Exercise: Adjectives and Assumptions
to examine our subconscious and cultural biases about who leads, follows and what are gender roles
Instructions for Leading:
Participants are each handed a piece of paper and are instructed not to look at what is on the papers others have.
They are given one of the following tasks:
a. List the 5 most important characteristics that a person should have.
b. List the 5 most important characteristics that a leader should have.
c. List the 5 most important characteristics that a woman should have.
d. List the 5 most important characteristics that a man should have.
e. List the 5 most important characteristics that a(n) insert role here should have.
Give participants 2-5 minutes to write down their answers.
Have participants gather into groups (by letter) and write their entire list characteristics on a sheet of big paper.
As a large group, discuss and evaluate the degree of overlap between perceptions of the ideal person, leader, male and
female stereotypes. This discussion is then extended to include the ideal characteristics of people with certain roles( e.g.
clergy, ) to look for degree of overlap with the lists of ideal characteristics for men/women.
Make 5 copies of handout template (reverse).
Fill in the blanks for each of the five assigned roles (men, women, leaders, person, etc.).
Copy equal numbers of each different task sufficient to the number in your group.
Gather additional Supplies: Chart paper and markers (or chalkboard and chalk)
1. Which characteristics are common to all the roles/people? Which ones are exclusive to one?
2. How well do you personally match the list of your assigned gender?
When you think about the ways you do not match that list, how does it make you feel? Why?
3. Which list – men or women – is more similar to the list of effective leaders? Obedient disciples?
How might that impact a girl or woman’s understanding of her vocation?
4. Which characteristics do you have which are on the list of the opposite gender?
5. What does it mean that we had so many (or so few) different characteristics to describe the ideal _____?
6. What surprised you?
This exercise can be accomplished by giving only three task groups (men, women, person/leader/Christian) or by
breaking up into identity groups (e.g. by age, gender, experience in church, working committees, etc.).
List the 5 most important characteristics that a should have.
List the 5 most important characteristics that a should have.
Exercise: Are you Affected by Sexism?
This exercise takes minimal logistical preparation and only needs pens and paper.
Take out a scrap of paper, mark a tally mark for each one of these that is true in your own life:
1. Your grandfather earned a higher degree of education than your grandmother (e.g. diploma, college,
2. Your father earned a higher degree of education than your grandmother (e.g. diploma, college, technical
3. You/or the girls in your extended family were told “you don’t need school” or were encouraged “to find a
man to take care of you”
4. Your history teachers did not test you on knowledge of Ada Lovelace (first programmer), Coretta Scott
King (MLK Jr), Sojourner Truth (suffragist), Ginnie & Lottie Moon (civil war spies), or Marie Curie.
5. You have ever heard someone say that “boys are inherently better at math” or “women simply don’t
excel in the hard sciences”
6. You have ever watched the Superbowl™ on television, but don’t know when Women’s pro basketball
championships take place.
7. You can name three high paying jobs which are exclusively or primarily held by men.
8. You or a man you care about has received a job, job interview, job training or internship through personal
connections with other men.
9. You or a man in your family has avoided certain colors (like pink or lavender) because they aren’t manly
10. You have ever been to a doctor’s office or hospital where most of the surgeons were men and most of
the nurses were women.
11. You have ever attended a religious service in which God was referred to in exclusively male terms (even
though God transcends gender and both men and women were created in the image of God)
12. You have ever attended a school where most of the teachers were women and most of the principles /
administrators were men.
13. You live in a city or region where domestic violence or sexual assault are serious problems for women.
14. You or a woman you care about has carried a rape whistle, pepper spray or handgun to protect yourself
from potential rape or assault.
15. You have ever been told to “stop crying”, “boys don’t cry” or “emotions are for girls”
16. You live in a country where more than eighty person of elected federal leaders are men.
17. You have seen or heard men in positions of authority belittle women’s contributions, women’s writing or
music, women’s intelligence, or physical strength, or make other comments about women being inferior
18. You have seen a copy of Playboy or other sexualized magazines in a store.
19. In your family, women do more of the housecleaning, cooking, childcare, washing or other caretaking
than you or other men do.
20. You have ever been told to “man up” or “grow a pair”
21. You know a boy who has ever been teased, bullied or taunted by being called “a girl” or “sissy”
22. Most of the clothes you wear have been made by women of color in this country and abroad who are
paid little for their work.
23. You have been called a witch, mean or “too angry” for speaking directly, clearly or firmly.
24. You or a woman near you has ever been asked why she would buy a house without a husband.
25. In your community it is harder for women to get housing loans, small business loans, agricultural loans or
car loans than it is for men of similar qualifications.
26. You or a woman near you was ineligible for a credit card account without a cosigner until 1969.
27. In your community women are routinely charged more for haircutting, cleaning, cars, or other services or
28. You know the difference between a bachelor and an old maid.
29. You were expected to change your name upon marriage or had to regularly defend your decision not to
30. You can remember an historical story about someone desperate to have a boy child who will be legally
permitted to inherit the family’s wealth or royal title.
(2) Invite participants to write down any additional examples of sexism which were not
(3) Have participants get in same-gender pairs and discuss (5 minutes)
1. Share your additional example of sexism and how it made you feel.
2. How did you feel listening to these experiences? What memories or concerns did it bring up?
3. Do any of these seem harmless and not really examples of sexism?
4. How often do you feel like you notice or have to negotiate sexism in your daily life?
5. What habits, support or attitudes have you developed over the years to help you negotiate and resist sexism?
(4) Group discussion –
Gather the entire group back together and invite people to share their reflections on the exercise.
As a big group consider –
1. How are we uniquely welcoming of women in our (church)?
2. What patterns of sexism might still linger in our church culture? How shall we respond?
3. Who else is not part of this discussion?
How might their experience of sexism differ from those of us gathered here?
Caution: This is not a stand-alone exercise. It should only be conducted in the context of a workshop or talk on sexism,
power, violence, and safety that allows the group to process the feelings, thoughts, and issues which arise from
participating in the exercise.
Men’s Work: How to Stop the Violence that Tears Our Lives Apart by Paul Kivel. (Hazelden 1998), and Helping Teens Stop
Violence: A Practical Guide for Parents, Counselors and Educators by Allan Creighton with Paul Kivel (Hunter House
Discussion: Bible and Women
to seek out biblical understanding for the role of women in the church and Christian leadership
Instructions for Leading:
Every participant is given a copy of the worksheet.
Assign participants to small groups to examine their three verses, discuss the questions on the handout, and prepare a
report to the big group.
Have each group report back to the whole.
Make enough copies of the handout for all participants.
Gather additional Supplies: Bibles and pens
1. What other scriptures (or topics) do we find difficult to understand or difficult to identify a consistent answer in
2. How did it feel to read these verses as a group?
3. What surprised you?
4. How do our choices of scripture affect our understanding of what it means to be a good Christian? A good
Christian man? A good Christian woman?
Handout: Women and the Bible
Romans 16: 3-16
1 Timothy 2:9-15
1 Corinthians 14:33-35
1 Timothy 2:11-14
1 Peter 3:1
As a group, read only the scriptures assigned to you (1,2,3, or 4) and discuss the following
According to these verses, how should women behave?
What is the role of women in the family, church and
From the characterization in these verses, what women in
the public eye (e.g. celebrities, politicians, well known
fictional characters, etc.) are examples of biblical women?
Do you personally agree with these verses? What might other members of your church think about
this biblical perspective on women?
What previous knowledge did you bring to this discussion?
How did that affect your understanding of these
How did it feel to read these verses?