This question came across my mind once when I was at a gender communication seminar. If I knew more about the subject, I would think the topic would be interesting material for an honors paper or something. I would like your thoughts on this. Moderators, please edit for nonconstructive, inflammatory postings about masculization or feminization of the church.
Is the seating arrangement of a worship space linked to gender communication preferences?
A little background on this:
We were told that, generally, men prefer to communicate with each other while positioned side-by-side, staring at a common object or with a collective blank stare. Hence, the traditional theater-style arrangement of classrooms (with everyone in rows facing front) is prevalent because for much of history, it was only men who went to school. Guys, think of the best conversations you’ve ever had. Were you on the couch watching TV? At the computer? Fishing off the side of a boat? In the bar, up at the counter? I can say that the best conversations I have with my dad are when we’re in the car driving somewhere, facing the road.
We were also told that, generally, women prefer to communicate face-to-face or in circles. Women tend to sit across from each other (or at least at angles) at the table. Also as an engineering student, in the few liberal-arts classes I’ve taken (which tend to be dominated by women), we usually turn the furniture into a big oval to face each other and discuss the course. Although it seems natural for what we end up doing, it makes more than a few guys noticeably uncomfortable, possibly because it is not rank-and-file, pecking-ordered, and hierarchical.
Then my thoughts turned to the design of church buildings. Most older churches are arranged such that the pews are in straight rows and everyone faces the same direction (up front and center), in what would correspond to a male-preference style. Those were more likely built during a time when the Church was extremely patriarchal.
Newer churches and remodeled churches are more likely to have elements of a “church in the round”, where seating is either 360 degrees around the altar, or at least angled in an arc to give that feel. I wondered if this was done subconsciously because their (re)construction was during a time when greater participation of the lay faithful in the liturgy, particularly women, was encouraged.
Finally, I considered the “traditional” arrangement of monastic worship spaces, with side-by-side choir stalls that oppose each other. I wondered if this was (again) an unintentional combination of these gender preferences, which would make sense because Christian cenobitic monasticism for both women and men sprung up hand-in-hand.