briefing, Albert Mohler

Friday, September 27, 2019

This is a rush transcript. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.

It’s Friday, September 27, 2019. I’m Albert Mohler and this is The Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview.

Part I

Mattel Introduces Gender-Neutral Dolls: The Moral Revolution Explodes on the Toy Aisle

Who knew that at the end of this week the story with the biggest worldview significance would turn out to be a story about toys, that is, headline news about toys, a toy in particular? Paolo Zialcita, reporting for National Public Radio tells us, “Mattel’s Barbie dolls represented the traditional female image, and preteens embraced the hairstyles, thick eyelashes, and spike heels that came with her. But now, Mattel is introducing dolls that let kids form the gender expression of the toy themselves. The doll,” we are told, “is fully gender neutral and can be accessorized to be a boy, a girl, neither or both.”

This is a story that appears to be making its way just about through all the major national and international headlines. Mattel is at the center of the story. NPR tells us that “the toy company released six dolls with different skin tones, hair, and clothes, calling the doll line Creatable World. Mattel,” according to NPR, “said that it aims to reflect and celebrate ‘the positive impact of inclusivity.’”

Kim Culmone, identified as vice president of Mattel fashion doll design said, “This line allows all kids to express themselves freely, which is why it resonates so strongly with them. We’re hopeful Creative World will encourage people to think more broadly about how kids can benefit from doll play.” Well, Mattel has to hope so, at least in commercial terms they have to hope that this is a success. But make no mistake, the main point here is ideological and the company itself appears to be dead set to make that centrality clear.

A report of the Washington Post by Kim Bellware indicated that Mattel “recognized that both the kids and the culture were moving towards gender neutrality.” Just pause for a moment and ask whether or not you believe that’s true — that both kids and the society or the culture are moving towards gender neutrality. We are told that over and over again, and yet a part of what we need to note is that we are being told that over and over again. There’s not a lot of evidence that it’s so.

When you’re looking at the number of so-called non-binary or gender inclusive families and kids, you’re looking at a very small number of people. It’s far smaller than most of the other initials in the LGBTQ movement. But one of the things to recognize is that it reflects the base line challenge to any traditional understanding, not only of sex, not only of marriage, but of what it means to be male and female and thus of what it means to be a human being.

This is a far larger and more substantial revolution than simply a revolution, if you could even say that, concerning sexuality or even a revolution concerning marriage. This is far pre-marriage in terms of human identity and of human society. There are some other very interesting notes in the article in the Washington Post. For one thing, the Post tells us that as compared to other dolls and particularly to the iconic or infamous Barbie line, in this case, the dolls are young. Why would that be so? Well, the Washington Post explains, “Aging down of the doll makes it easier to achieve a gender-neutral appearance.”

Again, very, very interesting. One thing that Christians, and especially Christian parents, should keep in mind is that toys are never value neutral. There’s a worldview behind most toys, now, some far more than others. Barbie as an example, was a very ideologically important doll. You’re talking about a doll that emerged in the 20th century in Germany as an adult sex toy and then was brought to the United States and marketed to children, particularly to young girls.

At least some parents recognized the incongruity of putting such a sexually suggestive doll — and yes, Barbie was still sexually suggestive throughout the 20th century — they recognized there was something amiss about putting that doll in the hands of their daughters without at least some understanding of what they were dealing with. But the fact is that millions and millions of American families did give their daughters Barbie dolls and one of the things to ask here is, what exactly was the messaging about Barbie? No doubt Barbie knew she was a female. That’s incredibly clear. That also puts Barbie very much out of step.

But there’s something else here to understand and that is that the commercial market for Barbie was not only for the doll but for all the accessories, the fashions, the accoutrements; and those were all incredibly gender specific and gender reinforcing. Even as Christians might have understood that the sexualization of Barbie was a danger, the reality is that there was at least the comfort of knowing that Barbie was to represent a female and there was no question that the vast majority, let’s just state that’s an understatement, of the children who played with Barbie were themselves girls.

Barbie then represented what Mattel now admits was an aspirational toy, that is, girls largely identified with Barbie because they wanted one day to be beautiful in the way that Barbie was presenting beauty. Again, Christians understand a problem with that. But at the same time, now you have a culture that is rejecting the very idea of male and female as fixed objective categories in a part of the goodness of God’s creation. Let’s just state that that’s a step further, a huge step further.

But something else to think about here is that this new toy line from Mattel, though declared to be gender inclusive and non-binary, won’t be good enough. It won’t keep up with the dramatic changes in the culture. Mattel might be virtue signaling in this case. Yes, indeed they are. They are making an ideological commitment, no doubt. They are hoping that this new line of dolls will be a commercial success. But the reality is, it is already being attacked and criticized from the left.

As the NPR report cited Molly Woodstock, identified as a gender educator and cohost of the podcast Gender Reveal, she said, “It’s unarguably good that all children are being given the option to play with some sort of doll that doesn’t have a neatly assigned gender or gender roles. Just the social and cultural validation of trans and non-binary gender identities through this doll feels really powerful.” Notice here that the purpose of this doll, as interpreted in this comment and as advertised by Mattel, is indeed social and cultural validation of trans and non-binary gender identities.

But we are told, “Woodstock, who started identifying as non-binary three years ago, thinks that this kind of representation at a young age could have helped them figure out their gender identity at an earlier age.” Now, what kind of sense does that make? Once again, we have a mash, a mess up of an English sentence. But you’ve probably already figured out that this is one of those new singular usages of the word “their” in order to avoid “his” or “hers.”

But the point is that the argument continues because, “Woodstock would also like to see the dolls produced with body diversity in mind and furthermore,” we are told, “I really worry that the cultural concept of non-binary is the singular third androgynous gender, which is what this doll is portraying.” In other words, here you have a criticism coming from the transgender left.

A third understanding or at least male, female, and neither is not good enough. “That’s not the reality of a lot of non-binary people. We can’t be liberated from the gender binary if we’re just making it a gender ternary.” I’m going to leave her usage of the word there alone. Let’s simply understand that she is saying, two isn’t nearly good enough. Three, however, isn’t now good enough. And as we have seen in so many cases, if you are going to argue that personal identity is as fluid as every single human individual, then Mattel is going to have to come out with something like 8 billion dolls in this line in order to meet all the worldwide expectations. That’s the meltdown of this new moral revolutionary worldview.

In London, the Daily Telegraph reported on the story with a headline “Move over, Barbie. Meet the World’s Wokest Doll.” Celia Walden is the reporter in the story. She tells us, “Because the U.S. firm, once regarded as one of the least PC toy manufacturers in the world, thanks to its hero product, full name, Barbara Millicent Roberts, Barbie to you, has been working hard to build its diversity credentials.” She uses that as the introductory words to what the company is doing.

“Over the past four decades Mattel has moved away from the large-bosomed, tiny-waisted blonde who was once sold with a tiny diet book entitled Don’t Eat, and towards feminist activist dolls, multi-ethnic dolls, presidential candidate dolls and new man Ken dolls who come with their own washer-dryers. All of which,” she says, “pale in comparison with Mattel’s first gender inclusive doll released today.” This was the Daily Telegraph report from Wednesday of this week.

The way Celia Walden of the Daily Telegraph reports the story is helpful because she reminds us that Mattel has been updating the Barbie line for a couple of decades now in order to meet feminist expectations. That tells us a lot about the moral change in our society stage by stage. You had a situation in which second wave feminism began to highly affect the culture all the way down to demands being made for changes in toys. But that second wave feminism was based, don’t forget this, in a very clear understanding of the distinction and of the fixed nature of male and female.

You couldn’t have the feminist ideologies, including the ideologies of feminist liberation theology without a very clear understanding of what a woman was and what a man is and how to tell the difference, and it matters and it lasts. But all that’s now being thrown out the window. The new moral revolution, now a revolution that is headlined by the word “transgender,” but furthermore now the non-binary and other language that’s being used, you have this revolution pushing the older revolution out of place. And one of the interesting aspects of worldview analysis is that if this revolution is to be successful, it must have its toys. And now, thanks to Mattel this week, this part of the moral revolution has its toys.

But there’s something else really interesting, and interesting at a very disturbing level, about the fact that for a specific ideological reason, this child was made younger. Indeed, quite a bit younger, clearly pre-adolescent, pre-pubescent. What’s the point here? Well, a Christian understands that God made us to progress through certain levels and periods of growth. We begin as an infant as we are born and then we continue through childhood and different stages of development. But boys are recognizably boys and girls are recognizably girls, but all that begins to change with puberty in the development of secondary sex characteristics.

Those secondary sex characteristics, by the way, are viewed as a massive problem by the transgender and gender revolutionaries. Just think about it. The process of puberty brings about an amplification of the person who is there. A boy is turning into a man, a girl is turning into a woman. And that’s the point, isn’t it? Because the transgender revolutionaries must see puberty as a huge problem because, given their ideology, having a boy develop into a man just might be the wrong thing— having a girl develop into a woman.

And so, one of the ideological manifestations of the transgender movement is the claim that children and young teenagers should have access to medical intervention, including puberty-suppressing hormonal drugs in order to prevent puberty from taking place. Now, Christians looking at that would need to understand, we already have a problem here with trying to prevent the natural development of the individual as God made him or her. That’s a problem. It’s an obvious problem.

Just about anyone would still concede that trying to keep a child, say an infant, not allowing the infant to develop into a young child — we would all recognize, at least we would hope, that when you have a child, that child is going to be growing and preventing that growth would be wrong; medically wrong and morally wrong. But we do not now have a medical and social consensus that preventing puberty or delaying puberty, suppressing it is the medical word, is not wrong. But clearly it is wrong, and that said with full sympathy for children who are experiencing some kind of gender identity problem and their families.

The reality is, the very fact that puberty is being suppressed, not to mention the threat of the later kind of surgical intervention that is now becoming more and more regular, that’s an indication of just how radical the problem is as Christians understand it from a biblical worldview. The problem is reflected now in this doll, and interestingly, they had to push the doll back to a far earlier stage of life to prevent the doll from presenting itself as clearly a boy or a girl.

But there’s more to the ideology here, and this is an ideological doll. That’s made very clear. This is a toy which is a symbol of the massive revolution in morality and now even a revolution in personal identity that is so reshaping our entire society. Celia Walden at the Daily Telegraph understands some of the worldview issues at stake. She notes what most in the American media did not notice.

“The agenda may be invisible to a child’s naked eye, but it’s there in the online marketing material and the language used by everyone involved in Creatable World’s conception. The number of times the words “inclusive” and “diverse” are mentioned in each and every interview with the notions of stereotypes and labels repeatedly and ferociously rejected reminds one that Mattel still sees a need for Barbie reparations. But,” she says, “Monica Dreger, Vice President of Global Consumer Insights in Mattel insist that what prompted the doll’s creation was actually the company’s realization ‘that kids are calling the shots now. They are at the forefront of any social movement and this one has to do with inclusivity.'”

Now, one point of worldview analysis is to watch how people are identified even by their corporate titles. This executive for Mattel is introduced as “Vice President of Global Consumer Insights at Mattel.” That tells us that supposedly this new gender inclusive doll line or toy line grew out of the company’s determination to be sensitive to global consumer insights. But then all of a sudden she begins to make the point that children are calling the shots now. They’re at the forefront of any social movement. Well, kids, as young as kids playing with dolls, I don’t think so. That’s something we simply need to confront as manifest nonsense.

But the agenda won’t stay limited to Mattel. It won’t stay limited to a doll line. You’re seeing this begin to transform the toy sections of local stores and even the way toys are conceived. The Daily Telegraph cites Megan Perryman, she’s identified as a representative of a group called Let Toys Be Toys, a voluntary group “challenging gender stereotypes of children’s toys.” She says that this is a move which is a general trend, a trend against sexist marketing.

She says that it’s working, “We’ve seen a 70% reduction in toys exclusively branded for either girls or boys. I think it’s seen as quite old fashioned to do that now,” she said. “And the differences between girls and boys are not as huge as people would have us think.” And again, I simply have to pause and ask if that could possibly be true. Perhaps it is in some circles. But the reality is that as you look at boys and girls and you watch them at play, they are still following along lines of gender predictable play and gender predictable toys. The exceptions are still exceptions.

Part II

The Problem of Adolescence for the Gender Revolution: A Telling Signal of the New Gender Confusion

As a matter of fact, the rule that is the norm that boys still follow boy predictable patterns and girls are still following girl predictable patterns. That’s made very clear in an article published just this same week in the Wall Street Journal. Let’s just say that’s not some kind of right wing fringe publication. In the Life and Art section, the headline is, “Girls vs. Boys: Brain Differences Might Explain Tech Behaviors.”

The problem identified in the article is that online usage by boys and girls, and this includes older elementary school children and especially adolescents, the differences are predictable and they are very important. The problem is, according to this article, that girls are very emotionally vulnerable because of all the emotional connections that they make online. Meanwhile, boys tend sometimes to revert to anti-social and at least sometimes rather aggressive behavior also that is traceable to what they do when they are online.

The whole point of the Wall Street Journal article is that brain science explains that there are inherent differences in the brains of boys and girls. Again, the whole point of this article is to separate out the fact that boys and girls are predictable even in their online behavior. Christian parents understand that there are a lot of issues here but at least you look at this Wall Street Journal article and the Journal article is clearly premised upon the fact that there are girls and there are boys and they are different. Even the Wall Street Journal goes so far as to try to explain that in terms of brain differences.

Part III

The Necessity of Defining “Mother”: English Common Law Faces Off Against Transgender Ideology

But next, we turn to headline news of a similar story here in the United Kingdom where I am right now. The Guardian, a liberal London newspaper ran a headline in yesterday’s edition, “Trans man who gave birth cannot be deemed father.” Robert Booth is the social affairs correspondent for the Guardian. It turns out that the trans man, as the individual Is identified in the story, is also a journalist with the Guardian. But the headline is this, “A transgender man from Kent who gave birth with the help of fertility treatment cannot be registered as his child’s father, the most senior family judge in England and Wales has ruled.”

“In the first legal definition of a mother in English common law, Sir Andrew McFarlane, the president of the high court’s family division, ruled yesterday that motherhood was about being pregnant and giving birth regardless of whether the person who does so was considered a man or a woman in law.” Just sit back for a moment and recognize the monumental nature of what we just read. According to this article in yesterday’s edition of the Guardian, the day before, a judicial decision was handed down that represented for English common law the very first legal definition of a mother.

Now, given the longevity of English common law, we’re talking about more than a millennium, how could it be that the law has never defined a mother? Well, the answer is very clear. Because the law never had to. No one would have imagined that the law had to. But now the law in England and in Wales does, and in this case you have this situation where, of cours,e this judge’s decision is being delighted as being wrong. But the judge didn’t have much choice given English law. He had to rule whether or not, on the birth certificate, this particular individual who identifies as a trans man but had given birth to the child could be listed as the individual demanded, as father.

But that would leave the child without a mother and there is no precedent in English law nor, by the way, in humanity for a baby being born without a mother. You’ve got to hear this exact language from the decision handed down by Lord McFarlane. “Being a ‘mother’, whilst hitherto always associated with being female, is the status afforded to a person who undergoes the physical and biological process of carrying a pregnancy and giving birth.” The judge continues, “It is now medically and legally possible for an individual, whose gender is recognized in law as male, to become pregnant and give birth to their child. Whilst that person’s gender is ‘male,’ their parental status, which derives from their biological role in giving birth is that of ‘mother.’”

Now, as you’re thinking about this, just consider at no point in human history before now, at no point would such a decision make sense or would it be necessary. At no point throughout human history has a court had to define what a mother is except in the obvious common sense understanding that a person who just gave birth is, guess what? A mother. That the only individuals capable of becoming pregnant are women, who are going to become mothers.

This is one of those moments when we have to step back and say, that toy from Mattel is one thing, but this decision handed down in England is yet another. It tells us that we are now living in an age of such moral revolution and abject intentional confusion that you have people who are acting in such a way, claiming that a man can be pregnant and give birth. That the English common law has reached a point, a breaking point in which that’s just not possible. The common law is not that flexible. As Judge McFarlane said, in a decision that is almost certain to be appealed, if you just gave birth, you’re going to be listed on the birth certificate as the child’s mother because it’s impossible that the child be registered as having been born without a mother.

One of the most important dimensions of the biblical worldview to which Christians are committed is that we are not given a good many options. They’re just not available to us. The Creator did not intend for them to be available to us. The Creator did not intend for us to decide on our own whether or not we believe ourselves to be male or female. He tells us that in our bodies. And furthermore, when you’re looking at the gender revolution taking place today, also as we note, a revolution in personal identity, human beings are not meant to carry this kind of weight. We’re not meant to have these kinds of options. But we’re living in a society in which they are now openly demanded.

Part IV

A Sign of Strange Times: Federal Government Assigns Gender to Baby Whose Parents Wanted to Raise Him in a “Gender Creative” Way

But then we come to an article, quickly, in the Los Angeles Times this week with the headline: “LA Parents Refuse to Assign Gender to Baby, So the Government Did It For Them.” How’s that for a headline? One of the interesting aspects of this story in Los Angeles Times is that the individuals identified as the parents raising this child named Azul, they are “part of a small but burgeoning cohort of parents who are raising their children in what they call a gender creative or gender expressive way.”

The child, Azul, born in 2018, is referred to by parents with the pronoun “they.” But we are told that the parents are using all pronouns with the child “so they can figure out what feels right or best to them.”

The big point of the article is the controversy, however, that the Social Security Administration determined the gender for the child because even though California law allows for a gender neutral option, federal law does not, and to register a child with Social Security means that the child must be identified as male or female. The parents of the child identified in this story were outraged when a Social Security Administration employee, when told that the child had no gender, assigned the child a gender. We’re not told how that was made. The gender assigned was male. But the parents were outraged and that outrage has now led to public protest, and the public protest to an article in the Los Angeles Times. Those are our times as we understand them.

Part V

Reflections on a Day Observing Parliament: A Reminder of the Rare Privilege That Is Enduring Constitutional Self-Government

I have to close today by saying that we are living in very strange times and very trying times. Christians understand this with a particular depth of perception. But yesterday, I had the unusual and very privileged opportunity to be at the Palace of Westminster, the seat of the British parliament, and not only to visit in the House of Lords, but to observe the House of Commons in operation; something I had first done back in the 1980s when Margaret Thatcher was prime minister. But what I saw yesterday was a contentious debate, a part of the unfolding controversy and crisis over Brexit.

But what I also noted was something else as represented by the Palace of Westminster and even by the British House of Commons. It is a continuity, a consistency, an endurance of vitality of a constitutional form of government. It was humbling for this American to be a guest at the very house, the Palace of the mother of parliaments, the British parliament. And to be reminded that a democratic form of government, an experiment in constitutional self-government by a people is a rare privilege.

But I was also surrounded by the reminders that Britain has been through many crises before and that should warn us from believing that this crisis is uniquely a peril. It’s a challenge to be sure. And the same thing is true on the other side of the Atlantic in the United States. But we who experience this kind of liberty, an ordered liberty and a constitutional form of government, must be thankful to God that we have the opportunity to consider these issues and to see our government responsive to the people in a way that isn’t true with other forms of government. We should never take that gift lightly, nor depreciate the kind of cultural and worldview foundations that are necessary for such an experiment in self-government to last.

Thanks for listening to The Briefing.

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I’m speaking to you from London, England, and I’ll meet you again on Monday for The Briefing.

R. Albert Mohler, Jr.

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