Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Free to Be...Finally.

I love libraries.  You discover things you didn't know existed.  You find things you had forgotten.  On a recent visit to the Beaufort Library, I rifled through the children's DVDs while waiting on my kids to choose their books.  They had titles I hadn't seen in years like old episodes of The Muppet Show, The Electric Company and the long forgotten, Free to Be... You and Me.  There it was right in front of me and in DVD format, no less: My Seventies Childhood.

Flashback time... During grades one through three, I don't remember the air time of The Electric Company, but I know we stopped all school work to view it.  My favorites were The Adventures of Letterman and Here's Cooking at You, a send up to Julia Child.  At home, I adored watching The Muppet Show for the pure silliness of it.  Just seeing Kermit the Frog fling his arms about and scream, "Yea!" while introducing a skit made me laugh.  I am not proud to say that I routinely used my Miss Piggy puppet to smack my sister and brother.  Hiii, YAAH!

My memories of Marlo Thomas's Free to Be... You and Me were not so sanguine.  Holding the DVD in my hand, I recalled controversy and subversiveness. Should I show this to my kids?  I really couldn't remember what it was about, but I had some recollection of it promoting radical lifestyles.  Does anyone else share this memory?

Of course, I checked it out.

One morning at home school, Wyatt, Emma and I sat down to watch.  Yes, I was shocked...shocked that I had unsettling feelings of subversiveness surrounding this show.  I was amazed that this was controversial in my childhood.  And then, I realized, maybe it was just controversial in my home.

In a nut shell, the album, book and subsequent ABC After School Special, was about changing gender stereotypes.  The program contained skits reminiscent of variety comedy shows and educational TV of the seventies.  Opening with Mel Brooks and Marlo Thomas as newborn baby puppets discovering their gender for the first time and wondering what each means, the show cut to a young, pre-plastic surgery Michael Jackson singing with Roberta Flack about what they'll be when they grow up with equal career choices voiced for each gender.  Next, there was a delightful song with Marlo Thomas (not the greatest singer) and Harry Belafonte demonstrating that mommies and daddies do many different things.  My favorite was the fairy tale story of Atalanta (actually a Greek myth) who wanted to choose for herself whether or not she married.  In the end, she ran beside a man, equal to each other, and the story ended with them having separate adventures around the world.  Perhaps they'll marry someday, but regardless, they lived happily ever after.

Memories of the show flooded me.   How could I have ever forgotten Rosy Grier singing, "It's alright to cry"?

I watched my kids as they watched the show.  They were mesmerized by the format of short skits no longer than a song.  Wyatt agreed with the kids when they were talking about how hard it is to get along with their brothers and sisters.  Both thought the dancing on "Brothers and Sisters" was groovy and wished I would allow them to dance on the top edge of the playground fort wall.  Emma liked the William's Doll cartoon best.  She hated the kids making fun of him and loved it when the grandmother finally bought him a doll and reminded the dad that men have to take care of babies, too.  Both children liked the circle of friends song with Kris Kristofferson and Rita Coolidge.  They didn't see any controversy.  Honestly, I think the only shocking part for them was seeing a young Michael Jackson.

After it ended, I asked each what they thought the show was about.

"Brothers and sisters getting along," said Wyatt. "And parents doing lots of stuff."

"Family and love, " said Emma.

Nothing subversive there.

However, in 1974, in a small town in Georgia, this was radical stuff.  My grandmothers waited on their husbands, hand and foot, even though they both had their own work: one on the farm and one at a hospital.  My mother had temporary jobs at various places, but my father was the known bread winner and ruled the roost.  My sister and I were always second to our little brother at any family gathering.  Boys first, girls second.  At seven, I quickly saw the lay of the land and hated it.

As I grew up, I saw snippets of news pieces with women marching for equal rights.  I watched reruns of All in the Family, That Girl, and Maude.  I saw that there was a big world outside of Small Town Georgia.  I wanted my own voice in my life.  But how was a girl to get this?  In the end, I reflected on the teachings of Jesus Christ and his Golden Rule.  I realized I had the power to control how I treated others and how I asked to be treated.   I tried to treat others, men and women alike, how I wanted to be treated.  If I got to a door first, I opened it for the other.  If I wanted someone to do kind things for me, I tried to do kind things for them.  I respected myself and others.  If I didn't receive respect back from a person, I knew that person wasn't meant to be a big part of my life.  C'est la vie.

There may not be an amendment that demands it, but in our family we have equal rights.  We all try to get along.  We all try to be fair.  We all try to take turns.  Man or woman.  Girl or boy.  We work together for a common family goal and we support each other in our individual goals. I am happy to say that I found a man who runs beside me like Atalanta and John.  I chose to marry him as he chose to marry me.  We are having our adventures together.  And we lived happily ever after.

If you're looking for a groovy flashback, check out Free to Be... You and Me.  Here's Emma's favorite, William Wants a Doll:

Here's my favorite: The Story of Atalanta:


  1. This is one of my favorites!!! My kids have seen it a million times!!! Nicole Wechter

  2. I think it is so awesome! I'm so glad I rediscovered it. You have lucky kids, Nicole!

  3. That is a serious flashback! I remember some of the controversy that surrounded "Free to Be" (not in my house, but in our community). Thanks for sharing!

  4. Thanks, Susy! Your family was more evolved in the 70s than mine!


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