Did you know that the album Free to Be You and Me was released forty years ago his fall? Neither did I until I happened to read an interesting piece at Slate about how the record was made. My mother bought it for me when it came out, and it was one of my favorites as a kid; I think it was perfectly done, in that the storytelling was in no way imperiled by the political message, which if you've ever tried to do something similar you'll recognize is a lot harder to pull off than it seems. Thinking about it today, besides making me feel somewhat dated, I was reminded of how one of the good things about the 1970s was the way popular records such as Free To Be You and Me challenged gender stereotypes in ways that (at least in my memory) feel almost beyond us now, in an era of "girly girls" and whatever the opposite of that is.
As the article points out, it's indisputable that society has changed quite a bit in forty years; more women hold higher-paying jobs, and girls -- at least those found in progressive/politically liberal communities -- probably have a greater sense of potential regarding what kind of lives they can lead. At the same time, as I ride the subway through more economically challenged neighborhoods and watch the teenage girls in their skin-tight jeans and the boys posturing in their (relatively baggy) pants and big coats, I can't help but think that we still have a long, long way to go before we as a society can claim to be released from the demoralizing effects of gender conformity. Or have you even watched television lately? It seems as though every prime-time star (ethnicity aside) is either a thin, athletic girl/woman with long, perfect shampoo-commercial hair, or a chiseled man with six-pack abs. That we are an intensely neurotic and judgmental society is hardly worth arguing about; clearly the need for a slightly modified/updated Free To Be You and Me II (ideally including sexual orientation with its gender deconstruction) is still great, but is an idea that would probably not in a million years get "green-lighted" by the executives who now run mainstream networks and record labels. In short, it would be a record that would be made by and for those who already appreciate its message, an exercise in preaching to the choir. Or we could just not worry about it and hum an old tune as we admire the sun streaming through the red leaves of Washington Heights, or the cobalt sky behind the Empire State Building.
...every 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
Come with me, take my hand, and we'll run...