There is an obvious resurgence of the Free Spirit, and it hasn’t gone unnoticed.
It has been popularized recently in song by current pop stars, given the nod by the fashion industry which appreciates the opportunity to expand a loyal niche market, and alternately frowned upon or applauded for being defiant to the pervasive Political Correctness that has everyone gasping for independence.
Today’s Free Spirit is much more sophisticated than in earlier generations, and is just as likely to be wearing a risqué LBD and flirting shamelessly with you at a charity event as might be seen driving a vintage muscle car wearing very little more than a smile. Today’s Free Spirit generally buys strictly generic veggies, but easily shifts gears to quaff down truffle pate. And it is likely the majority of “entrepreneurs” are dually Free Spirits as well, totally immersed in their myopic rebellious anti-establishment beliefs and motivated by some indescribable vision to buck the system and succeed at all costs. Typically (and “officially”) single and uber-confident, today’s Free Spirit is never lacking a romantic ‘Flingster,’ and is unconcerned with the opinion of others with regard to social or moral impropriety being in a class by themselves.
That’s not to say today’s Free Spirit is revels in un-accountability – far from it: the Free Spirit is entirely accountable to a very detailed, incredibly sophisticated set of ideals, beliefs, and values that they hold higher than those of anyone else’s, making them by definition beyond reproach except by equally intelligent challenge (which is in actuality the ultimate definition of personal freedom). Some would say this is akin to a ‘Superiority Complex’ and although it may be so, it is simply a personal construct similar to an individual with religious beliefs that cannot be swayed by unsolicited conversation by passersby.
Back in the day, it was common to spy the Free Spirit as the one that hitch-hiked everywhere, or the one that resisted going to college only to wander Europe instead. Or, the one that everyone visited to pick up some really good pot that was being grown in the backyard along with a variety of vegetables and weird landscaping that supposedly was good for the Earth as was the compost pile in the corner. Then again, it was the Free Spirit that inspired many of us to write songs to clumsily play on our guitars (didn’t everyone have a guitar in the 70’s?), and was the one that looked as if Tie-Dye was invented specifically for them. It was also the Free Spirit most guys tried to get closer to, as if we had a chance to benefit from the abundant free sex. We also noticed how the Free Spirit woman somehow threatened the other women with their unbridled laugh, their fresh outlook, their confidence and creativity, and even their freedom from social role expectations. The male Free Spirit was often seen as a Leader of sorts, as unlike the Hippie, they touted independence, free thought, deep music, and a special type of organized social anarchy (is there such a thing?). Heady stuff. The legendary Free Spirit defied description, and certainly made us all take a closer look at ourselves, where we were headed, what we believed and why …
Today’s Free Spirit remains obvious in society, and often is emulated by youth to the point of exaggeration. Unfortunately, such emulation speaks to the unthinking and ill-prepared nature of personal character of today’s average youth, as they seem to be able to emulate only one aspect of the Free Spirit as if that in itself is enough to score kinship. Focusing on a defiant attitude, for instance, does little to express the well-thought social choice to be singularly empowered with a cogent reasoning to preserve pronounced personal freedom and independence that the Free Spirit is keen to explain to anyone that will listen. Also, being ignorantly promiscuous does nothing to equate with the consciously rebellious mindset of the Free Spirit as they seek to satisfy unspoken passions. Simply put, today’s Free Spirit is much more intelligent and empowered than generations past, and when compared to today’s average youth, a social role model of singular choice far out of reach to but a fortunate few. So sad!
It seems that women in particular embody the Free Spirit definition more often than do men, but historically that is how it has always been. Rather than simply an update to the 1969 Summer Of Love or a re-writing of the Hippie Handbook, today’s Free Spirit is much more complicated with their eclectic interests, social savvy, anti-establishment views, technological acumen, and preference for an abundance of Free Love. There is that, for sure (and lots of it), but today’s Free Spirit is truly a New Breed from their 60’s and 70’s counterparts, and actually represent a yet-to-be-defined Culture that has evolved from a myriad of influences upon Society in the last 40 years combined with the eruption of technology that has re-defined both personal expression and social definition.
Where did this explosive resurgence come from? Is it simply a sign of overall moral decay and linked to the popularity of the seeming acceptance of a “hook-up” mentality, or is it something much more powerful and enduring, only going through a metamorphosis of some type? I asked myself these questions and more, so I decided to make note of my search for answers.
First, however, I thought it well to review the definitions between the movements, to give rise to a more cogent discussion of the New Free Spirit within a relevant context:
Free Spirit (noun) is a person with a highly individual or unique attitude, lifestyle, or imagination; nonconformist.
Bohemianism is the practice of an unconventional lifestyle, often in the company of like-minded people, with few permanent ties, involving musical, artistic, or literary pursuits. In this context, Bohemians may be wanderers, adventurers, or vagabonds. This use of the word bohemian first appeared in the English language in the nineteenth century to describe the non-traditional lifestyles of marginalized and impoverished artists, writers, journalists, musicians, and actors in major European cities. Bohemians were associated with unorthodox or anti-establishment political or social viewpoints, which often were expressed through free love, frugality, and—in some cases—voluntary poverty.
Free Love is a social movement that rejects marriage, which is seen as a form of social and financial bondage. The Free Love movement’s initial goal was to separate the state from sexual matters such as marriage, birth control, and adultery. It claimed that such issues were the concern of the people involved, and no one else.
When one thinks of a Free Spirit, most often one is reminded of the Bohemian-like individual that is socially marginal and lives unrestrained following their passion, including affirmative casual sex. This sexual aspect has captured the majority of our imagination throughout generations, and is both lauded and decried for various reasons, mostly based on what moral values are being promoted.
There has been a lot of research, studies, musings, and opinion voiced on each single aspect of the Free Spirit (and Free Love) lifestyle, but it seems no one has asked the larger question, or suggested the possibility of a larger, more inclusive answer to it all. I have come across only one person that wanted to take a closer look at a phenomenon that has been whispered about for the last 10 years, and rightly asks if our recent social pre-occupation with “hookups” is really a result of a singular “Culture” or if it is nothing more than a tamer classification of an age-old social aspect.
Whether it was a business trip one-night stand or a “bisexual bonobo” birthday party, Zhana Vrangalova wants to know all about your latest hookup. The sex researcher and NYU instructor is behind The Casual Sex Project, a recently-launched website that asks people to anonymously submit their hookup stories. Vrangalova hopes that sharing these stories will help to demystify casual sexual encounters.
According to Vrangalova, most media coverage of hookup culture focuses on college students, providing a skewed view of who is doing what, when in their lives they are doing it, and whether these casual sex experiences are harmful.
There is so much talk about the hookup culture these days, about hooking up completely replacing dating on college campuses and young people in general, about casual sex invading the sexual space and disrupting time honored traditions and norms. But most [people] rarely get to hear about specific casual sex experiences other than those of their closest friends, and thus have a very limited idea of what that may entail. So I thought it would be useful for people to have a place to share their stories of hookups, in a sort of structured and organized way, and to read about other people’s experiences in this way.
Some research has suggested that casual sex is “bad” for women — hooking up is linked to anxiety and depression, and “promiscuous” women are judged more harshly by their peers. According to Vrangalova, The Casual Sex Project does not seek to invalidate the experiences of people for whom this is true, but instead allows people a platform to discuss their own encounters regardless of how they felt about them in the end.
People interested in submitting their story fill out a questionnaire that asks about the sexual experience, activities involved, consent, contraceptive precautions, the best and worst thing about the hookup, and whether it was a positive or negative experience overall. ” On The Casual Sex Project so far, most people have shared hookup stories they don’t regret at all,” Vrangalova said in a May 22 interview.
Vrangalova hopes that the project will help educate people about the reality of the “hookup culture” — namely, that casual sex experiences are incredibly variable, and not intrinsically bad for the people involved.
“Hookups are so often presented as black or white, good or bad, but it isn’t this homogenous thing. There is such a plethora of activities, feelings, hopes and expectations, partner configurations and behaviors, outcomes, circumstances… I hope this project will help people see these nuances.”
Her final statistics are due to be released soon, but still … she comes close to the real Big Picture of the Free Spirit, but never quite addresses it fully. I wonder why, and if it is because it is part of something much bigger. I personally think that by exploring the New Free Spirit there will be some very base emotions exposed and morals challenged, despite the care to remain objective. It’s as if just suggesting such a discussion is sure to earn revilement or social rejection.
But where to start? For me, it is easiest (not necessarily the best) to start with how Free Spirit equates to so many with Free Love, and whether or not this modernized version of an independent woman strong of character willing to follow passion unbridled and amazingly enabled with sharp perspective, wide education, and technological skills that would amaze women only two generations back is somehow a social aberration or simply a minority member of a larger cultural segment. Thus, I will look to common roots and particular differences.
First, the Free Love and Free Spirit lifestyle (movements) as an expression of Feminism and Freedom.
RELATIONSHIP TO FEMINISM
The history of Free Love is entwined with the history of feminism. From the late 18th century, leading feminists, such as Mary Wollstonecraft, have challenged the institution of marriage, and many have advocated its abolition.
According to feminist stereotype, and to some extent in actuality, a married woman was solely a wife and mother, denying her the opportunity to pursue other occupations; sometimes this was legislated, as with bans on married women and mothers in the teaching profession. In 1855, free love advocate Mary Gove Nichols (1810–1884) described marriage as the “annihilation of woman,” explaining that women were considered to be men’s property in law and public sentiment, making it possible for tyrannical men to deprive their wives of all freedom. For example, the law sometimes allowed a husband to physically discipline his wife. Free-love advocates argued that many children are born into unloving marriages out of compulsion, but should instead be the result of choice and affection—yet children born out of wedlock did not have the same rights as children with married parents.
Although the free love movement largely concerned women, the chief organizers have been mostly men. This helped foster a male ideology, and proved to women that some men were just as serious as they were about this issue. Although men were the main contributors to the organized and written part of the free love movement, the movement itself was still associated with loud and flashy women. There were two reasons that free love was more agreeable to men. The first reason was that women lost more than men did, if marriage were to become “undermined.” The second reason was that free love “rested on the faith in individualism,” a quality that most women were afraid of or unable to accept. Free Love thus became forever equated with ‘free sex’ and the devious distraction of a clouded ideal of woman’s sexual identity.
In 1857, Minerva Putnam complained that, “in the discussion of free love, no woman has attempted to give her views on the subject.” There were six books during this time that endorsed the concept of free love. Of the four major free love periodicals following the civil war, only two of them had female editors. Mary Gove Nichols was the leading female advocate, and the woman who most people looked up to, for the free love movement. She wrote her autobiography, which became the first case against marriage written from a woman’s point of view.
To proponents of free love, sex was not just about reproduction. Access to birth control was considered a means to women’s independence, and leading birth-control activists also embraced free love. Sex radicals remained focused on their attempts to uphold a woman’s right to control her body and to freely discuss issues such as contraception, marital sex abuse (emotional and physical), and sexual education. These people believed that by talking about female sexuality, they would help empower women. To help achieve this goal, sex radicals relied on the written word, books, pamphlets, and periodicals. This method helped these people sustain this movement for over 50 years, and helped spread their message all over the United States.
In recent years, women have created works of art to help keep the free love movement alive, often in ways that even the artist does not realize. Sara Bareilles’ songs, “Fairytale” and “Love Song” are modern examples of how women are participating in the Free Love movement, although artists such as Bareilles do not write their songs specifically for the Free Love movement: they write songs that are socially relevant and that sell. And, these modern promotions of Free love are more about the woman’s right to control her own body (including freedom to have casual sex) than they are anti-marriage or protests of domestic abuse.
The famous feminist Gloria Steinem at one point stated, “you became a semi-nonperson when you got married.” She also famously coined the expression ‘A woman needs a man like a fish needs a bicycle.’ Steinem dismissed marriage in 1987 as not having a ‘good name.’ Steinem got married in 2000, stating that the symbols that feminists once “rebelled against” now are freely chosen, or society had changed. Really? Seriously? There has been no obvious “change” to justify her abstraction, although the “phenomenon” prevails. Such a flip-flop on issues as important as Steinem presented to the global consciousness is far too dramatic to go unnoticed (her era-peers have yet to publicly comment on what many whisper as “betrayal in the largest order”) …
THE FREE SPIRIT AS CHAMPION OF FREEDOM
[END OF PART I — Pending Update of PART II]