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Woke Disney: Why America’s theme park should stop embracing 'gender-inclusivity'

Disneyland Park in Anaheim
Pictured is the Disneyland Park in Anaheim, California. |

As I make clear in my brand-new book, Christianity and Wokeness, nothing will be left untouched by the woke revolution. One of the key targets of this movement, which is currently sweeping the West: boyhood and girlhood.

No less a cultural touchstone than Disney World recently changed up the greeting to its famous fireworks show. Instead of “Ladies and Gentlemen, Boys and Girls…” the park begins proceedings with “Good evening, dreamers of all ages!” In addition, Disney is changing its standards of dress and presentation for staff. Simply put, Disney’s look and feel will now be “gender-inclusive” according to the company:

“Our new approach provides greater flexibility with respect to forms of personal expression surrounding gender-inclusive hairstyles, jewelry, nail styles, and costume choices; and allowing appropriate visible tattoos. We’re updating them to not only remain relevant in today’s workplace, but also enable our cast members to better express their cultures and individuality at work.”

These changes, among others, occasioned pushback. But one public commentator, Tarah Chieffi, dissented from such concerns, essentially dismissing them: “If not everyone feels comfortable at the parks, that failing falls on Disney's shoulders, not the individual's. These changes will likely keep coming, and Disney will likely keep evolving. That's a good thing, and folks who wring their hands over 'history' and 'tradition' should get used to it.”

Actually, it is totally sensible to find Disney’s “evolving” standards problematic. Wokeness is deeply postmodern. It is fluid, knowing no boundaries, adhering to no norms, and questioning very reality itself. As I show in Christianity and Wokeness, there are no fixed codes in wokeness; as a postmodern system, there is no broader right and wrong. The only mantra that matters is your own personal one. Said in simplest form: you do you. Life revolves not around the community and its principles, but around the expressive individual.

One big problem with this argument is that the very “gender inclusivity” that Disney is embracing does not make many people feel comfortable. Many people feel comfortable when the created realm is reflected, not revised. This happens when natural families are celebrated, boys and girls are identified and nurtured, adults are held to higher standards, and broader moral precepts than “everyone feels comfortable” and “express yourself” are promoted. Even though such views are held by many, many Americans, woke voices have essentially gained dominance in our culture. Now, we are left to deal with it.

We can do better than this in America. Over against a "gender-inclusive" and self-directed culture, we could teach the next generation that life is not really about getting lost in yourself at all. It is most filled with hard-won zest and discovery when it is directed beyond the self.  We could direct our kids' attention to things we cannot explain in ourselves, nor locate in ourselves as the authoritative standard: worship, beauty, truth, joy, and endurance in tragic suffering.

In all this, we could teach that there is something better than a Disneyfied form of living for yourself. A life that is about something bigger than ourselves is a life aimed squarely at deeper meaning, greater significance, and what we could call, simply, "wonder."

Such an existence is not about our own smallness; it's about something beyond us. In a this-worldly sense, isn't that why we go to Disney? Who goes to a massive theme park to collect soda cup lids, or look at the underside of park benches? We go to such places to get lost in wonder.

Of course, the life dedicated to wonder is no picnic. It involves working really hard every day to give our precious children happiness in a world that is often hard, sometimes brutally so. All this work, including the work to raise boys to be godly men, and girls to be godly women, is challenging. Even with divine help, we Christians don’t do it perfectly. We all fail (James 3:2). But we strive nonetheless, and we do so because we are building something greater. We are trying, against the felt bounds of our own fragility, to preserve what is best in our world, our society, and our faith.

We are not asking those around us to structure their lives so that we “feel comfortable” and can “express ourselves.” No, we have a very different life purpose. Whether we go to Disney or not, we are doing all we can to lead the rising generation to the Lord, to love them well, and then, at the end of our life, by the grace of God through Christ, to enter the wonder that is beyond us, that has always beckoned us, and that even now—at this very hour—is startlingly close.

Owen Strachan is the author of Christianity and Wokeness (Salem Books, July 2021). He is Provost and Research Professor of Theology at Grace Bible Theological Seminary, hosts The Antithesis podcast, and is a Senior Fellow with the Center for Biblical Worldview at the Family Research Council.

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