Friday, May 04, 2007

Free to Be, You, Me and Atalanta

Every non-comic blog I read has, in the past week, linked to this post by Megan, a 35-year old woman who wants to have children, but is not married. It has me thinking about many of my own friends (all about the same age) who either are not married, or who are married but have not yet decided whether or not to have children. But mostly, it got me thinking about "Free To Be, You And Me," of which I have thought about a lot in the past few years when I play it for the Raggirls (or show them the similar TV adaptation), after approximately two decades of not thinking about it at all.

And I realized that a lot of my worldview was probably shaped by that album, even though I never thought about it. There is a lot that is great about Free To Be, You And Me. (I wonder how much of my love for M*A*S*H re-runs has to do with my childhood internalizations of Alan Alda's voice.)

Most of the songs are sweet and wonderful -- "Glad to Have a Friend Like You" is my personal favorite -- but looking back now, there are several that I would edit if I could.

1. "Ladies First." -- A girl who acts in a stereotypically feminine way gets eaten by a pack of tigers. A little too over the top. I get the point that dressing in frilly lace and acting helpless isn't exactly a social ideal, and this particular "Little Lady" is a total S.O.B., but come on now. Eaten by tigers? Surely we can show the negatives of extreme femininity without killing the girl off!

2. "William's Doll." -- Let's face it here, folks. William is probably gay. And, as Seinfeld has said, there's nothing wrong with that. We can all hope that one day William will be in a caring, monogamous relationship with another man, and he will be the stay-at-home dad for his and his husband's adopted son. Grandma is totally getting William's dad's hopes up, and it will all go horribly wrong when William comes out sometime during Reagan's first term. I spent most of the 1980s telling myself that I couldn't assume that just because certain of my friends had certain mannerisms, I shouldn't assume that they were gay. My the mid-1990s, they were all out.

Of course, in 1972 we could be pro-woman a lot more easily than we could be pro-gay.

3. Dudley Pippin and the Principal -- This one just creeps me out. Why is the principal playing a flute? Am I the only one who sees undertones of pedophilia here?

4. Girl Land -- The eldest Raggirl will now not listen to the Free To Be CD unless I agree to skip over this song. It totally freaks her out, and I can understand why. The Jack Cassidy part of the carnival barker:

Wonderful Girl Land, the island of joys,
Where good little girls pick up after the boys!
So come on in. Look about.
You go in a girl ... and you never get out!

Heck, it scares me, too.

Which brings us to

5. Atalanta. In this story, the King wants to marry off his daughter, and sets up a race where the swiftest man can marry the Princess. Atalanta agrees, but only if she can enter the race herself.

All of the potential suitors are jerks, except for Young John (Alan Alda), who turns out to be a great guy. They run the race, and in the end Atalanta and Young John tie. The King offers his daughter to Young John anyway, who humbly replies something like, "I could not possibly marry your daughter unless she wished to marry me. I have run this race for the chance to talk with Atalanta." Well, good for John.

Atalanta and John have a day-long date, find out they are perfectly compatible, and have a great time. The next day, they split up and go off to see the world separately. "Perhaps someday they'll be married, and perhaps they will not. In any case, it is certain they are both living happily ever after."


Well, today I feel like half of my friends are Atalanta. They went off the see the world, and when they came back they found out that "Old John" is now married to a younger woman (who is also perfectly nice, thank you), and all the other "Johns" are married also, leaving them to choose amongst that same group of jerk suitors who lost the race the first time around. Maybe it was appropriate in 1972 to tell 18-year olds to see more of the world before they got married, but the lesson is now being applied by too many 25 year olds, and they are interpreting it too mean that any compromise with a man constitutes "giving up your own identity." At least, too many 25 year olds that I knew.

I, of course, have no issues at all with women's personal choices in terms of marriage, working, kids, etc. There is nothing "second best" about voluntarily choosing a life without children. I just feel that too many of us internalized too much the "it is certain they are both living happily ever after" message, and are, in fact, not living happily ever after as a result.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Your descriptions of the album are spot on. Love this!

12:03 PM  

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