In a must-read piece headlined “’Free to Be’’ Boys and Girls,” Christina Hoff Sommers celebrates the fortieth anniversary of a gender revolution that—fortunately—failed. Hoff Sommers writes:
This week marks the 40th anniversary of an event close to the hearts of gender activists everywhere. On March 11, 1974, ABC aired Marlo Thomas’ “Free to Be…You and Me” — a musical program celebrating gender-free children. Thomas and her fellow co-neutralists envisioned a world where the sex distinction would melt away.
Instead of “males” and “females,” there would be mutually respectful, non-gendered human persons. The project resulted in a platinum LP, a best-selling book, and an Emmy. More than that, the idea of gender liberation entered the national zeitgeist.
Parents everywhere began giving their daughters trucks and sons baby dolls. Like so many dream boats floating on the utopian sea, this one crashed and sank when it hit the rocks of reality.
In one “Free to Be” song, two babies discuss their life goals: the female wants to be a fireman; the male, a cocktail waitress. Another tells about a girl who liked to say, “Ladies First” — only to wind up being the first to be eaten by tigers. The songs drive home the idea that we are all androgynous beings unfairly constrained by social stereotypes. “William‘s Doll” is memorable. “A doll, said William, is what I need. To wash and clean and dress and feed.” In the end his kindly grandmother buys him the coveted toy.
A few months ago, I found myself in a place William would adore: the American Girl doll palace in New York City. But nearly all the children there were girls. “They know what girls love,” said a transfixed seven-year-old girl attached to my hand. …
Marlo Thomas,76, is quoted saying that she does not find “Free to Be” dated. Indeed, Ms. Thomas opines that “boys and girls are pretty much the same except for something in their underwear.” As Hoff Sommers points out, this just isn’t true.
Hoff Sommers cites psychological research to show why, despite four decades of gender activism, boys and girls remain different. The kids really have proven Ms. Thomas and her fellow gender warriors wrong. We are delighted that, after all the pressure, kids are free to be boys and girls.