The Mixed Messages of My Youth: The Brady Bunch versus Free To Be You And Me

July 14th, 2011

Today was my daughter Ani’s 8th birthday! I let her do many things she wanted to do today just because… One thing she was very excited to do first thing in the morning was watch 3 episodes back-to-back of The Brady Bunch. (Yes we are the proud owners of the first two seasons). I understand the draw. One episode is never quite enough!

When I think back to my own girlhood in the 70’s, many memories come to mind. I don’t know why, but that Easy Bake Oven of mine and those scrumptious frosted mini cakes I could make all by myself  jumps into my head immediately! It was such a shame when my next door neighbor accidentally (?) destroyed my oven when she cooked and melted the orange plastic tool that was used to remove the hot cake pan from the oven. I also have a very clear memory of playing Cops & Robbers with the kids on my street as we tore around chasing each other on our bikes. How I loved my Purple Schwinn with the banana seat, such a smooth ride.  And how can I forget spending hours memorizing the intricate light up codes of my beloved electronic Simon game? What I would give to have one of those again.  The 70’s were a happy time for me.

But I’ll never forget the summer after 3rd grade when I learned the Brady Bunch would not be aired in the afternoon anymore at my prime TV viewing time. I was destroyed! I truly cried my eyes out. How could I possibly last an entire summer without the Bradys? My mom even called the television station KBHK (channel 44) to reason with them about their decision. But KBHK had their reasons and I had to take the summer off from Marcia, Jan, Cindy, Greg, Peter, and Bobby. I watched the Brady Bunch religiously. I knew every episode forward, backward, and sideways. There was no Brady trivia that could slip me up.

I don’t remember exactly how I survived that Brady-less summer, but I’m sure there were many rounds of listening throughout the summer to my beloved record album: Free To Be, You and Me. I just had the whole record memorized word for word from the conversation between the girl and boy babies (“Who’s bald? Your mother or your father? Boys are bald and girls have hair”) to Atalanta the princess who defeated all her suitors (except Young John from the town) and therefore didn’t have to get married and was able to travel and explore the world, to My Cat is a Plumber to Dudley Pippin who tipped over the sandbox at school. I’ll tell you, that Free To Be album struck deep in my soul where it has remained. I have never told anyone this before and now here I go blogging about it but when my kids were a little bit younger (Okay, I still do it), I’d sing “It’s All Right to Cry” when they looked like they couldn’t quite get the waterworks going but wanted to. Such good messages on that album.

So I have begun to wonder in my adulthood and particularly in my motherhood about this obvious discrepancy between the values I was picking up from The Brady Bunch and the values I was absorbing from Free To Be You and Me. Truly, this TV show and this record album were polar opposites. Marlo Thomas and her friends created the record album as a direct antedote to shows like The Brady Bunch. And there I was, there we all were, receiving both messages and personally, not noticing.

To this day, I adore both the Bradys and Free to Be. So I have passed them both on to my kids. But sometimes I can’t believe I’m letting my kids be exposed to the Brady Bunch values. This morning, one of the three episodes we viewed was the episode where the three boys have a boys clubhouse, NO GIRLS ALLOWED! The girls are not happy and want to be allowed in the boys’ clubhouse. I can NOT believe the dialogue that ensues when the girls have temporarily taken over the boys’ clubhouse. Greg calls out in utter outrage, “Look Dad! Look what they did! Curtains! And rugs! Girls’ stuff!” Carol interjects, “I think it looks lovely.” Mike retorts, “Honey, it might be lovely for girls but not for a boys’ clubhouse!” Carol pleads with her husband, “I’m sure if the girls had a dollhouse and the boys wanted to play with it, there wouldn’t be a problem.” And here is the shocking reply by Mike Brady on good, wholesome TV viewing of the 70’s, “If my boys wanted to play in anyone’s dollhouse, I’d take them to a psychiatrist!”

OK, I mean, here you have gay Robert Reed starring as Mike Brady, the all- American straight dad making extreme homophobic statements about if his sons were into dollhouses and decorating the clubhouse! I wonder what that must have been like for him! Well, I actually do know, because I read Barry Williams’ book: Growing Up Brady, I was a Teenage Greg. I learned that Robert Reed had a terrible time with the show and was always causing a stink, allegedly because the show wasn’t realistic enough for him. (i.e. the episode where Peter discovers his identical twin). But maybe Robert was really having a hard time because he was so in the closet.

But of course there are good parts about the Bradys or we wouldn’t all be so hooked ( I guess I should just speak for myself and my kids). The shows are so peaceful. There’s no crime, no violence, the kids are relatively kind to one another, they are outside playing, and there are always good life lessons being learned. So much more benign than say Disney with their horrible scary villains!

So I think I have found a way to travel the road of moderation. I view the Brady Bunch episodes with my kids (oh twist my arm). Without fail, we have a lively discussion after each episode about things we noticed. My kids know I want them to notice the gender stereotyping examples so they sniff out all examples like hound dogs… and the examples are limitless. Each scene is rich with gender stereotyping. But the show is so rich with fodder for so many other areas to discuss: we also talk about how all friends mentioned in the show are white, and how they all have mommies and daddies. We talk about how the kids never talk about their biological parents who have died. We notice the food choices the Brady kids make and what they are offered by Alice for meals (almost entirely consisting of red meat, milk, wheat products, and sugar). We observe how they spend their free time without any computers and cell phones around.

When  my kids listen to their Free to Be you and Me CD, I do not need to debrief them post listening. However, interestingly, it was recently brought to my attention at a Gender Spectrum (check them out at www.genderspectrum.org) talk that there is no room on the record album for gender other than male and female. Girls and Boys “can be anything they want to be” but at the same time, “girls can’t be fathers, and boys can’t be mothers”… oh how they didn’t realize the possibilities back then.

Perhaps it’s time for the next round of progressive cutting-edge Free to Be You and Me album to be recorded, it probably already exists. Or perhaps the time is ripe for a TV show about 6 siblings of various degrees of masculinity and femininity with gay parents, one of whom is transgendered, the other who is any ethnicity other than caucasian, who are organic, gluten-free vegans who make all sorts of positive changes in the world!?! Or somethin’ like that! :)

One Response to “The Mixed Messages of My Youth: The Brady Bunch versus Free To Be You And Me”

  1. Arleen Matthews says:

    Wow! This Blog entry is so interesting. I got such a window into the 70’s and how different the times are now. For you, girl of the 70’s, it’s like living in a time warp to be raising little kids with the monumental gender changes around us…especially in our little pocket of LIBERALISM. The family compostions are radically changing now and the kids accept everything in their neighborhood, family-wise, as normal. I hope you post this Blog on your fACEBOOK PAGE or at least remind people to look at the Blog on your Website.

RSS feed for comments on this post. And trackBack URL.

Leave a Reply