40 years! Some history and WOW! What a group of concerned Women can do —
So Auntie Marlo drove to Martindale’s bookshop in Beverly Hills and searched the shelves for children’s books with a take on gender a little more suited to the progressive era in which she lived. It was 1971, for goodness sakes. Instead she found a book called I’m Glad I’m a Boy! I’m Glad I’m a Girl! In charming cartoon panels, little boys and girls gave thanks for what made them who they were:
The book, by New Yorker cartoonist Whitney Darrow, Jr., was likely intended as satire, but the satire was so dry it was entirely lost on Auntie Marlo. My god, she thought. This is what she’s going to be reading. This is all there is for her to read. What am I going to do? Then she thought: I’ve got to make something that will obliterate this.
Marlo Thomas, then 34, was taking acting classes with Lee Strasberg in New York and planning her next move. Her TV show, That Girl, had run its course, finishing after five seasons. Thomas’s character, aspiring actress and single girl Anne Marie, had gotten engaged in the final year of the show, but Thomas refused to end the series with a wedding—Thomas was single and proud, and she wanted her character to be as well. She was dating playwright Herb Gardner—she always referred to him in conversation as “Herb-Gardner-my-boyfriend,” spoken as if it was just one word—but was uninterested in getting married.
Thomas’ fruitless Martindale’s shopping trip led her to the idea that her next project ought to be a collection of stories for children that avoided sexual stereotypes and promoted gender equality. She could solicit the stories and record herself reading them. It would be just like the records she and her sister had listened to in their rooms as little girls, but liberated, smarter, modern. She just had to find the stories.
Back in New York, a mutual friend put her in touch with Ursula Nordstrom, the doyenne of children’s publishing who’d edited E.B. White, Maurice Sendak, and Margaret Wise Brown at Harper & Row. Nordstrom sent Thomas out on meetings with a handful of writers. “I told them what I was looking for,” Thomas remembers: “stories that showed boys and girls sharing the world and cooperating together and changing who our role models could be. Breaking down the myths of what girls and boys could do, changing the whole idea of who they could be.” In response, Thomas says, “It was kind of, ‘Roses are red, violets are blue, you can be this, you can do … ’ I thought, This is no good. Kids are too sophisticated; they have rock concerts in their living rooms on television. They weren’t hot enough. They weren’t sassy enough.”