"What are you watching?," my 14-year old son asked as he wandered through my office when I was reviewing video clips of the F2BY&M television special. I explained I was writing about a children's program produced in the 1970s to call attention to how gender stereotypes harm children's self-image and sense of potential. "Well," he said, "What do you think?" I said the project reinforced some important messages, like it's OK for boys to show tender feelings and for girls to be smart and strong, and it reminds kids that when they grow up and form families, they need to share all the housework. But I added that I thought the stories tried to set a new standard that might make girls feel they can't measure up if they don't want to climb trees or like wearing pretty dresses. "The stuff you listen to is so weird," he said. "I'm going to make myself a sandwich."
"What is that?," my 10-year old son asked when I was listening to a track from the F2BY&M CD. It's a song about an awful place called "Girl Land," I told him, where little girls aren't allowed to have fun and have to pick up after the boys. He frowned. "It's not a real place, is it?" No, I said, not really real -- more like a state of mind. "Hmm," he said. "Your job is so strange. Can I have a popsicle?"
"Free to Be…You and Me" was an ambitious and idealistic project that helped popularize the concept that self-realization and mutual respect are the foundation for transforming oppressive sex roles. As loving parents and concerned adults, we encourage children to dream big and shine like the sun -- and to learn to take care of themselves, and to care about others. But we also need to let them know that the world still needs fixing -- and that even though many more kinds of happy endings are possible today than in the past, life in the here and now rarely turns out the way it does in fairy tales. Even when those fairy tales are the ones we like to tell ourselves.
MMO : June 2007