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Category Archives: equal rights

Reflections on Free to Be You and Me Turning 40

Last month I mailed a copy of the CD version of Free to Be You and Me, the 1974 musical collection developed by Marlo Thomas to my feminist friend who is having her first baby.  Thomas got her “famous” friends together (Alan Alda, Rosey Grier, Tom Smothers, Diana Ross, Mel Brooks, Billy de Wolfe, Carol Channing, Dick Cavett, and Shirley Jones) to make this album of songs and stories as an antidote to the lack of gender free toys and books on the shelves as she searched for a birthday gift for her niece.  (Imagine getting this present from your Aunt Marlo?).

I don’t know how old I was when my parents gave me this album, but it came with a songbook of the words and I learned every one of them.  As I entered adulthood, I made copies for baby shower favors for my brother and for my best friend.  And while a 40 year old songbook seems dated, it is still very relevant.

220px-Free_to_Be..._You_and_Me_(album_cover)

Christina Hoff Sommers provides a trenchant tribute in her March 11th Time Magazine article “‘Free to Be’ Boys and Girls: 40 Years After the Failed Gender Revolution.” She negatively summarizes some of the songs and stories, stating “the songs drive home the idea that we are all androgynous beings unfairly constrained by social stereotypes.”  Then she goes on to use the example of the American Girl Doll franchise to demonstrate how boys do not go for dolls; and that is another failure of the women’s movement for gender equality.  WHAT?

Ms Hoff Sommers, you are clearly missing the point.  The point is not that boys want dolls.  The point is that men want to be active engaged daddies and that mommies want help.  And yes, Ms Hoff Sommers, there has been a shift in 40 years toward this endeavor I call equality.  I know many of you would cite examples like this, but my little brother and his wife are true equal parents to their little boy.  They take turns doing all the parenting pieces required to raise a child in today’s world.

But then Ms Hoff Sommers begins her descent down the slippery slope of stereotyping.

But, after 40 years of gender activism, boys and girls show few signs of liking to do the same things. From the earliest age, boys show a distinct preference for active outdoor play, with a strong predilection for games with body contact, conflict, and clearly defined winners and losers. Girls, too, enjoy raucous outdoor play, but they engage in it less. Girls, as a rule, are more drawn to imaginative theatrical games — playing house, playing school — as well as exchanging confidences with a best friend. Boys playing kickball together in the schoolyard are not only having a great deal of fun, they are forging friendships with other males in ways that are critical to their healthy socialization. Similarly, little girls who spend hours in deep conversation with other girls or playing theatrical games are happily and actively honing their social skills.

To suggest that the ways in which boys and girls like to play, as socialized by their parents and our culture, is a prediction for whether they will parent in sex stereotyped roles is a reach.  Free to Be You and Me was about looking ahead to the future where limits wouldn’t be placed on what girls and boys wanted to do with their lives. (This was really happening in 1974.  Remember “Help Wanted” ads for men only or girls only?)  Free to Be You and Me was not, and is not, what Hoff Sommers calls “a cautionary example of how an idealistic social fantasy can turn into a blueprint for repression.”  Sex stereotyping and limiting women’s and men’s ability to develop their own free expression is repression. Patriarchy, which still exists, Ms Hoff Sommers, is the blueprint for repression and continues its architecture in many places across the globe.

Marlo Thomas and her friends planted within me, from this album, a passion for equality, justice, freedom, and theatrical expression.  And forty years later, I am thankful to her for that.

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Praise Jesus! NBA Player Comes Out of the Closet!

So this week our FIRST NBA player came out as gay.  Oh Hallelujah! A few people sent me links about this, that I should be just so pleased.  Should I really be pleased that in 2013 an industry that has supported homophobia and perhaps encouraged a wee bit of misogyny has finally accepted ONE person who is gay or should I say allowed for ONE person being gay?  A colleague of mine posted this on her Facebook that day:  “things I give absolutely no sh*ts about today: athletes. gay athletes. gay athletes coming out of the closet. why? I’m really unfazed by unchecked athlete-worship, especially among folk who normally keep a close eye on institutions, athletic and otherwise, that promote and sustain racism, rape culture, and homophobia.” She has a point.  Then a friend from college posted this article from BuzzFeed on Women Athletes.

And both their posts gave me pause.  

Why is it whenever men do ANYTHING that is the RIGHT thing, they get all kinds of accolades?  Let me list some:  the dishes, parenting, crying, “helping out” at home, taking out the garbage without being asked, supporting women, speaking up for women, helping stop rape, coming out as a gay athlete.  Women who are constantly trying to find balance in a world of inequality are rarely given any accolades.  How many women get accolades for working their asses off in a professional career and raising children who then contribute to society?  There should be a fucking prize for that.  Especially if the other parent in the picture was one who had to be asked to do anything that really was in his original job description of a parent.   

So maybe it is momentous that an athlete in the only sports that really get any attention in our culture, aka MEN’s sports, is out and gay.  But what is the larger question here?  I think it is about why professional athletic teams are only those that men are part of.  Women’s professional sports exist on a very minimal basis.  How many college women graduate hoping to continue to do their sport are left with minor league regional teams or the Olympics?  Sure, the WNBA exists, but it exists and does not have the kind of support the NBA, the NHL, MLB or NFL does.  Not even close.  

This is one of those “so-called” momentous moments in life where instead I feel like I’m lying under a pile of rocks weighted down by the immense cultural changes needed in our culture from equality for women athletes, and even their basic representation to the ways in which women in this country will never achieve balance or stress free lives if they choose to have children.  Never.  

And as for Jason Collins, I hope you take some of that privilege as an NBA player and do it to help other gay young people of color be supported in their communities, their schools and their homes, regardless of whether they are athletes or are part of the theatre club.

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