Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Bears and Dolls and Little Boys

I linked to a post yesterday about a post that go me really riled up. I'm sure y'all could tell. The post that got me upset was about "Baby Bear", a (male) Sesame Street character, playing with a baby doll. In the post, Owen Strachan, head of the Council of Biblical Manhood and Womanhood calls this an "unbiblical and socially disastrous teaching on sexuality and gender". He also cites the episode as an example of Satan's influence in our world. Y'all....come on. Talk about your opinions on this, but really- Satan? I just...can't. Satan is very, very real and very, very active in our world, yes, even in ways that seem "harmless and fun" as Strachan says. But I refuse to admit that the picture above of my beautiful, sweet, precious evidence of that. It makes my heart break and my stomach church if I think about it too much.

Sidenote: I linked to the same post on Facebook the other day with the same description that I included in my Weekly Smorgasbord, including the (in my opinion) well-placed minor swearing. And a little old lady from my church "liked" it. Seriously, she's an eighty something and one of my favorites. I'm so blessed that I'm met with that when I'm raw and let my heart be known. Even when it's a controversial issue. Even when I use strong language.

[Also,for what it's worth, a little side note. I don't self identify as feminist. I likely never will. But I can not...will fed this lie.]

Anyway, y'all have probably picked up on this, but for some reason I've gotten kind of interested in this conversation on gender roles lately. I wanted to share a few more of my thoughts about why I feel like it's a good thing for my son to play with baby dolls besides the fact that he adores them and it makes my heart happy to see his heart happy. So...

Aside from the fact that it makes me so sad for a child in this situation, I also can't help but worry that THIS is "socially disastrous" insofar as what it teaches little boys about fathering. Children learn about reality through play. It is there that their concepts of reality are built. So, when my children pretend to cook and wash dishes in their play kitchen, when they push their little grocery cart, when pretend to operate different tools they are, in a way, practicing responsibility for their adult life. Of all these activities, the activities that warm my heart the most, weather it's my girl or my boy engaging in them, is when they mimic me and Peyton as their devoted caregivers and take on the roll as a parent to their dolls and stuffed animals. How much do I care if Ann Peyton can excel at washing dishes or if Graves can operate a power tool? Not much, honestly. But if we train them to care for others? Then yes, we've done our jobs. And, for most men and women, they will never met another's needs to the extent that they do when parenting a small child.

How dare I deny my son that experience? Because at the end of the day, if I forbid him from washing dishes, I, at worst, make him a slob. But if I scold him for nurturing his baby, I influence the way he will one day parent. If I reprimand him for feeding and burping his baby, I am potentially training him to be the kind of chauvinistic man who will one day tell his frazzled, fatigued wife who has done it innumerable times that day that "That's YOUR job". Worse still, I potentially train him to be the kind of man who physically and emotionally distances himself from his children.

Those types of fathers, we like to think, are an image from yesteryear. My dad worked HARD at engaging us emotionally and letting down barriers physically. He was a self-proclaimed graduate of the "John Wayne School of Manhood". I'm not convinced that being hugging and kissing us came naturally as I'm sure it wasn't very common with his own father. I'm also not convinced that sitting beside me in a wicker swing while I barred my teenage soul about the boy who broke my heart was real natural either. But he did both. And he did it so beautifully.

I'm thankful Peyton also experienced a very affectionate father and in his home; I believe there was an even longer legacy of gentleness. Peyton's late grandfather, who at his passing I considered myself closer to than I had ever been to either of my own grandfathers, was just such a man. One of my favorite stories about him is one where Granny describes him getting up early in the morning to do his first job- work on the farm, coming in for lunch and then heading to his factory shift. When he got home it would be very late and he'd eat his dinner and then? He'd rock Randy (Peyton's dad) who was usually up at that time as an infant.

We've come SO far from a mentality that would tell PopPop to have let his wife rock the baby and just worry about the farm and the factory.  I refuse to regress and tell Graves the equivalent. I pray he will be the nurturing father that his Papa is and that those strong men in our families are and were. And if he wants to practice with the Baby Huggums in the pink pajamas, he may do it all day long as far as I'm concerned.



Mallory Pickering said...

Loved this post. Didn't necessarily agree with the original post though. She talks about how our culture is harsh towards the more feminized male but I think maybe that applies more to church culture. At MC it seemed like most males were more effeminate and not the manly man type. It seems like in America masculinity is decried. The "wild at heart" man who likes to work with his hands is almost cast as barbaric in favor of the softer intellectual male. How many "braveheart" types do we have in this enlightened era? I'd say there needs to be room for all "types" of men and male expressions. A manly man can be nurturing as well. The snobbery towards each other is what hurts.

Sarah Denley said...

Excellent points, Mal. I guess I've been thinking about this mostly in the context of church culture, but I agree...definitely lots of (well-loved) effeminate guys at MC. And I'm sure I'll see TONS more of that in NYC. I still think we have a lot of tough "country boys" around here, though. So that could be coloring my view of it, too. And I definitely agree that those guys can be nurturing, too. I would say Peyton's grandfather was a classic example of this...rocking his son after a day tending a farm and doing factory work. There needs to be a place for everyone at the table!

The Niemeyer Nest said...

Henry does all that sweet stuff too plus he loves shoes! You know what, I love it! I am hoping no one tries to enforce gender roles on my sweet baby boy or anyone else for that matter. LOVE your deep posts!

amanda said...

If there's anything to complain about regarding baby bear, it's his annoying voice!

Have you read William's Doll? It's a sweet little book from the 70s, I think, about a little boy who wants a doll and other kids mock him and his dad wants him to want a basketball, but his grandma buys him the doll because she knows it'll help him be a good father one day.

There's something to be said for the ways we're evolving. I can't believe that God would want our sons to be more removed from their children. There was a time when those gender roles were vital to survival and men couldn't spend much time with their children because they were working in fields all day. That is not the case any longer and our young men are that much better for having known their fathers' love first hand.

Amanda said...

That's so odd this same topic has been brewing in my head since I saw that exact episode. There's an unfinished post regarding those thoughts.I actually watched this episode together with Emily. I was really proud of Sesame street for addressing this issue.I think it is important for children (boy and girl) to "play at life" it's a vital tool in childhood education.