Since they managed to occupy themselves for several hours, I didn’t intervene when I heard them move to the computer. As I washed the dishes, however, I did turn one bionic ear their way, expecting that the 15 year old’s internet interests might not jive with my ideas about tween entertainment.
It didn’t take long before I heard a high-pitched chorus of “oooh!” “eeeew,” and “OMG!” coming from around the corner.
Me: “Olivia! What are you looking at?”
Me, drying my hands: “What’s on the computer? Is it appropriate?”
Olivia cuts me off as I round the corner: “It’s appropriate. I promise. You know that guy? He sings that song. You know.”
I’m overwhelmed with information.
Olivia: “You know, that guy. He sings that song where everyone shakes their head in the car. Is it Queen? He’s dressed like a girl!”
Me: “Oh, Freddie Mercury?”
Friend following behind Olivia: “Yes, we promise. It’s appropriate. Just uhh, highly weird.” She rolls her eyes back in her head in an exaggerated way. Everyone nods knowingly.
I peer over their shoulders, and there he is:
Me: “He’s not weird. He’s one of the most amazing vocalists in the history of rock!”
They disperse, mumbling and giggling among themselves. I guess there’s nothing like a nosy mom to suck the fun out of Youtube.
I return to my dishes thinking about, “appropriate” and “highly weird.” I guess I should be glad for Freddie that he made it to “appropriate,” especially considering that MTV (shockingly) banned the video back in 1984.
Still, I can’t help but feel a pang of sadness for the “highly weird” part. The video is funny and entertaining, but it has a point too. “I Want to Break Free,” expresses a pained desire to escape the limits and oppressions of normal, especially those that surround gender roles and sexuality. With arm pit and facial hair hanging out, Freddie doesn't hide his masculinity under women's clothing, rather, he asks us to accept it in a different form. It bums me out that anyone would still call him “weird” after nearly 30 years. Will we ever get used to seeing a man in a skirt?
After the kids go home, I feel obligated to speak up for Freddie. I ask Olivia what she thinks about the video. She thinks it was funny. I agree, but I add that his costumes also challenge us to open our minds about how women and men should act, dress, and love. She asks if he liked wearing women’s clothing. I tell her “probably,” but that he didn’t seem to think we should care either way.
She answers: “I get it. He’s a leader. He’s doing his own thing.” Then she adds, “I like that about people.”
Man, do you think she just tells me stuff like that because she knows I want to hear it? I hope not because such statements makes me sooo happy!
I tell her, “Yeah, me too.”
So thanks Freddie, for putting on a skirt and helping me teach my daughter about the pressures of conformity. You really do have to stay on top of these lessons, I’ve discovered. Otherwise, the status quo will dress up in the innocent guise of a friendly teenager, march through your backdoor without even knocking, and draw arbitrary boundaries around normal while you’re busy washing the dishes.