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  • Paula Tiberius

Free To Be Still Unequal

Remember this record?

I remember listening to it in the 70’s as a little kid and loving it! I hadn’t thought about it for decades until recently when my father shipped me his vinyl collection, there it was. I chuckled to myself on Saturday morning, bringing it out to play to Violet. Hee hee, this will seem so dated and passé! I thought, as I dropped the needle down, getting ready for a session of coloring and baking Shrinky Dinks.

I was not prepared for what followed. This damn record is more relevant than ever! Sure, the sound of Carol Channing’s voice does transport one to another space-time continuum, but her message on “Housework” is completely modern. She tells little girls that the women who scrub and mop with a smile on television are actors, and the only reason they’re smiling is because they’re getting paid. In real life, no one likes housework and that’s why it should be shared with men and women, Mommy and Daddy. Amen!

“Atalanta,” narrated by Alan Alda and Marlo Thomas (also the creator of the whole concept) is the story of a princess who enters herself in a race for her own hand in marriage. The extremely enlightened boy who is the strongest contender wishes only to have a chance to talk to her, not to marry her, and together the two young people rebel against the norms of the (sexist) kingdom. They tie at the finish line of the race, and agree to revisit the possibility of getting together once she has had a chance to travel the world and he’s done his thing. Totally relevant! And by the way, pretty much the plot of Brave, which Violet and I loved.

Here’s Atalanta, for your time-warped enjoyment:

Then there’s a piece on the record called “Girl Land” which a quick Google search will tell you, is a totally creepy song. I don’t actually remember this one at all from my childhood, but it’s Jack Cassidy and Shirley Jones imagining a place called ‘Girl Land’ that is being closed down for being irrelevant – it’s got a lot of circus sounds because they’re acting like Girl Land was an amusement park that no one comes to anymore because it promotes antiquated views about what little girls should be and become. What struck me most about this one is that forty years later, this concept is still strictly in the realm of the imagination! I hate to bum out the Jack and Shirley of 1973, but have they been to a Toys R Us lately? Walk in the front door and look to the right, there’s Girl Land! Everything’s pink, based on staying at home to cook, or being a princess.

And it’s not different for boys. “William’s Doll” tells the story of Billy, who wants to play with dolls. Of course no one around him wants to give him a doll because that would make him a sissy, but in the end his grandmother convinces the family that he will need to learn to change diapers one day too, so it’s okay. Whether or not Billy might be gay didn’t come up of course – it’s 40 years ago! – but nevertheless, there they were again, imagining a world without discrimination and gender bias. Well, that dream dies another horrible death daily on the left side of Toys R Us.

I know there are alternative toy stores, people. But my point is, these songs are not dated, these concepts are not a thing of the past. Women still make about seventy cents on the dollar to their male counterparts (Lilly Ledbetter notwithstanding), Republicans want to overturn Roe vs. Wade, and politicians like Rep. Lisa Brown of Michigan get kicked off the House floor for using the word vagina! Vagina vagina vagina!!!

But I digress. If you’re looking for some solid audio-only entertainment for your child (Violet turned to look at the TV several times while the record was playing, wanting to watch – that was the only retro hee hee moment) Free to be You & Me is relevant as hell. It may even make you want to explain to your kid why feminism is important and why we need to keep fighting for equality.

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