Last week, we returned Ernie Sings to the library before it made my head explode. Instead, we listened to Free To Be You and Me, the one kid CD that seems always to be in our car, about two dozen times in a row. It was a long time before I could listen to Free To Be without crying hysterically, so nostalgia-sodden was it for me. Three-hunded-some hours of Free To Be later, I can observe it with the exhaustive knowledge and academic remove of the world's foremost expert on the piece, which surely I must be.
For those of you who are uninitiated, it's an album (and book) of songs, stories, and poems whose point is generally: it's okay to be different, and specifically: gender stereotypes are a load of shit.
1) Whoever and however you are, Free To Be's thesis is: that's just great. Athletic girls, boys who like dolls, children who cry, dads who can't throw balls, kids without friends, congenitally confused school principals, young adults with no desire to marry, rude grandchildren, moms who drive vans(?), elementary school field trips to the jungles of Southeast Asia, and infant males whose life ambition is to be a cocktail waitress are all a-okay as far as Marlo Thomas is concerned. But prissy girls to whom matching clothes and well-coifed hair are important? Well, those bitches deserve to get eaten.
2) Though musically Free To Be just screams 1973, the year of its (and my) release, thematically, it remains heartbreakingly relevant. Spot the Free To Be message below that's no longer relevant, that kids today no longer need to hear:
a) Despite the fact that jobs tend to be gender stereotyped, you can grow up to do nearly any job you like.
b) It's okay for boys to cry. It's okay for boys to like dolls and generally to be nurturing and sensitive.
c) Housework is unpleasant and as a result should be shared equally among adult partners.
d) Women don't all want to get married. Marriage is not the end goal of all relationships. Permanent heterosexual partnership is not the ultimate dream of everyone.
e) Even if many of the boys you know are a certain way and like a certain thing, and even if many of the girls you know are a certain way and like a certain thing, you may not fall into those flawed categories and that's just fine.
f) Sometimes the gender you feel like and the sex your body is don't line up.
g) Parents are people.
h) Athletically gifted females are nonetheless desirable.
Answer: H. Even by the time Free To Be was relevant to me (i.e. eight years or so after its release), this felt dated to me. I was, myself, not athletically gifted and felt that this made me undesirable as a friend or romantic partner. All the popular girls at school were good at sports. All hail Title IX. Otherwise, these are all messages my daughter still needs to internalize because these inequities and stereotypes remain heart-sinkingly static. Nearly forty years on, the music sounds dated, but gender stereotypes and gender realities for children (boys shouldn't cry or have dolls) and adults (job/pay/marriage/childcare/housekeeping roles and responsibilities) remain strikingly, distressingly unbalanced.
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About The Author
Laurie Frankel writes novels (reads novels, teaches other people to write novels, raises a small person who reads and would like someday to write novels) in Seattle, Washington where she lives on a nearly vertical hill from which she can watch three different bridges while she's staring out her windows between words. She's originally from Maryland and makes good soup.