I confess that when I read Owen Strachan’s “The Gospel Is for Baby Bear: On Sesame Street and Gender Confusion” (originally posted on his blog and then reposted on the The Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood’s website), my initial reaction was 100 percent snark. I posted a link to it on my Facebook page, along with a couple of “reactions,” such as:
- “My boys have often played in a toy kitchen set, and sometimes even carry purses. I’ve clearly failed as a man and a father, and quite possibly have helped doom western Christendom.”
- “I doubt he’d have a problem with boys playing with dolls if said dolls featured guns, swords, and/or a ‘kung fu action grip.’”
Strachan’s claims — that a Sesame Street episode about a young boy bear learning that it’s OK to play with dolls is an “open denial of sex roles and gender distinctions” that is helping to undo our culture “at the very foundations” — struck me as absurd, hyperbolic, and little more than manufactured outrage. Unless you believe that a warrior-esque hyper-masculinity is the biblically mandated norm for boys, then I simply fail to see how a bear puppet pretending to play with a baby doll (e.g., feeding it with a bottle) promotes a weak view of masculinity. (If that’s the case, then I was failing to live up to that when I gave my one-year-old daughter a bottle earlier tonight before putting her to bed.)
One could argue — and I have a sneaking suspicion that many wives and mothers would agree with me — that boys (and men) learning to serve and be supportive, caring, and nurturing is actually a good thing that makes masculinity winsome and attractive. Christian parents whose children happen to see this episode of Sesame Street might use it as an occasion to remind their sons that there’s nothing wrong with playing with dolls like Baby Bear does because there’s nothing wrong — there’s nothing anti-masculine — about being nurturing and supportive. (Nothing makes me prouder as a father than to see my sons lovingly care for their baby sister.)
This perspective might go against our cultural assumptions of what is and isn’t masculine. However, that doesn’t mean that it’s inherently displeasing to God or anti-biblical, which Strachan claims when he writes, “I don’t want to leave you thinking that this sort of social engineering isn’t harmful and offensive to God (and his people). It is.” (As a sidenote, I find it strange that even though he apparently considers Sesame Street’s message to be satanically influenced, he encourages readers not to “spaz” out over Baby Bear’s “foolish” behavior.)
This unfortunate conflation of biblical and cultural perceptions of gender is perhaps the greatest flaw in Strachan’s article. Or, as my friend Eric Tonjes put it:
I’m actually sympathetic — on paper, anyway — to Strachan’s complementarian views regarding gender roles. (Though I have to admit that this “Baby Bear” piece has me so confused that I’m not sure I still understand what complementarian views are anymore.) However, how might someone who is not sympathetic to his views, but rather, holds wildly different views respond? Is Strachan’s argument winsome and convincing? Would an opponent of complementarianism find it even somewhat thought-provoking? Or is Strachan merely playing to his base here?
To confuse biblical and cultural perceptions of gender is wrong, yet that is precisely what the article does. This is wrong, in part, because it actually encourages the sort of gender confusion the article purports to reject. It is not hard for our culture to view a “macho man” approach to gender as stupid and harmful because it is both. The biblical picture of manhood is winsome, and it has nothing at all, in any way, to do with who does and doesn’t play with dolls.
Frankly, I find it hard to believe that anyone not already in-line with Strachan’s views will find anything persuasive about his argument as presented in his article, precisely because he uses such a silly example and makes such sweeping and outrageous claims (e.g., the episode is “subtly but directly overturning long-held conceptions of manhood and boyhood”).
Strachan’s article brings to mind Fox Business’ claims that The Muppets was an attempt to indoctrinate children with liberal propaganda, and more recently, a claim by One Million Moms that a recent Geico ad promotes bestiality to children. Underlying both of these claims is a legitimate issue (i.e., the ways in which media can influence children). However, the claims made and the examples used are so over-the-top as to render the argument incredibly hard to swallow.
There is no doubt that many of the views that Christians have long held regarding sexuality and gender face challenges today (e.g., same sex marriage). Christians should be willing to enter the cultural conversation surrounding these topics, and do so with grace, thoughtfulness, and discretion. When we offer evidence to back up our claims, let’s make sure that our evidence is not alarmist or hyperbolic, but rather, well-reasoned and biblical. This is doubly true if our claims fly in the face of current cultural wisdom.
Making silly, absurd claims that confuse what the Bible expects of us and what our cultural context expects of us will do no good. Rather, it will only lead to further confusion of the issue, not to mention ridicule and marginalization that makes it even harder for people to consider us seriously.
Image via Sesame Street.