Free To Be...You And Me: My First Feminist Theory Class

I took my first class in feminist theory from a car seat in the back of my parents' blue station wagon. As we pulled out of the driveway and embarked on adventures to the grocery store, school, or ski mountain, my sister and I would clamor for entertainment. An adult arm would reach into the glove compartment and pull out a tape. Many tapes rotated through our car during that time, but the one that seemed to captivate us most during those long rides was the Ms. Foundation for Women’s 1972 masterpiece “Free to Be… You and Me.”

I didn’t know that the program, which is composed of a series of poems, songs, and sketches, was a record album and book before it was a tape. I also had no idea that Michael Jackson starred in the 1974 ABC television special version, which I didn’t even see until 2014 (and actually found horrifyingly creepy, please stick to the recordings).

I didn’t know that “Free to Be… You and Me” was a feminist rallying cry created to encourage the children of the 70’s to embrace gender neutrality and tolerance. In fact, if you had asked me what was happening on the tape I’d be able to recite it in full before being capable of explaining what a single song was actually saying.

I always knew that girls are capable of the same things as boys. I didn’t need “Atalanta” to tell me that because my parents told me that every day. I didn’t need a song to tell me that “It’s All Right to Cry.” I figured it better be because I was always expressive and tended to cry a lot. But even though I didn't feel an imminent need for those songs' messages, and at a young age wasn't even entirely aware of what I was listening to, I absorbed those messages.

At 5 years old, I didn’t need to hear what I need to hear now at 22 years old.

At 5 years old there are no limits. You can tell people you aspire to be a firefighting chef with a mobile vet clinic and it’s no big deal because anything is possible.

At 22 it’s starting to feel a little different.

At 22, I feel limits start to creep in. I suddenly have taxes to prepare, bills to pay, and promotions to earn. Suddenly life isn't about sitting in a circle and singing Kumbaya. There are expectations and assumptions about what I, as a 22-year-old, should be doing that I never saw coming. Dreams I thought would inevitably become reality, like being a school teacher, ninja, and Iron Chef, realistically probably won't happen. Trying harder or simply believing in myself doesn’t always help: some things just don’t materialize.

But even unrealized dreams create pressure, stress and new challenges. Now more than ever I need “Atalanta,” “Girl Land” and “Boy Meets Girl” to remind me that neither feeling stressed nor tired cancel out the fact that I am also strong and powerful. And when I need that reminder, I don’t look for self-destructive, unhealthy external validation or quick fixes. I already have everything I need to hear ingrained in my head. Hours of cheesy songs and my parents' impressive patience have left an indelible mark.

I took my first feminist theory course from Marlo Thomas and friends in the backseat of the family car. I’ve got this.

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Pippa B
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