For our last film club of 2009 we watched something a bit different. I brought along 3 early Laurel and Hardy ‘shorts’ from 1929, 1930 and 1931.

It’s stating the obvious, but Laurel and Hardy were masters of comedy. From over-the-top slapstick (Hardy slips on a plate and ends up pulling the whole room down in ‘Our Wife’ 1931) to clever lines and gags (like being disappointed that their busking has brought no rewards, only to discover they’ve been busking outside the deaf and dumb institute in ‘Below Zero’ 1930).

But what led to interesting conversation was how women are portrayed in those shorts.

Obviously the focus of the episodes are Laurel and Hardy, but women play a significant part, generally as the latest love interest of Hardy. One of the film club weren’t too happy with how the women were portrayed in an obviously patriarchal setting, and were fairly two-dimensional.

However, I was interested to see what a dominant role the women played. Although the men may appear to call the shots, the women rule the roost. If they put their foot down the men are reduced to quivering and pleading wrecks. A philandering police officer, throwing his weight around in ‘Unaccustomed as we are’ (L + H’s first full ‘talkie’) returns to Hardy’s flat covered in bruises, courtesy of his irate wife who has discovered his escapades.

The battle between men and women is clearly not a modern phenomenon. We can sometimes look back at the past and assume that all women were door mats. But these shorts from 1929-1931 show that women have always been involved in the power-battle. Men may use their physical strength, but women clearly wield a lot of power over men.

This shouldn’t be a surprise to us who have read Genesis 3. From almost the dawn of humanity there has been a power battle where women seek dominance over men and men likewise over women.

But Jesus comes with a different message. Order, yes, but with service at its heart, not dominance.