Gender roles 2013: Not "Free to be you and me"

This month, Free to be You and Me, the anthem of my children’s upbringing, turns 41.  When my son was three, we watched the 1974 TV special based on the album. I even have an old cassette tape of my older two kids singing:

free-to-be-you-and-meEvery boy in this land grows to be his own man
In this land, every girl grows to be her own woman
Take my hand, come with me where the children are free…
And you and me are free to be you and me

My friends and I dressed our children in gender-neutral clothes (Remember when all kids wore Oshkosh overalls?) and read books like William’s Doll by Charlotte Zolotow in which it was fine for a little boy to have a doll, as it would make him a better father someday. My children also loved The Practical Princess by Jay Williams in which a princess rescues and marries her prince after using her brainpower to solve three tricky tasks put to her by the prince’s evil captor.

the-practical-princess-jay-williams1Even though my children were a boy and two girls, playing with toys together was no big deal. I have to confess that I allowed Barbies, which my son sometimes decapitated, but they all loved Star Wars figures and racing matchbox cars on a track. Blocks, legos, stuffed animals, domino runs, and board games were not gender-specific.

Fast forward to their children’s’ generation and, OMG, what’s happened? I have a granddaughter who hates to go into the “boys’ toy row” at Target because some of the toys scare her.  I have two grandsons obsessed with trains, and my 7-year-old granddaughters are still in the throes of the Disney Princesses.  Even music has its issues.  My six oldest grandchildren, ages 3-10, listen to “bubblegum” rock.  One of my grandsons divides the songs into “girl music” and “boy music,” and a granddaughter tells me she hates rap because “it’s for boys.”

Siblings and cousins of the opposite gender cannot use each other’s toys and clothes.  The girls’ drawers overflow with pink and purple shirts.  The princess dolls can’t even play with the Transformer robots or ride on the boys’ trucks.  “That’s a silly idea, Grandma.”

I’m thinking it wouldn’t hurt for this new generation of children to listen to Free to be You and Me.  Think about what the song lyrics (adapted here) taught their parents:

When We Grow by – Performed by Diana Ross

Well, I don't care if I'm pretty at all.
And I don't care if you never get tall.
I like what I look like, and you're nice small.
We don't have to change at all.

Parents Are People - Performed by Harry Belafonte and Marlo Thomas

Mommies are people, people with children… Some mommies are ranchers, or poetry makers. Or doctors or teachers, or cleaners or bakers. Some mommies drive taxis, or sing on TV. Yeah, mommies can be almost anything they want to be. Daddies are people, people with children… Some daddies are writers, or grocery sellers, or painters or welders, or funny-joke tellers. Some daddies play cello, or sail on the sea. Yeah, daddies can be almost anything they want to be.

It's All Right to Cry - Performed by Rosey Grier (football player)

It's all right to cry
Crying gets the sad out of you…
It's all right to cry, little boy
I know some big boys that cry too.

William's Doll - Performed by Alan Alda and Marlo Thomas

williamsdollSo William's grandma, as I've been told
Bought William a doll, to hug and hold
And William's father began to frown
But grandma smiled, and calmed him down
Explaining, William wants a doll
So when he has a baby someday
He'll know how to dress it, put diapers on double
And gently caress it to bring up a bubble
And care for his baby as every good father Should learn to do

Glad to Have a Friend Like You - Performed by Marlo Thomas

Jill told Bill that it was lots of fun to cook
Bill told Jill that she could bait a real fish hook…
Pearl told Earl that they could do a secret code
Earl told Pearl there was free ice cream when it snowed…
Peg told Greg she liked to make things out of chairs
Greg told Peg sometimes he still hugged teddy bears…
Glad to have a friend like you, fair and fun, and skipping free
...And glad to just be me.

Yes, I know marketing and media control most of the choices of clothes, music, and toys.  I don’t advocate going back to overalls for all or banning all sexist books from your home.  But maybe some of the same messaging parents grew up with would be good for their children.  Maybe parents should consider downloading this album for their children.

For more on the topic of gender roles today, check out Deborah Siegel’s excellent website The Pink and Blue Diaries. You will also find more on this topic in the writings of Carrie Goldman.

OK Gens X & Y – How can you revive some of the values about gender with which you were raised?

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