Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Free to Be You and Me

Back in the 1970s Marlo Thomas and some of her friends addressed overcoming gender stereotypes in stories and song. 
Free to Be You and Me came out as a book and 
as an Emmy award winning television program in 1974.
A year or so ago I bought the book for my oldest boy and 
last week I brought home a cd of the television show. 
We put it on, and there, in slightly faded technicolor, was my early childhood, filled with hope, joy, and bell bottoms.
My older son happily quoted the book and settled in 
for a predictable show. He stayed with it all the way
through, which doesn't happen that much any more.
He likes to know something inside and out, that's part 
of the way he thinks, so this was perfect.

"Wow" said my younger son at the wide array of vibrant colors and patterns,
"they sure dressed fancy."
All of the discussion about being yourself no matter
what gender you are should seem naive and
irrelevant forty (!) years later. 
But a surprising (and somewhat saddening to me) 
amount of what Marlo and friends said back then 
still needs to be said in our fairly rigid gender 
stereotyped culture. Girls are still judged on
whether they're "pretty," boys on whether they're
"big and strong."
I think the straight forward discussion of the wide 
range of options for both genders can help kids with 
autism who are particularly susceptible to prescriptive
thinking. And the message "we don't have to change
at all" may reassure our kids who sometimes receive
the opposite message.
"William Wants a Doll" is a story song that says 
we don't play by gender. This may not be needed 
by many of our kids, who are often oblivious to 
indirect peer pressure,
but it has a nice message about nurturing and
how important dads are.
Other highlights include "It's All Right to Cry," 
(as sung by the world's cuddliest Football player, 
Rosie Grier), which gives permission for kids to be 
sad. The conversation about brothers and sisters shows 
real unscripted kids in a positive and honest
interaction. I can't remember the last time I saw that on 
tv or in a video.
Since the book is available, your kid with autism can
have the luxury mine did of knowing what the show
is all about from the beginning. Warning - if your
kid is prone to echolalia, you may be hearing 
some of these lines and songs for a long time.
The illustrations inside are better, I promise.


  1. Still TOTALLY relevant and necessary!!! LOVE the messages of inclusion.
    My only caveat is that today I think they could have some MORE inclusion - ethnicity, neurology, queerness, not just male and female...
    But yes, we know it inside out...
    thanks and love,

  2. I so remember that series. You are right though - it is still pertinent today - maybe we can get it back on cable.