Boys, Dolls, and the Upside Down World of Biblical Manhood

Last Sunday, I followed the age-old parental tradition of buying my kids over-priced souvenirs at the airport. I’d been at an academic conference in Santa Barbara, and hadn’t found time to shop for them, but my son reminded me on the phone that he really, really wanted a souvenir from my trip, and I caved, finding something just before boarding the plane for Portland.
Turns out, I made the right choice: a stuffed animal for each. They liked their toys (never mind the millions already crawling through their room). Apparently, it’s also biblically acceptable for little boys to play with plush animals. Baby dolls? Not so much.
This from Owen Strachen, executive director for the Council on Manhood and Womanhood, writing in his blog on the Patheos site. In a posttitled “The Gospel is for Baby Bear: On Sesame Street and Gender Confusion,” Strachen critiques a recent episode of Sesame Street in which Baby Bear is given the green light to play with dolls because, according to the Sesame Street character Gordon, both boys and girls are free to try out nurturing roles.
Say it isn’t so! Sesame Street teaching inclusion and acceptance and equity?
No, no. You’re forgetting. Back when Strachen was young, Sesame Street was all about traditional values, essentially a “Protestant Worldview” where “Boys were boys; girls were girls; right and wrong exists; authority figures are good; and so on.” Monsters gobbled cookies, Oscars grouched, and Big Birds played with their imaginary pals: you know, those values we could all count on as being good, and right, and true.
According to Strachen, the Children’s Television Workshop reflects the terrible blurring of gender roles, rather than affirming the biblical truth that men are men and women are women, with distinct roles created by God. Sesame Street, Strachen argues, is showing how pervasively the culture has been ruined by the sense that gender is more fluid, and that roles for men and women are not so easily parsed out between public and private spheres, between work space and home.
Strachen does say that it is acceptable for boys to play with stuffed animals, so I’m in the clear with my recent souvenir. I suppose it’s not too manly for boys to cuddle and hold and kiss a stuffed cat, because then the gender lines are firmly established. Men, after all, can nurture animals. But actually holding and nurturing their babies? Phffft.
Over on the Christianity Today site, Her.menuetics, Caryn Rivadeneira provides an excellent rebuttal to Strachen’s article, and the comments section affirms, for the most part, that other Christians also think Strachen is a little off his rocker. (Is it okay for a man to even be on a rocker, though?) And as I was writing this post, Rachel Held Evans also mentionedStrachen’s weird worldview, and his belief that culture—including Sesame Street—needs restoration by Christ, given its slippery slide to hell.
Strachen, interestingly, does not allow space for comments on his blog, which is strange. Patheos usually has a commenting function for its writers. Perhaps Strachen doesn’t want to face the music: it’s not Sesame Street that needs redeemed, but Strachen’s awful sense of who men and women, boys and girls, can be.