Free to Be You and Me @ 40

Mar 20, 2014, 11:09 AM


Don’t judge a change agent by its vinyl. Free to Be You and Me, a blockbuster hit album of the 70s and beyond, and still widely available on most music platforms, was the "Born This Way" by Lady Gaga of its time, with songs, stories and ideas that told kids they could be whoever they wanted.

Stars who recorded songs for the album included Mel Brooks and Diana Ross. Songs included “Parents are People,” about the many professions open to men and women and sung by album creators Marlo Thomas and Harry Belafonte, as well as “It’s Alright to Cry” sung by football player Rosie Grier.

“We wanted to let children know that their wildest dreams were not just OK, but wonderful—and completely achievable,” said Thomas at a recent anniversary celebration for the album at the Paley Center for Media in New York City.

The television special, filled with skits on gender neutrality, is still a popular kids’ birthday gift, in part because many of the issues it speaks to—especially advancement opportunities and equality—are still being grappled with today:

  • According to a recent Institute of Medicine report, African Americans live, on average, five years less than other Americans.
  • According to the Society for Women’s Health Research, in some cases critical data on sex, age, race and ethnicity does not exist for new drugs, biologics and devices. For instance, women made up less than one-third of the participants in clinical trials on three different coronary stents (which open up blockages), even though 43 percent of patients with coronary heart disease are women.
  • According to the Institute for Women’s Policy Research, in 2012 female full-time workers made only 77 cents for every dollar earned by men, a gender wage gap of 23 percent.

>>Bonus Link: Watch a panel discussion among several of the original Free to Be You and Me stars filmed earlier this month at the Paley Center.

This commentary originally appeared on the RWJF New Public Health blog.