Free To Be You and Me

If you are between the ages of 35 and 45 and grew up in North America, chances are that you know the words to many of the songs written on the 1970s concept album, Free to Be You and Me, by Marlo Thomas and Friends.
I loved this record.  It was one of my first 33s and I played it repeatedly on my little red and white record player (you know, the one with the yellow handle).  The focus of the record was to teach children about neutrality, and highlighting values such as individuality, tolerance, and happiness with one’s identity. The lyrics tried to help kids imagine a time when it wouldn’t matter what sex or race you were. Essentially, it was a message that we are all free to choose whatever path in life brings you happiness.

The Free to Be movement has had a profound impact on the workforce.

Free to Be kids have changed everything.  We’ve broken stereotypes and pursued new career paths.  More important, we have raised our children in an environment that is far more diverse and tolerant than in the past.

So, what’s so different about Free to Be’ers?

There are many differences, but for the purpose of this blog, let me focus on the role of women. We are the generation that immediately followed the sexual revolution.  We were of an impressionable age when most moms did not work and yet some women were burning their bras.  The television was full of a confusing mixed bag of images that included Carol Brady, Shirley Partridge, Mary Richards, Edith Bunker, Anne Marie, Diana Prince (a.k.a Wonder Woman) and Jaime Sommers.  These diverging images of women really got us thinking about what we wanted to do when we grew up and as we have grown up our identity has become increasingly broad.

I believe Free to Be kids are great in strategic human resources roles.

This is a gross over-simplification, but whether the potential barrier is sex, race, faith, disability or whatever other adversity an individual may face, our natural way of addressing the issue is to focus on capability.

The interesting part about writing a blog vs. a research or newspaper article is that there is more potential for telling a personal story.  For some readers, this blog may take you down memory lane.  Read on.

There’s more context for me about being a Free to Be kid.

My mother was a modern woman.  After marrying her childhood sweetheart and living as a traditional 1960s housewife, in the 1970s she found herself divorced, saddled with a mortgage and three kids.  She worked full-time, sometimes working multiple jobs to make ends meet.  Like Shirley Partridge and Mary Richards, she learned to be independent.  To the amazement of the neighborhood, she learned how to replace the storm windows on the 2nd floor by herself, change the oil in her car and unfreeze the pipes underneath the sink in the wintertime.

In the early 1970s, my mother was not necessarily in an enviable position.  I once asked her why she was wasn’t like other moms.  When she asked me what I meant by that I said, “Because you don’t wear your hair in a bun and bake cookies all the time.” With time, Free To Be helped me (and everyone else) to recognize that my mom was OK and, in fact, that she was perfectly normal.

In our day, Free to Be girls had new interests.  For the first time, Six Million Dollar Man dolls were as popular with girls as boys.  In my time, the Ideal Toy Company also released its first girl version of the Evel Knievel stunt bike.  I loved it.  She did great pop-o-wheelies! (Yes, that’s a picture above of my sisters and I at Christmas with my stunt bike.)

More so than in previous generations, Free to Be girls began pursuing more male-dominated professions.

I didn’t originally train to be an HR Professional.  I studied communications at the University of Iowa and planned on working in media for the rest of my life.  It was at a time when women were entering broadcast journalism in droves but most senior jobs were held by men.  I think though at the time that I believed it was only a matter of time before that barrier would be broken.

Recently, Ben Eubanks, UpstartHR, wrote an excellent post, Men in HR, a National Geographic Exclusive.  In it, he interviewed a wide variety of men and identified the challenges they face today.  The funny part for me is that it wasn’t so long ago that HR at the senior levels (where it was no longer personnel) was almost entirely male dominated.  Perhaps the Free to Be girls realized that HR was a good place to tap into our strengths and capabilities.

There may be some readers who will view this blog as feministic.  I hope that isn’t the case.  Sure, there are still many symbols out there that are very distinct for females and males, yet there are many more that have lost their gender identity.  Overall, that’s great, because no matter what your sex, it is about your interests and your capabilities.

You like what you like. You follow your dreams. Let the banjo play. We are all free to be you and me.

About the Author

Bonni Titgemeyer

Bonni Titgemeyer is the Managing Director of The Employers’ Choice Inc. She has been in human resources for 20+ years and works in the international HR arena. She is the recipient of the 2012 Toronto Star HR Professional of the Year Award. You can connect with Bonni on Twitter as @BonniToronto, often at the hashtag #TEPHR.



Oh, I played that record over and over and over, and I’m 33, so it lived on a little longer yet. 🙂 Great post.

Meghan M. Biro

Hello Bonni. I really enjoyed this post. Love the “Free to Be” flashback! How much fun.

I can definitely relate to your view of your mother. I only caught a glimpse of my mother baking cookies on a rare weekend when I was coming of age. My mother was (and still is) very much an independent thinker; she worked hard to nurture her own career identity. I agree – those who draw gender lines are missing out on the connecting and learning that occurs when you remove the gender barrier. Interests and capabilities are what is most valuable in my opinion. Cheers.

Joan Ginsberg

REALLY interesting post, Bonni! I’m not a “Free To Be” kid – too old! What I remember vividly is when Marlo Thomas made a transition on “That Girl” from a young girl dependent on her daddy and her boyfriend to embracing women’s liberation and trying to define herself without traditional contstraints. She made “Free To Be” several years later, but it was too late for me, because I was already taught that I should learn how to type, because women need :something to fall back on”. I envied her message.

Given the studies that show that children are hard-wired by the time they are 5 or so, it’s no wonder that I still retain the fears and traditionalism that was ingrained in me in the early 60’s.

I envy “free to be” and wish I could be one of you . . .

Diane Prince Johnston

LOVE LOVE LOVE Free to Be You and Me! Do you know there is a DVD? Like your mom, I am a divorced mother of 3 and my little girls all know the songs. Thanks for reminding me of the tunes today and making me hum!

Lyn Hoyt

I stepped back to a time looking through my Six Million Dollar Man bionic eye and saw a time when anything was possible. No barriers. I would be judged on my abilities and it did not matter if I was a boy or girl, gay or straight, black or white. I wanted what I said and my actions to make a difference.

Then reality hit as an adult and I was judged. Was it how I dressed? How I entered a conversation? There are so many human nuances that direct perception, from body language to regional speaking accent. That “Free to Be Me” attitude certainly did not automatically assume it was because I am female that I might not be perceived as a leader.

Thanks Bonni for reminding me to channel my bionic eye! We must all see wider and farther. To see that way is way beyond feminism.

Shellie Sturmer

Your story instantly brought me back to my childhood days and the inspiration that my mom provided to me on a daily basis to help shape me into the woman and professional that I am today. Thank you for putting that into the front of my mind again.

Trish McFarlane

Bonni- When I saw this post in the que, I wanted to comment before it even went live! I am a FTBY&M Kid too and I think that was one of the main influencers for me becoming an independent thinker. I distinctly remember seeing the film at school each year. The teacher would have a kid go get the projector (remember those??) and we’d feed the film/ movie into the machine. Then, those memorable notes would spill out the scratchy speakers…”There’s a land that I see, where the children are free….” I also read a great book as a little girl called “Susan In the Driver’s Seat” that talked about how girls can be pilots, race car drivers, and anything else we want to be. Thank goodness for stories like these.

Thanks for reminding us about some of the important influences in our lives!! Great post.

Robin Schooling

Bonni – what a great post and story. I too was a “Free to Be” kid and FTB gave me the freedom to have ‘new’ thoughts, ideas, aspirations and visions of empowerment (even if I couldn’t have necessarily articulated that when I sang along to the songs).

I so enjoyed reading this!

Dorothy Waslynchuk

Really enjoyed reading your blog.I like to think if I was younger that your ideas would be what would change my outlook and I would have gone in a different direction. Definite career changes would have been made in my choices of carrers.


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