Free To Be . . .

The program described it as a "modern classic of children's literature." The children's theatre group with our local community theatre recently presented "Free To Be . . . You and Me." It was created by Marlo Thomas way back in the olden days of the 1970s, when nurses and elementary teachers were women, cops were men, and people were arguing about "women's lib."

As a junior in high school in the late 1960's, I wanted to take the mechanical drawing class. Sorry, I was told. That class was just for boys. A boy who dared to be interested in taking home ec would probably have known better than to even ask.

Forty years later, things have changed so much that songs and skits about gender equality seem almost beside the point. Still, the show was great fun. Two newborn babies tried to figure out which of them was the boy and which was the girl. A dainty young thing's cry of "ladies first!" backfired when she and her classmates met a group of hungry tigers in the jungle. A strong-minded princess didn't wait to see which young man would win her hand; she entered the competition right along with them.

Gender equality? Absolutely. Let's hear it for female astronauts, diaper-changing dads, and teachers, doctors, and presidents of either sex. It makes the world a better place.

Of course, "equal" doesn't mean "identical." We were reminded of this during the "Free To Be" intermission. A little boy came down the aisle with a manly four-year-old swagger and what seemed to be a growth sprouting from his face. It was a snap-type clothespin, clipped between his upper lip and his nose.

Why? Who knows? Maybe he was pretending it was an elephant's trunk, or maybe he just wanted to walk around looking as if he had a booger on steroids. Whatever his reason, it was definitely male. Walking around with a clothespin on her face is something a little girl just wouldn't do.

Certainly not the little girls who came to my daughter's face-painting booth at the children's fair last week. One of them, especially, was dressed all in dainty pink from her shiny shoes to her hair ribbons to her frilly tutu. My daughter asked what design she wanted on her face, expecting a pretty butterfly or some delicate flowers. The little pink princess said, "I want to be a vampire."

Thank goodness for a world where little girls in pink tutus are allowed to be vampires on the side. And where we assume a little boy will grow up knowing his way around the laundry room—but in the meantime he is free to find utterly little-boy uses for the clothespins.

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