‘Free to Be … You and Me’ Took the Revolution to the Playground

“Free to Be … You and Me,” the 1974 kids-TV special and feminist milestone, begins with footage of children riding a carousel. I was one of them. Not literally — I watched the show on TV like millions of other baby Gen X-ers. But these kids, laughing and spinning, were my cohort at a strange point in history.

We were born at the tail end of one of the country’s great periods of social revolution. Our mothers were getting jobs outside the home, and so was Mary Richards on “The Mary Tyler Moore Show.” Later in our childhoods would come the era of Phyllis Schlafly and He-Man, and things would jerk backward again for a while, maybe without our even being aware of it at the time.

But on “Free to Be,” the future was baby steps away. The theme song, by the New Seekers, imagines a land “where the children are free” and says that “it ain’t far to this land from where we are.” The children transform into cartoons on lively horses. They leap out of the spinning wheel’s orbit, galloping through an animated desert, girls and boys side by side.

In the show’s animated stories, chivalry doesn’t protect girls, self-reliance does: In “Ladies First,” a “tender, sweet young thing” who insists on special treatment ends up eaten by tigers.Credit…ABC

Marlo Thomas, the former star of the sitcom “That Girl,” created “Free to Be” as an album in 1972, in collaboration with the Ms. Foundation for Women. She was inspired, she said in the introduction to a 2010 DVD of the TV special, by reading bedtime stories to her niece — books that “told girls and boys who they should be, who they ought to be, but seldom who they could be.”

Through songs, skits and stories, “Free to Be” told them they could be, and do, anything. Girls could run races and grow up to be doctors; boys could play with dolls and grow up to push a stroller. A princess could decide not to marry a prince, or anybody. A man could cry.

Related Articles

Back to top button