Ronia can now walk, pushing her stoller, all the way from the coffee shop to home–a distance of more than a mile. Happily, this affords her plenty of time to ask me the most burning question she faces, over and over again.
It’s not, “Who’s picking me up from school tomorrow?” No, the thing on Ronia’s mind is: “Do we have time to watch a movie?” And there is no question which movie, it’s nothing but Free to Be You and Me referred to by Ronia as “Free to Be of Me and You.” Or when attempting to make her case, she simply calls it, “the short one.”
I did not grow up with this video; it came out before my parents had me and while they were living pop culture-free in Alaska, but it was performed at my Jewish camp.
I demur, I stall. The video is short after all. The truth is that I am somewhat addicted to the free time created by Ronia’s screen time. And I’m thrilled that it’s Free to Be You and Me and not anything objectionable. At the same time, the age and extreme catchiness raise conflicts for even this feminist father.
First of all, Ronia is hooked. It’s a testament to how well the makers knew their craft that they have managed to be totally compelling, even 38 years later to a child with little familiarity with the issues we raise. So blessedly ignorant of sexism was Ronia was that she insisted on changing “William wants a doll” to “Leah wants a doll,” more concerned about female representation than non-gendered play. She also watched the “Ladies First” skit repeatedly before catching on that the Lady gets eaten by tigers, and eventually lost interest.
The movie seems oddly focused on promoting cross-sex friendships, which thus far Ronia has no problem with. There is not a lot of emphasis on girls befriending each other.
Of course trans liberation was not yet on people’s radar in 1973 (though a later follow-up compilation Stories for Free Children did have a story about an androgynous child named X). So it is that the “Mommies are People” informs us gleefully that mommies can be almost anything they want but not daddies. Ronia can sing almost this whole song but thankfully skips this verse.
Tonight we have lingered so long at the coffee shop that I manage to stand firm. Ronia throws a very similiar fit to the one if we had watched it and I was turning it off. At least she did not ask for it at her anti-television Waldorf school today. She bargains for some tracks on the CD (my sister got us the box set, so we could read it as well if Ronia wanted.) The fabulous-sounding William belts out his request for a doll Ethel Merman-style, and his grandma assures his father it is all right because he will one day breed himself. Ronia stands amidst her dolls and trucks, waiting for her father who like William in the song changed many of her diapers to put her to bed.