In 1940, Walt Disney Productions released its second animated feature, Pinocchio. Based on an 1883 children’s novel, the movie follows the journey of a wooden puppet who seeks to become a “real boy.” By modern standards, the movie’s moralizing may seem heavy-handed; however, the overall theme may be more relevant now (eighty years later) than ever before: What does it mean to be a “real boy?” The Blue Fairy, who brought Pinocchio to life, tells us: he must be brave, truthful, and unselfish. But is there more to being a real boy or girl?
At the time of Pinocchio’s release, terms like “gender dysphoria” were nonexistent. Now, our society considers it bigoted and transphobic to believe that sex and gender are the same thing. The phrase “real boy” may be as antiquated as the film itself. Christians should rightly be concerned about modern gender issues and the effects they are having on the current generation. We should also take this opportunity to address our own views on gender roles and how they may actually fuel the confusion of our young people.
Boy or Jackass?
One scene in Pinocchio particularly focuses on the negative stereotypes of boys. Pinocchio is taken on a “vacation” to Pleasure Island, a place without rules, where boys can satisfy their every indulgence. They are “free” to drink, smoke, and fight to their heart’s delight. All of these activities, however, lead the boys to a horrible end:
The boys’ misbehavior ultimately transforms them into donkeys. This teaches us how unrestrained vice can turn us into a “jackass,” permanently enslaved by our sinful actions. Retaining one’s humanity and becoming a real boy or girl requires self-restraint. Thankfully, Pinocchio learns this before it is too late. At the end of the movie he shows great courage and unselfishness in saving his father’s life at the expense of his own, and thus the Blue Fairy grants Pinocchio his desire: to be a real boy.
Be a Man
Eighty years later, is our view of boys—and men—much different? Boys are expected to be “rough ‘n’ tumble,” aggressive, and hyperactive. Men ought to love beer and football and mixed martial arts. But what if a man does not enjoy such activities? If a man prefers art or baking, is he a “real” man? This is true of girls and women as well. Girls who enjoy sports or traditional “boyish” activities are called “tomboys,” or are accused of trying to be “one of the guys.” The Church may blame society for causing confusion in our children, but how much of this is due to our own rigid gender expectations and norms?
King David is held by many as a paragon of manhood. He slew the giant and seduced another man’s wife (which was an utterly sinful and shameful act). But don’t forget that David was also a poet. Many of his Psalms conveyed deep emotions, which “real” men are not supposed to do.
Also, remember that Jesus was fully God, fully human, and fully male. He was tough and he was tender. He stood up to religious bullies and protected the weak. Jesus flipped tables and washed feet. He resisted Satan’s temptations and he cried at the death of a friend. He accepted children and did not send them off to be cared for by his female followers. Jesus was not the macho, conquering Messiah that the religious leaders of his day expected, he was instead a suffering servant.
Likewise, there are many biblical examples of women exhibiting great bravery, such as Mary, the pregnant teen who bore our Lord and Savior; Deborah, the fearless judge who inspired the people of Israel to battle against the Canaanites; and Queen Esther, who boldly approached the king to save her people. While the Blue Fairy told Pinocchio he must be brave, truthful, and unselfish to become a real boy, the same is true of real girls, too.
In the era in which Pinocchio was created, the roles of men and women may have seemed clear-cut. Nowadays, claiming that one can be a “real” boy or girl may be called bigoted or intolerant. Perhaps there is a middle ground. We must evaluate our views of gender thoughtfully and graciously, but also with God’s purpose in mind. Genesis 1:27 states that God created both men and women in his image, and his creation of the two sexes is intentional. It is not through conforming to gender norms that we become real men and women. Like Pinocchio, it begins by being brave, truthful, and unselfish.
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