44 pm Reply

    Thank you so much for asking.

    I think there are a variety of experiences, perspectives, and thoughts about this topic., much too much for me to attempt in one comment so…

    I read fast, but I think so far the only commenters who have experience being male are both transgender. Wonder what that says about the conversation

    • Kelly Worrall on July 12, 2011 at 3:24 am Reply

      Since Peterson asked specifically for responses only from Friends who identify as female, it makes sense that the only people who have a male experience on this thread are trans, no?

  14. Meg on July 12, 2011 at 10:56 am Reply

    Of course the attitudes are there, so its easy to come up with a list of events that show poor attitudes toward women. But it is not the whole picture. In each event something else was the main focus, usually something valuable, and the sexism was low level (not to discount pervasive low level toxins but to keep in perspective). I can make a long list of ways our Mtg and Yearly Mtg have been good places. Also important to remember these actions come from women as much as men. I would like to see respect in general for the choices we make and the reasons for ways we live, with encouragement to keep trying to be a little better.

    I have seen inequality in how families/children are treated which reflects attitudes about something that is usually female. Strong suggestion that a commitment to one’s children is not as important as a committee request that isn’t urgent and could have been pre-planned. Telling a caller we are at dinner and hearing “its important” then finding out “I want you to arrange this next week” is what was important . A reminder to pick up children from child care was led to the quip about “ball and chain” in front of several weighty members who did not challenge it or seem to think being late for the child care provider was a problem. A comment in a Quaker blog about people who are unwilling to do something because their children have a soccer game. One parent in our family missed all of one child’s games and concerts in high school and can’t regain those experiences.

    Bios of newly hired employees in yearly mtg newsletter mentioned family details for the women but not for the two men. The interviewer didn’t ask.

    In a Friend’s school our daughter was treated differently for being physical or having bright hair and a tattoo than the boys were (she had the hair and piercing when she applied).

    The phrase “real job”

    Surprise that a woman at home with 5 children has a college degree. Argument that she hasn’t made the best choice for her children (income more important than home schooling).

    On the other side, I have found:

    Encouragement to lead, to go out of comfort zone and do more. An idea that personal safety isn’t the most important goal

    Offering everyone a chance to be involved in business and financial decisions.

    Tons of help raising children.

    NO expectations that everyone comes in matched sets of 1 adult male, 1 adult female, 2 kids.

    And sadly, regarding Eileen’s comments, we have treated our male clerks as poorly as our female clerks.

    • kiwihelen on July 13, 2011 at 10:12 pm Reply

      Meg,

      My beloved (a man) has been very clear with his Meeting that his main act of service until his children are older is bringing his children to Meeting each week. All other committees etc have to be done in parent friendly time.

      He is the epitome of plain speech over this matter…but it has definitely worked!

  15. RantWoman on July 12, 2011 at 12:07 pm Reply

    Thank you for the reminder that Peterson asked for comments from women. Women’s views are obviously important: I can find several blogs written by women Friends who take on gender equality all kinds of ways and it’s not like the issue is likely to go away anytime soon.

    At the same time, the issue is like any other form of ally work: how many men get it? Maybe that is a different question or a different blog entry though.

  16. anonymous on July 13, 2011 at 9:45 pm Reply

    i have gone to the same meeting since i was six (i’m now 29, and became a member three years ago), so it’s hard for me to comment on this–the Friends at my meeting have treated me as wholepersonme for as long as i can remember. (while we’re at it, suggesting other blog entries: in my experience, quakers have enormous class privilege, but very little sense of how to use it to the advantage of others, and i think we’re very uncomfortable with how middle class many of us are. i would love a queary on that)

    Friends are the only people i can think of who have referred to me as a woman, and not a girl. even though i’m 29 i’m still a student, i still dress like i did in high school, i still act immaturely in a lot of ways. i even refer to myself as a girl. when the women elders at meeting refer to me as a woman, it’s an interesting and weirdly complicated moment for me.

    a few years ago, though, we had an incident in which a female member accused another member, with whom she had at one time been in a relationship with, of raping her. she did this in the middle of business meeting, so the whole meeting know about. it was discouraging to watch the whole meeting divide up pretty much right along gender lines–the men tended to think she was crazy, making accusations, M- is innocent until proven guilty, etc. the women tended towards women don’t make false accusations, this is sexism in action, we must all band together and support each other and E-, etc. (i am oversimplifying the whole incident, because i dont want to give away details or violate anyone’s privacy or even particularly say what meeting i am a member of, except that we are unprogrammed and in the united states). there were also accusations of reverse sexism made as a result of many of the men observing what they felt was unjustified support of and trust in this woman that many of the female members of meeting had. quakers may be less sexist than most, but we are clearly still subject to some of the deep-seeded cultural myths and sexisms that haunt our culture. we can talk intelligently about sexism in the abstract, but the minute it becomes real and immediate and affects our meeting–the minute it becomes difficult, in other words–we lose the ability to communicate, or at least my meeting did.

    the female member no longer attends.

  17. Anonymous on August 10, 2011 at 11:59 am Reply

    Peterson, it’s very interesting to me that you’ve brought this up just now.

    As you know, I’m explicitly a feminist, and a good portion of my ministry reflects this.

    At Gathering, the workshop I facilitated was feminist, and although that was not mentioned in the title, it was pretty clear from the title and was definitely made explicit in the short and long descriptions. I also said explicitly that people of all genders were welcome.

    A few weeks before Gathering, I had a long, somewhat interview-like conversation about my workshop and ministry with a Friend I’d never met who, I believe, self-identifies as a sensitive man, and possibly even a feminist man, as part of his ministry. It turned into quite a sexist experience. When he asked me why I focus on certain aspects in my ministry, and I talked about the historical silencing of women’s voices in patriarchal religion, he then took the conversation off in a completely different direction of his own — and he took my comments about women’s experience, my experience of ministry, my leading and calling, and why I do the work I do, and went into a long monologue all about men and men’s experience and men being silenced and how women have all the power and so forth and you get the picture.

    There’s one concrete example, but not a completely unusual one: this conversation was way too similar to conversations I’ve had with other Quaker men who see themselves as liberal, maybe even feminist, who believe they aren’t sexist, who believe they believe in gender equality, but who don’t walk their talk. Who are threatened by women’s equality, by women taking care of ourselves, by women *not* taking care of men, by women claiming our own power, etc.

    A couple of other examples:

    In most of the Meetings I’ve been involved with, who clerks committees (and which) and who does what kinds of committee work often breaks down by gender lines, still.

    I’ve also seen the kinds of things other Friends talk about above: women talked over and our ideas dismissed more easily than men and men’s, etc.

    In Quakerism more than any other established religion I’ve been part of, gender roles are closer to equal. But the bottom line is that all of us still grew up in a sexist society (just like we all grew up in a racist, classist, able-ist, etc. one), and intention alone is not enough to overcome that.

    What’s more, there’s an additional danger for Friends: because we often *think* we don’t have sexism in our organizations, when people — especially women — who experience or witness sexism call it out, we are dismissed. Quakers aren’t sexist, therefore what just happened wasn’t sexist/wasn’t a problem/etc. Stop being so sensitive. This happens ALL the time, and it’s a problem.

    I believe part of why the work I do is threatening in the places where it’s threatening within Quakerism, and to the people to whom it’s threatening within Quakerism, is because of sexism. For one, even for Friends who aren’t explicitly Christian, we all grew up steeped in a culture of a God who’s male — just as we all grew up in the sexist, patriarchal larger society. I support and nurture the spiritual lives of people whose experience of the Divine is not that male god. (Part of the experience may be a male Divinity, but trust me, He is verrry different. And His relationship with the Goddess is verrrry different.)

    Also, let’s be frank, I’m supporting, nurturing, and encouraging experiences of the Divine as female and as completely different than the God most of us grew up with. To a lot of Friends, the Divine just can’t be female. That’s sexism.

    I could go on… but this is sufficient.

    The only other places I’ve had experiences as close in equality as among Friends are among certain groups of Pagans, including Feminist Witchcraft, and Unitarian Universalists.

    So yes, I think Friends do a good job; but oh, my, yes, we have problems with sexism, too.

  18. Anonymous on August 10, 2011 at 12:00 pm Reply

    Er… I don’t know why that didn’t log me in… That was Stasa.

  19. guest on August 11, 2011 at 10:54 pm Reply

    I’ve been Quaker (unprogrammed) since 1959. One of the reasons for my loyalty is that, within Quakerism, I have a voice. I would say that the Quakers of the early 1960s and the Quakers of today were/are both slightly ahead of their respective times relative to gender issues. Not perfect, but better than all others. (not having defined creeds/doctrine helps here)

    The second thing I would posit is that the treatment that women receive tracks inversely with the amount of money involved, i.e. if the organization is wealthy, then gender issues are more difficult. This is my observation, not a scientific study, though, and I might be incorrect. More money implies more structure, bigger titles (even Quakerly ones), and more control issues. Women usually lose when these become factors. The Quaker organizations who undertake educational or missional objectives, for example, appear to me to be less gender neutral.

  20. Anonymous on August 12, 2011 at 12:23 pm Reply

    My experiences as a convinced Friend for about 12 years or so is that Quakers are far better at walking their talk around gender equality than the rest of the culture. And far better than their commitment to, say, nonviolent direct action for peace, justuice and and earth restoired. Not that these things are separate in any way.
    If I had felt any sexism when we first started attending meeting (in a completely different YM than the one we’re in now), there is no way my family and I would have chosen the Rel Society of Friends as our spiritual path, especially given that we have two daughters. I have seen my girls be nurtured and accepted in ways that other churches or spiritual organizations (or non-religious ones for that matter) would not be able to offer.
    I feel similarly to Eileen Flanagan in that my meeting still divides into committees in a really stereotypical way (eg, most of the men are on Property), but right now the clerk, the asst clerk, the recording clerk, the treasurer, the part-time secretary and about half the committee clerks are all women.
    My meeting is pretty homogenous, however. Predominantly white, educated, middle- to upper-middle class, hetero folks. I think it has been that way for many decades, although I think we used to have more African-American families than we do now.
    I am sure we are operating under a shitload of unquestioned assumptions about gender, sexuality, race, class, etc. But I honestly don’t experience any sexism.

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