Gender Equity

Fight for equality

What is?

Gender equality, also known as sexual equality or equality of the genders, refers to the view that men and women should receive equal treatment, unless there is a sound biological reason for different treatment.


History

  • The Shakers, a celibate evangelical group founded in America in 1774, practiced equality of the sexes soon after they began organizing into their own separatist enclaves. The head of the Shakers' central ministry in 1788, Joseph Meacham, had a revelation that the sexes should be equal, so he brought Lucy Wright into the ministry as his female counterpart, and together they restructured society to balance the rights of the sexes. Meacham and Wright established leadership teams where each elder, who dealt with the men's spiritual welfare, was partnered with an eldress, who did the same for women. Each deacon was partnered with a deaconess. Men had oversight of men; women had oversight of women. Women lived with women; men lived with men. In Shaker society, a woman did not have to be controlled or otherwise owned by any man.
  • After Meacham's death in 1796, Wright was the head of the Shaker ministry until her own death in 1821. Going forward, Shakers maintained the same pattern of gender-balanced leadership for more than 200 years. They also promoted equality with women's rights advocates. In 1853, Shaker brother William Leonard wrote that Shakerism brought an end to the “degradation and oppression of WOMAN,” and suggested that the public discussion of woman’s rights, as well as other reforms, originated with Shakers and was due to their recognition of God as both male and female. In 1859, Shaker Elder Frederick Evans stated their beliefs forcefully, writing that Shakers were “the first to disenthrall woman from the condition of vassalage to which all other religious systems (more or less) consign her, and to secure to her those just and equal rights with man that, by her similarity to him in organization and faculties, both God and nature would seem to demand." Evans and his counterpart, Eldress Antoinette Doolittle, joined women's rights advocates on speakers' platforms throughout the northeastern U.S. in the 1870s. A visitor to the Shakers wrote in 1875, “Each sex works in its own appropriate sphere of action, there being a proper subordination, deference and respect of the female to the male in his order, and of the male to the female in her order [emphasis added], so that in any of these communities the zealous advocates of ‘women’s rights’ may here find a practical realization of their ideal.”The Shakers were more than a radical religious sect on the fringes of American society; they put equality of the sexes into practice. They showed that equality could be achieved and how to do it.


Gender Inequality