A Letter to My Little Cousin
In the past year a lot has changed in the world that we live in, and all of these changes–many scary–have inspired me to try my hardest to tell you the truth about the reality that girls once lived in, and the reality we live in today. As your big cousin, I want you to be prepared to see society beyond face-value, to challenge your peers and superiors with the force of a lioness, and to always remember that “the truth will set you free, but first it will piss you off.” So, I’m going to tell you Gloria Steinem’s truth, because, as you know, I’m her biggest fan. And soon you will be too.
"A feminist is anyone who recognizes the equality and full humanity of women and men."
Gloria Steinem is recognized as one of the foremothers of the Women’s Liberation Movement, which emerged in the late 1960’s in response to political, social, and economic inequality between men and women. Gloria is a writer, speaker, political activist, and intersectional feminist visionary who advocated for the abolishment of sex and racial caste systems, for women’s reproductive rights, and for peaceful conflict resolution. She is unapologetically feminist, even in the face of the dark stigma that still haunts the movement today.
Izzy, this woman fought for your right to be equal to boys. Imagine being told that you can’t play football just because you’re a girl. Gloria fought to make sure that you can kick butt on the field.
"For women...bras, panties, bathing suits, and other stereotypical gear are visual reminders of a commercial, idealized feminine image that our real and diverse female bodies can't possibly fit. Without these visual references, each individual woman's body demands to be accepted on its own terms. We stop being comparatives. We begin to be unique."
You’re beautiful no matter what anybody tells you, and no matter what you see or hear, your body is perfect the way it is. If you choose to, your body can produce, support, and sustain another human life; that’s pretty remarkable! You don’t need to impress anybody but yourself, kid. You don’t need to change for anybody. If you’re happy with how you look and who you are, then everybody else can talk to the hand.
"We are still identified by our looks instead of our hearts or heads. That's why it's so much better to break the rules.”
You’re beautiful, but never forget how smart you are, and what you’re capable of. Gloria is a brilliant writer who has inspired millions of people with her words. You can do that too. You can teach people through your writing. Gloria demonstrates that words matter, and that they can significantly impact people’s opinions, and lead to real change. Always remember the power that your words can hold.
“Far too many people are looking for the right person instead of trying to be the right person.”
When you witness injustice, speak up and speak out. Part of what makes Gloria so dignified is that she speaks out against what’s wrong in the world, and fights for what’s right. There are so many times in my own short life that I look back on and wish that I had stepped in and said something. Iz, I’m telling you now. If you see something that’s wrong, and it’s safe for you to intervene, do it. Don’t be a bystander.
“Once we give up searching for approval we often find it easier to earn respect.”
You don’t need permission from anyone else to do what you want to do. If you don’t want to be a feminist I’ll be sad, but you don’t need my permission. If you want to wear shorts to school, wear those shorts to school! If you want to love yourself, then love yourself unapologetically and yell it from the rooftops! Don’t let society place unnecessary pressures on you. Command respect from those around you by doing what feels right, and doing it shamelessly. Don’t let the haters get you down!
“Wherever there is antisemitism, I identify as a Jew.”
It’s a harsh world out there kiddo, but as I said earlier, in times of injustice it’s never wrong to stick up for what you believe in. I hope you find the meaning and joy that I’ve found in Judaism, but more than anything I hope that you’ll always be proud of your Jewish heritage. You’re a lucky girl, Iz. You’re tied to many different communities–you have a Jewish Canadian/American mother, and a Christian, Irish/Native American father. As you get older you may identify with some of these groups more strongly than others, but I encourage you to learn as much as you can about these groups because they are part of what makes you so uniquely you!
Izzy, as your big cousin, I want you to know that in whatever you do, I’ll stand by you. I’ll be there to do a happy dance with you in good moments, and I’ll be a shoulder to cry on during the bad; but I’m not going to sugar coat the world for you. There is a lot in this world that is unfair and that will make you unhappy, but I hope that in those moments you will remember this letter and Gloria’s words, but here are a few of my own words as well: Always do your research, always be prepared, and don’t forget that you come from a family of strong women and strong men who support strong women, so never hesitate to ask for help–we have your back.
From your big cousin,
This piece was written as part of JWA’s Rising Voices Fellowship.
How to cite this page
Mair, Emma. "A Letter to My Little Cousin." 28 November 2017. Jewish Women's Archive. (Viewed on September 20, 2019) <https://jwa.org/blog/risingvoices/letter-to-my-little-cousin>.