Flying Paper Airplanes is for Girls
Here’s something I read today on page 26 of a study guide designed for young people called “Rejoicing in God’s Good Design”.
Under the heading of Optional Icebreakers was this:
(Recommended especially for boys)
Give each student a piece of paper and ask him to make a paper airplane.
Then have a contest to see which flies furthest.
I went to a trivia night last year and, in between the rounds of questions, there were some practical challenges (as is usually the case.) When it was my turn to be the one of our group to participate in the challenge, the activity was to make a paper airplane and then throw it to see which one would fly the farthest. The person whose plane flew the longest distance in the right direction was the winner. The challenge was identical to the one quoted in the study guide above.
I was happy with the challenge. This was something I had done before. I knew how to make paper airplanes and knew exactly what design to use.
I made my plane and, when it was my turn, I threw it in the air. My plane soared all the way to the other side of the auditorium. It glided considerably further than the paper planes of my fellow competitors, some of which nose-dived or looped or went awry, rather than flying straight.
I won. And my team benefited from the extra points that were added to our score. I was happy and my team was happy.
So why has the icebreaker activity in the study guide been recommended especially for boys? It is easy to find the answer to that question by looking at the content of the study guide. The people who have written it have a narrow, restrictive view of what girls and boys can do and can be, and they over-emphasise the differences between men and women. They claim their view on gender is biblically based, but I found some of their arguments—and choice and use of scriptures—odd, unsound, and unconvincing.
Being Brave is for Girls
For instance, on page 125 the authors mention the Greek verb andrizomai. The etymology of this word gives the meaning “act like men” which is the meaning they emphasise. The word is used in the context of bravery and valour in the Septuagint (the ancient Greek version of the Old Testament) and in the Greek New Testament. Plenty of Bible women, as well as men, were brave, and the cognate adjective andreia is used in Proverbs 12:4 and 31:10 of the Septuagint of valiant women. Esther and Judith are described as andreia in 1 Clement 55:3-6.
The study guide highlights 1 Corinthians 16:13c which uses the word andrizomai. The authors imply that this verse applies only to men. However, Paul’s instructions here, to be courageous and strong, apply to both Christian men and women. (The NIV 2011 and the NRSV translate andrizomai correctly here as “be courageous”. An article about the ESV’s translation of andrizomai in 1 Corinthians 16:13 is here.)
In week 11 of the study guide, 1 Corinthians 16:13 (with the word andrizomai) which the authors aim at boys, is juxtaposed with 1 Peter 3:4, for the girls. Sadly, this study guide seems to only encourage boys to be brave. Girls, on the other hand, are encouraged to be gentle and quiet. [More on the non-gendered virtue of gentleness, here.]
By defining and restricting the parameters of what girls and boys, and women and men, can do and be, we are all missing out. Talented women can and should be involved in all sorts of activities. They can be involved in finding the cure for some disease, in designing some safer structure or machine, in discovering or examining some long-lost historical artifact, in managing finances and budgets for companies, in planning more efficient processes for businesses, in deciphering codes for the military, in composing music or writing literature, etc. I’m thinking of real women who do these things as I write. Not all women are as talented as these ladies, but most of us have much to offer society. Women should be involved in all sorts of endeavours, including Christian ministries, so that they can share and contribute their unique talents, gifts, perspectives and resources.
It is hurtful—rather than a cause for rejoicing—for capable girls and women to be excluded when they have something to offer and want to be involved. I wonder how many girls that went through the study felt left out and excluded because boys were given preference to make and fly paper airplanes, and only boys were encouraged to be brave. The polarisation of gender taught in the study guide has nothing to do with God’s design for men and women.
 Rejoicing in God’s God Design © 2011 Gary Steward and Sally Michael, published by Children Desiring God. The 28-week study guide uses quotes from John Piper and other hierarchical complementarians. A sample can be found on John Piper’s Desiring God website here.
Various articles on Brave Bible Women
A Gentle and Quiet Spirit is not just a Feminine Virtue
Gender Obsessions: Emphasizing our Differences or our Similarities?
Working Women in the New Testament
Is motherhood the highest calling for women?
Mark Chanski on Gender Roles
Role or Rank?
Submission and Respect in 1 Peter 3:1-6