Free To Be… You and Me was one of my favorite movie/record/books when I was growing up. Marlo Thomas's 1972 project brought together an all-star cast to perform songs, poems and sketches that challenged gender stereotypes and delivered a fundamentally humane, loving message about being who you are and not being constrained by society's expectations.
When I was a teenager, a couple of my friends, Shona and Ted, got ahold of a print of the film and showed it at my school. It was an instant smash hit. The memories came roaring back for all of us, the wonderful songs, the humor, the nostalgia. Those songs became anthemic in my social circle, and not just as some ironic throwback — there's some kick-ass music on that soundtrack.
So in the early 1990s, I decided to put up a Free to Be… fan-site, and I went ahead and registered freetobeyouandme.com. Then life intervened. 15 years went by and I kept on paying for the domain. I'm not sure why — I guess I thought I might get around to putting up that fan-site, and I didn't want the site getting into the hands of some pornographer or similar.
Last spring, I got an email from a law-firm in New York that represents the Free to Be Foundation…, a charitable trust that oversees the Free to Be project and produces educational material about gender equality. The note said that the Foundation was interested in getting the domain for use in connection with the book, and would I be interested in discussing the matter.
The note did not contain any threats, veiled or otherwise. It didn't call me a domain-squatter or mention WIPO's UDRP. It was polite, friendly — just the sort of thing I'd expect from the people who gave us Free To Be…You and Me. So I called up the lawyer, Cris Criswell, and asked him to tell me more.
It turned out that the Foundation was about to publish a 35th anniversary edition of the book, with new art and a bound-in CD, and they wanted to use the domain to promote it. He explained that the Foundation was a charitable 501(c)3, with a board of directors that included Marlo Thomas, Gloria Steinem, and other people I admired and trusted.
"OK," I said, "it's yours."
"Just like that?"
"Sure. You didn't threaten me and you're doing good work. Of course you can have it."
"Of course I didn't threaten you. I figure fans have rights too."
See what I mean?
I asked for one thing: would they send me a copy of the 35th Anniversary edition, signed and inscribed to my newborn daughter, who was already listening to the soundtrack with me? Of course they would.
I'm holding it in my hands now. It's amazing. The new art is fabulous. And I've got the CD on now, and the music is just as great as I remembered. There's Rosie Greer singing, "It's All Right to Cry," Michael Jackson singing "I Don't Have to Change at All" (!), Alan Alda singing "William Wants a Doll," Harry Belafonte singing, "Parents are People,' the Smothers Brothers singing "Helping." There's Carol Channing reciting the cleaning poem, and Mel Brooks doing the convulsively funny "Boy Meets Girl" sketch. It is just brilliant.
And wonderful. If you were to distill the messages that every kid needs to hear to grow up to be a confident, loving individual who does what's right even when society sneers, if you were to turn them into great songs, funny poems, without a hint of preachiness or condescension, it would be this book and CD. Every kid needs this book — and the organization that publishes it is every bit as great as the book itself.
I'm a baby!
Well what do you think I am, a loaf of bread?
You could be, what do I know, I'm just born, I'm a baby, I don't even know if I'm under a tree or in a hospital or what, I'm just so glad to be here.
Well, I'm a baby too.
Have it your own way, I don't want to fight about it.
What, are you scared?
Yes, I am, I'm a little scared. I'll tell you why. You see, I don't know if I'm a boy or a girl yet.
What's that got to do with it?
Well, if you're a boy and I'm a girl you can beat me up! You think I want to lose a tooth my first day alive?
What's a tooth?
Search me, I'm just born, I'm a baby, I don't know nothing yet!
You think you're a girl?
I don't know, I might be. I think I am. I 've never been anything before. Let me see, let me take a little look around. Hmm… cute feet, small, dainty, yup, yup, I'm a girl, that's it, girl time.
Well, what do you think I am?
You, that's easy, you're a boy.
Of course I'm sure. I'm alive already four, five minutes, right? I haven't been wrong yet.
Gee, I don't feel like a boy.
That's because you can't see yourself.
Why, what do I look like?
Bald. You're bald, fellah. Bald, bald, bald, you're bald as a ping-pong ball, are you bald.
So, boys are bald and girls have hair.
Are you sure?
Of course I'm sure. Who's bald, your mother or your father?
I rest my case.
Hmm. You're bald too.
No, I'm not.
Ugghhh. A bald girl. Yuck. Disgusting.