Reading tips with a feminist lens

Five feminist essays to change your life


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July 16, 2020 Verity Johnson

Every so often you have those moments in life when you read things that make you laugh, cry, and seriously evaluate your own life choices. For me, those moments have often been while reading essays by some of the literary world’s most powerful female writers. These are the women who somehow manage to reach into your subconscious, pull out something deep and highly relevant and then make you completely reimagine the way you see it. And they have the power to change entire worlds. So in that vein, I’ve put together the top 5 feminist essays I’ve read that have changed my late teens and early 20s, and hopefully they speak to you too…


  1. Maybe You Should Just Be Single, Laurie Penny


The thing about Laurie Penny is that she somehow manages to sum up an experience here that’s so universal, but so under articulated, that you read it and think...oh my god, why have I never realised this before? Her piece on why you should be single doesn’t go along with the usual romp about the perks of facemasks and alone time, rather explains the enormous amount of emotional energy young women pour into often hapless boyfriends. Energy and time that they should be spending on themselves and developing their own selves, lives and careers. She challenges why we tell young women to do this and imagines a world in which you could be free to push the very limits of your own brilliance...if you let yourself. 


  1. The Story of a Fuck Off Fund, Paulette Perhach


This viral sensation of a first-person-all-too-familiar scenario cuts so deeply to the core of the young female experience that women around the world were said to weep while reading it. It’s a cross between the best self help essay you’ll ever read and the most depressingly practical but undeniably life changing advice you could give to young women. And it’s all about the vital, life changing, undeniably crucial need for a financial safety net, she dubs it the Fuck Off Fund. You’ll never get money advice this gut punchingly powerful again...


  1. Men Explain Things To Me, Meghan Daum   


Another brilliant articulation of something that happens to pretty much every young woman but was never really talked about until now...Men Explain Things To Me is the viral sensation that introduced the word mansplaining to our vocabs. Daum puts her finger on that moment that we’ve all had when someone explains our own lives back to us in patronising detail - before she goes on to perfectly puncture the pomposnous of these mansplainers. It’s also a useful, hilarious guide in how to respond when someone tries to pull that on you in your next Monday meeting….


  1. The Diet Industry Got Hold of Me and Will Never Let Me Go, Sarah Miller 


This is both gut wrenchingly tragic and powerfully optimistic at the same time. A combination that will make you cry, and also absurdly grateful for the (albeit somewhat flawed) existence of the Body Positivity movement. Miller explains the pain of a life lived while counting calories, and of how she’s fully aware that she’ll never be fixed or solved by the body positivity movement as she’s simply too far gone to be saved. An honest, powerful look at the world’s horrific obsession with thin people and exactly what that does to us. 


  1. Not Here To Make Friends, Roxane Gay 


I could write pages and pages on the powerhouse of modern feminist critique and thoughtleadership which is Roxane Gay. And before you read this essay, you should download her book Bad Feminist from the Library ebook system and start reading. Her influence on feminist literature hasn’t so much been a contribution more an entire reshaping of the way we think and feel about being a young woman. In this essay, she defends unlikeable female characters in life and in literature. Examining why we have an obsession with likeability in women, and her own fraught relationship with likeability, it’ll make you examine whether you too are always trying to be liked...and if so, why? 

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