Friday, February 18, 2011

Free to Be...Pink and Sparkly חופשיה להיות...ורוד ומנצנצת

My friend and I are having a friendly running argument over whether Free to Be, You and Me “succeeded” or “failed”. I claim it failed, she disagrees. It may be that her POV is influenced by the fact that she’s a few years younger than I, which when speaking of the 1960s and 1970s, may have a significant impact on one’s growing up and memories thereof.

I suppose she’s right in the sense that we wouldn’t claim that the civil rights movement failed because there’s still bigotry; and we wouldn’t say the anti-war movement failed because here we are in Iraq and Afghanistan instead of Vietnam and Cambodia. Those movements did have an impact, if only to call into question established assumptions.

So by the same token, even though I would venture that the message “girls and women can do and be anything, including boxers and doctors” has been internalized, some of the more nuanced messages have not. I’m specifically thinking of William’s Doll, about a boy who wants a doll to the dismay of his father; and Ladies First, about a dainty, princess-like girl who doesn’t believe in running, as it will soil her dress, resulting in her getting eaten by a tiger.

These two examples are what cause me to ask: If Free to Be succeeded, then why do I regularly hear boys call each other “faggot”?; and why does the Princess Consumer Thing seem to have grown even more widespread and tidal-wavelike in its utter permeation of All Things Girl? Why are today’s moms absently humming the title track tune to Free to Be while picking out their daughters’ pink sparkle-drenched princess backpacks? Is there not a collosal disconnect here somewhere?


  1. It so happens that I brought that home for my family to watch last weekend. I had loved-loved-loved it (in LP form) as a kid, but never saw the movie.

    My family was (appropriately) horrified by it. The class differences unspoken but right there, front and center; the paternalistic tone; the pretense of equal rights and opportunities and the representation of that idea as coming from babies (somewhere between the notion of a noble savage and a rejection of civilization) - it was awful.

    The worst bit was the song by Michael Jackson (aged 16 at the filming) and Roberta flack (aged *39*), both wearing clothes that are stereotypically children's-wear and singing about how when they grow up they "don't have to change at all": I think that predated all of his plastic surgery. It has a nice pre-allusion to moonwalking, but by all that's holy - THAT man, singing about how he doesn't have to change at all...

    ...but having that music in my mind & heart has me humming the failed songs happily. Despite everything that I know and think (now) about it.

  2. Interesting. I'll have to see if I can find it on YouTube. I suppose we could say that Up With People failed too, as now it would be called Up With People, Except Those With Dark Skin, Slanty Eyes, and Who Speak a Furn Language.

  3. OK, just watched You Don't Have to Change @ All and the Am I a Boy, or a Girl? numbers on YouTube. It's true that the writers exploited stereotypes purportedly in the service of overcoming sterotypes. As I find with my many "kids' productions", this one likely wowed many parents while going straight over their kids' heads. I'm interested in others' weighing in.

  4. I am probably a generation or so older than most of your readers. I recall G-men and Cowboys and Indians (good guys and bad guys), followed by GI Joe. Don't recall a GI Jane. Then, somewhere along the way, guns for play were relegated to the no-no shelf. Today, we have Superheroes and lasers and battles in space. The characters have changed, but as far as I can see, the intent is still the same: Kill or be killed. For the most part, the players (boys) are still the same.

    At the same time, in the last few years I attended two birthday parties where two boys wanted to do "girl" things: One wanted to play with a pink princess horse, and another wanted to paint a purse instead of a treasure chest. Both moms sheepishly referred to their sons as "girl boys."

  5. Interesting. Wonder if those moms were exposed to Free to Be. I just read reviews of Peggy Ornstein's newest book, Cinderella Ate My Daughter. Wonder what she'd have to say about Free to Be. Hurray for Ornstein.

  6. Well, my friend (the one who inspired this post) tried commenting, but it didn't work. The gist of her comment was that F2B was groundbreaking, with which I agree, but I sense it was groundbreaking in the same way that All in the Family was, as opposed to groundbreaking and having a lasting impact in the way that Our Bodies, Our Selves was. Anyone want to weigh in?

  7. Mollie Saferstein NewmanMarch 9, 2011 at 2:01 AM

    What Molly Kaufman said about the two birthday parties: Why don’t we just shoot those mothers who called their sons "girl boys"? They should leave these little children alone already! They'll be what they're supposed to be. F2B works for both genders.

  8. I encountered the gender stereotype thing again the other day in a discussion of what someone is going to name her child. She said her husband doesn't like bi-sex names. I realized that in the same vein as "I want to know the sex of my unborn child", choosing gender-specific names, besides being a "gamble" (previously "boys'" names are "becoming" bisex every day) is another form of projecting one's stereotypes onto one's child. Implicit in naming one's daughter Sigalit, for example, is the assumption that she'll turn out to be a normative female. Supposing she turns out to be a butch, or transgender? Hah, Mom and Dad: The joke's on you!