1974's 'Free to Be… You and Me' feels like an eternity ago writes Christina Hoff Sommers
And, amazingly, kids and adults have yet to morph into mutually respectful, non-gendered human persons.
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.
But, after 40 years of gender activism, boys and girls show few signs of liking to do the same things. From the earliest age, boys show a distinct preference for active outdoor play, with a strong predilection for games with body contact, conflict, and clearly defined winners and losers. Girls, too, enjoy raucous outdoor play, but they engage in it less. Girls, as a rule, are more drawn to imaginative theatrical games — playing house, playing school — as well as exchanging confidences with a best friend. Boys playing kickball together in the schoolyard are not only having a great deal of fun, they are forging friendships with other males in ways that are critical to their healthy socialization. Similarly, little girls who spend hours in deep conversation with other girls or playing theatrical games are happily and actively honing their social skills. What these children are doing is not only fun but developmentally sound.
“One of the largest and most persistent differences between the sexes is children’s play preferences.” The female preference for nurturing play and the male propensity for rough-and-tumble hold cross-culturally and even cross-species. Researchers have found, for example, that female vervet monkeys play with dolls much more than their brothers, who prefer balls and toy cars. Nor can human reality be tossed aside. In all known societies, women tend to be the nurturers and men the warriors.
Of course, we can soften and shape these roles, and that has been, in every epoch, the work of civilization. But civilization won’t work against the grain of human nature, and our futile attempts to make it do so can only damage the children that are the subjects of the experiment.
The writer Andrew Sullivan is right when he describes the sex difference as “so obvious no one really doubted it until very recently, when the blank-slate left emerged, merging self-righteousness with empirical delusion.” That delusion was jumpstarted in 1974 with the advent of “Free To Be… You and Me.” Today, an army of gender scholars and activists is marching in support of the genderless ideal. But these warriors forget that ignoring differences between boys and girls can be just as damaging as creating differences where none exist. “Free to Be” is a cautionary example of how an idealistic social fantasy can turn into a blueprint for repression.
Why is it so hard for some people to accept human nature?Posted by Jill Fallon at March 25, 2014 4:26 PM | Permalink