Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Yes, Jessica, You CAN Do Anything Good

I'm not usually one to forward or re-post YouTube videos of cute kids doing cute things, of which there are literally hundreds of thousands, but I recently came across one that I just couldn't resist. It's a little girl named Jessica-- I'm guessing around 4 or 5 years old, probably pre-school age-- standing on her bathroom counter and delivering into the mirror, with all of the vim and vigor of kids that age, a rousing and impromptu manifesto on the numerous joys of her little life. I've probably watched this video a dozen times already and I just can't get over it. Sure, little Jessica is absolutely adorable, of course, but she's also enthusiastic, brave, self-assured, uninhibited, confident, even loud, in her enumeration and affirmation of the overwhelming goodness of herself and her world. In other words, she is all of the things that are so regrettably conditioned out of women's personalities as they grow up and, Simone de Beauvoir speculated, learn how to "become" a "woman." When I posted this video on my Facebook page, my good friend (and fellow-blogger) Petya commented: "This makes me a little sad that we live in a world that takes sweet, brave, smart little girls and transforms them into plastic-surgery-wanting, dieting, body-image obsessessed, insecure women." So true. It's unfortunate that feminism too often gets stereotyped as reactive and angry, because the truth is that a good part of what feminism aims to achieve is fundamentally affirmative and liberatory... and this little girl somehow "gets" that already.

But, here, just see for yourself:

I was so taken with Jessica's video that I thought to myself: oh, IF ONLY someone could tell her now to never lose whatever moved her to climb up on that counter and say those things! So, in the spirit of Francis Church's famous 1897 reply to 8-yr-old Virginia O'Hanlon ("Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus"), I offer this Open Letter to Little Jessica:

Little Jessica,

My, how big and strong you look in the mirror! You are right; there are many, many things to like in your life. And you are a very smart little girl to think of so many of them at once! You have really wonderful people in your family-- your mom and dad, your cousins and aunts, your sisters-- and you do indeed have a very pretty haircut. Some of your friends may not have a bedroom and a house and other stuff that they like as much as you do yours, and it's very good of you to be thankful and excited about those things. Always remember that other people probably like your stuff, too, so remember to share it with them whenever you can. I think you will find that you like those things even more when you share them, because sharing is a good thing to do.

As you grow up, some people, maybe even your friends, will tell you that it is sometimes too hard to do good things or right things. If you try to tell them what you told yourself in the mirror-- that you can do anything good, better than anyone-- they may even tell you that you should be quiet and that you shouldn't climb up onto counters and shout like that, because that's not how girls are supposed to act. But those people will be wrong. They won't admit it, but they are sad and lonely and angry people. They might be jealous of your house, or your family, or your pajamas, or your hair, but more than anything else they will be jealous of your spirit, your courage, and your imagination. You see, Jessica, some grown-ups forget that they can do anything good, and so they stop using their imaginations to think up all the good things that they might do. And when grown-ups stop thinking of all the things that they like and the good things that they can do, their spirit gets very sick. It wilts like a flower without sunshine or water, which flowers like as much as you like your whole house, and then it dies. And when a person's spirit and imagination dies, they have nothing else to do except tell little girls like you that you can't do anything good.

Yes, Jessica, you CAN do anything good. Anything at all, better than anyone else. As you get older, keep looking in the mirror every day and reminding yourself that you like what you see. Tell yourself about all of the people you like, and then remember to go and tell those people how much you like them. Be brave and strong and loud and excited about good things. You should always keep imagining NEW good things that you can do, and try to do them better than anyone else. Smart little girls like you can think of good things that nobody else has ever thought of before and, if you try hard enough, little girls like you can make the wilted flowers inside of other people bloom again.


Ideas Man, Ph.D. said...


A colleague of mine (whose daughter is 9 --- mine is 5) calls this group semi-ironically "the princess generation" -- For her, and for me, the term "princess" grates on our ears evoking treacly Disney movies with less than lovely gender messages --- And while these girls do watch those movies, they also make themselves into the active heroines. They put themselves into the central roles, and I think they are encouraged to do that (at least when they're young enough) in a way other generations were not. I really believe they are going to do amazing things.

Emma B. said...

I was *gonna* say, well, if I had hair that great I would think I could do anything good too. Then I read on and dammit, Dr. J, u made me cry!