Free to Be...You and Me is 40

It's the fortieth anniversary of the release of Free to Be...You and Me, the groundbreaking movie/record/book that encouraged kids and their grownups to break out of gender stereotypes and shame and be whomever they were. This was hugely influential for me (I registered freetobeyouandme.com to keep it away from squatters and gave it to the nonprofit foundation that continues the project's work), and I'm incredibly pleased to discover that it resonates with my six-year-old daughter, too.

The thing is that Free to Be... is not only right-on in its politics and message -- it's also fabulous: funny, catchy, sweet and smart. It features an all-star cast that includes Michael Jackson, Mel Brooks, Marlo Thomas, Harry Belafonte, Rosie Greer, Carol Channing, Carl Reiner, Alan Alda, Diana Ross, and more. My daughter can't get enough of Boy Meets Girl and we sing William's Doll at bedtime all the time. Unfortunately, the theme of gender stereotypes is just as relevant today as it was 40 years ago. But the good news is that Marlo Thomas and her friends gave us parents a tool for helping our kids understand and break through these stereotypes that is just as powerful today as it was then.

CNN's Jamie Gumbrecht celebrates Free to Be...'s anniversary with a look at When We Were Free to Be, a 2012 book that looks at the project's history and impact:

As a kid on Long Island in the 1970s, Miriam Peskowitz was a frustrated "Free to Be" fan. She wrote in "When We Were Free to Be" about her feminist mom's righteous letters and calls demanding her daughter be able take wood and mechanical shop, or that girls need not wait for boys to ask them to square dance. (Square dancing, of course, being one way that schools satisfied Title IX requirements.) To Peskowitz's dismay, she had the same arguments at her child's school decades later. Peskowitz watched in the mornings as her daughter settled down to draw bubble letters with her gal pals while boys raced each other to the chessboards. The teacher said it wasn't a problem; it's just what the kids chose. "After I nudged again and again, the teacher eventually taught all the children in the classroom how to play chess. Some girls started to choose that as their morning activity," wrote Peskowitz, the author of "The Daring Book for Girls." "Very often," Peskowitz wrote, "all it takes to outsmart gender stereotypes is a little creative thinking and a little gumption.

Free to Be...You and Me [Soundtrack]

Free to Be...You and Me [DVD]

Free to Be...You and Me [35th anniversary edition book]

When We Were Free to Be [Book]

Remembering 'Free to Be... You and Me,' 40 years later [Jamie Gumbrecht/CNN]

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  1. Ratel says:

    Every time a child sees "Free to be...You and Me" , Baby Bill O'Reilly cries.

  2. Now "Heavy Metal", that was a great movie about strong female roles.

  3. Loved this record (yeah, that's how I listened to it) when I was a little girl. "Atalanta" arguably may be why I was interested in learning about Greek mythology, and "Ladies First" was just delightfully macabre.

    Surprisingly, listening to "William's Doll" now almost made me cry. My husband takes such great care of our daughter, getting her dressed and diapered and fed. And I think, ahhh, progress -- because I know my dad probably didn't do these things much, and I know my stepdad leaves the room anytime a baby in the vicinity needs changing. As a society, we have still not shaken off the stigma of the man who takes care of his little children. It's changing (there was a recent episode of Bob's Burgers where it's revealed Bob potty trained all his kids; it was also surprising, and touching) but it's also 40 years later and moms like Nerdy Apple get tremendous attention when they blog about their son wanting to be Daphne for Halloween.

    Anyway. I love FTBYAM and sometime in the future Onalarklette will be listening to it. Right now she's a little too young, but I can't wait to sing along.

  4. Chess? Those poor poor girls. Probably doomed, even today, to an endless round of encounter groups and bell hooks lectures.

  5. In addition to teaching my generation and subsequent ones that it's OK to be a feminist, FTBYAM taught us that it's OK to be different -- that as long as you respect the choices of others you don't have to conform if conforming makes you unhappy.

    As such, this album must be the absolute bane of social conservatives -- yet another reason to love it now that we're grown up. I really wonder how many of our recent victories originated in this album.

    The LP is still in my possession, but it's all worn out now from countless playings. So I'll be giving Marlo and friends a listen in digital form this evening in honour of the anniversary.

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