Ethos Education

Pitch Perfect: To what extent should women be considered differently to men?

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Learning Objectives:

  • Awareness of different Christian views on the roles of men and women.
  • Understanding different Christian views concerning women priests.
  • Awareness of modern Christians who have worked to oppose gender prejudice, and Jesus’ treatment of women.

Learning Outcomes:

  • Reflect upon perceived differences in the relative abilities and shortcomings of men and women.
  • Evaluate the comments made about the shortcomings of all-female a cappella groups, and other derogatory remarks about the abilities of women.
  • Analyse articles demonstrating different Christian perspectives on the role of women in church.
  • Reflect upon the argument that the early Christian church was a positive force for affirming and liberating women.
  • Prepare a speech for a debate on the impact of Christian faith on the role of women.

STARTER:

Write two headings up on the board ‘Men can’t…’ and ‘Women can’t…’ Ask students to suggest things that each gender cannot do. Write up all the suggestions, regardless of whether some students disagree. You will probably find that the exercise quickly turns into each sex competing to be more dismissive and belittling to the other. If you teach in a single-sex school, you may have to play devil’s advocate for the unrepresented sex, whether you are male or female yourself.

Once you have generated sufficient suggestions for both genders, look back over the list and ask people to justify some of their contributions, or to challenge any suggestions that they disagree with. Encourage the students to provide evidence and reasonable argument to support their views, rather than just dismissing either gender as being rubbish at the task concerned.

Explain that in today’s lesson you are going to be thinking about how the differences between men and women influence the things they can or can’t do, particularly with reference to their respective roles in the Christian church.

MAIN ACTIVITIES:

Introduce the first clip from the film Pitch Perfect (Universal, 2012, certificate 12). Click here to buy the DVD online.

Explain that the clip is from the beginning of a film set in the cut-throat world of American college a cappella singing. Ask the students to pay particular attention to the views expressed by the commentators concerning the difference between male and female singing groups.

  • Start time: 0.00.00 (beginning of chapter 1 of the DVD)
  • End time: 0.04.22
  • Clip length: 4 minutes and 22 seconds

The clip begins with an a cappella version of the Universal theme tune, which leads into the first group performance of the film (by all-male group the Treble Makers, singing Please Don’t Stop the Music). It ends after the unfortunate climax to the Bellas performance before the beginning of the film’s credits.

Please note that the clip includes some language which you may feel is inappropriate for your class (‘slutbags’ and ‘don’t f up your solo’). If you would prefer to omit these, start the clip at 0.02.02 when the scene cuts away from the Bellas at the side of the stage and returns to the conclusion of the Treble Makers’ performance.

Ask the students whether the male judge’s comment about the difficulty all-female a cappella groups have due to not having low enough voices is a fair comment about a significant difference between men and women in the context of a cappella. After discussing this, ask whether his subsequent comment, that ‘women are about as good at a cappella as they are at being doctors’ is more, less or equally offensive.

Draw out that although the commentator initially offers an apparently valid reason for why all-female groups struggle in comparison with their all-male counterparts, he then reveals that his judgement is coloured by a prejudice against women which is hard to objectively justify.

The commentator’s view on all female a cappella groups was based on his understanding of their ability to do a particular job. Those members of the Christian church who are opposed to women carrying out particular tasks of leadership or preaching generally speaking do not base their objection on an idea that women wouldn’t be good at those tasks. Rather, they point to a fundamental difference between men and women and argue that men and women were created for different roles.

Give out copies of the following articles. If you have internet access during the lesson, you could give the URLs to the students and let them look up the articles themselves. Working in small groups, for each article ask the students to answer the following questions:

  • What does the writer say that women should be allowed to do in the life of a church?
  • What reasons are given to support their position?
  • What does the writer say that women should not be allowed to do in the life of a church? What reasons are given to support their position?
  • What Bible passages are used to support the argument?
  • To what extent do you find the argument a convincing one?

Here are the URLs for the articles:

This is an issue that divides Christians from all traditions, not just evangelicals or members of the Church of England. The webpage listed below provides an outline of traditional Roman Catholic opposition to women joining the priesthood, as well as a brief response which offers the opposite view. It is worth noting that despite spending more time explaining the traditional view, the website as a whole does not support this position.

Bring the students back together and let them feed their findings back to the class. Lead the students in a discussion of the two articles, and the different perspectives on women’s ministry that each of them present.

It may be worth pointing out that neither writer would feel that their point of view would relegate women to a lesser role than that of men.

It may be helpful to point out that many people consider both Jesus, and (a more controversial view) Paul to have been radicals in the area of the treatment of women. It has been said that no other figure in the ancient world came close to affording the level of respect and honour that Jesus had for women. In a culture where women were frequently seen as being the property of either their father or their husband, Jesus treated them as individuals. Careful reading of the Gospel accounts makes it clear that a number of Jesus’ friends and followers were women, and his creative response when confronted by a group of men who claimed to have caught a woman in the act of adultery (John 8:1-11) shows his concern with allowing the unfortunate woman to maintain some sense of dignity. The account of Jesus’ visit to the home of Mary and Martha (Luke 10:38-42) shows that unlike many of his contemporaries, Jesus felt that women should be just as interested as men in receiving spiritual instruction from religious teachers.

Although Paul is often painted as an opponent of women, and even a misogynist, due to Bible passages such as 1 Corinthians 14:34-35 (where he says that he does not permit a woman to speak in church) it should be noted that culturally he was actually suggesting something groundbreakingly feminist. It would have been common in his culture for women to sit in a separate part of the building during worship, and there would have been no expectation that they would engage with the teaching. Paul’s words, while seeming harsh and dismissive to 21st century ears, should be commended for the assumption that women would participate in learning while attending worship. The fact that Paul needed to write on the subject of how women took part in such meetings shows that the early church was a liberating movement with regard to women. Similarly, in Paul’s letters in the New Testament, there are numerous references to women who appear to carry out important roles in the life of the church. For example, reading through Romans 16 Paul mentions the following women by name: Phoebe (v1); Priscilla (v3 – nb she is mentioned ahead of the male Aquila); Mary (v6); Tryphena, Tryphosa and Persis (v12).

SUMMARY AND ASSESSMENT OF LEARNING:

Ask students to prepare a speech for a debate on the following motion: ‘This house believes that Christianity has been a liberating force for women’. Their speeches should address the issue of the role of women in church, but also a wider perspective of how Christian faith has changed the way women are perceived and treated. Students should feel free to either support or oppose the motion. You could use a subsequent lesson to actually hold the debate.

YOU WILL NEED:

  • A copy of the film Pitch Perfect and the means to play it.
  • Bibles.
  • Print outs of articles concerning the role of women in the church.

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