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5 Essays About Feminism

On the surface, the definition of feminism is simple. It’s the belief that women should be politically, socially, and economically equal to men. Over the years, the movement expanded from a focus on voting rights to worker rights, reproductive rights, gender roles, and beyond. Modern feminism is moving to a more inclusive and intersectional place. Here are five essays about feminism that tackle topics like trans activism, progress, and privilege:

“Trickle-Down Feminism” – Sarah Jaffe

Feminists celebrate successful women who have seemingly smashed through the glass ceiling, but the reality is that most women are still under it. Even in fast-growing fields where women dominate (retail sales, food service, etc), women make less money than men. In this essay from Dissent Magazine, author Sarah Jaffe argues that when the fastest-growing fields are low-wage, it isn’t a victory for women. At the same time, it does present an opportunity to change the way we value service work. It isn’t enough to focus only on “equal pay for equal work” as that argument mostly focuses on jobs where someone can negotiate their salary. This essay explores how feminism can’t succeed if only the concerns of the wealthiest, most privileged women are prioritized.

Sarah Jaffe writes about organizing, social movements, and the economy with publications like Dissent, the Nation, Jacobin, and others. She is the former labor editor at Alternet.

“What No One Else Will Tell You About Feminism” – Lindy West

Written in Lindy West’s distinct voice, this essay provides a clear, condensed history of feminism’s different “waves.” The first wave focused on the right to vote, which established women as equal citizens. In the second wave, after WWII, women began taking on issues that couldn’t be legally-challenged, like gender roles. As the third wave began, the scope of feminism began to encompass others besides middle-class white women. Women should be allowed to define their womanhood for themselves. West also points out that “waves” may not even exist since history is a continuum. She concludes the essay by declaring if you believe all people are equal, you are a feminist.

Jezebel reprinted this essay with permission from How To Be A Person, The Stranger’s Guide to College by Lindy West, Dan Savage, Christopher Frizelle, and Bethany Jean Clement. Lindy West is an activist, comedian, and writer who focuses on topics like feminism, pop culture, and fat acceptance.

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“Toward a Trans* Feminism” – Jack Halberstam

The history of transactivsm and feminism is messy. This essay begins with the author’s personal experience with gender and terms like trans*, which Halberstam prefers. The asterisk serves to “open the meaning,” allowing people to choose their categorization as they see fit. The main body of the essay focuses on the less-known history of feminists and trans* folks. He references essays from the 1970s and other literature that help paint a more complete picture. In current times, the tension between radical feminism and trans* feminism remains, but changes that are good for trans* women are good for everyone.

This essay was adapted from Trans*: A Quick and Quirky Account of Gender Variability by Jack Halberstam. Halberstam is the Professor of American Studies and Ethnicity, Gender Studies and Comparative Literature at the University of Southern California. He is also the author of several books.

“Rebecca Solnit: How Change Happens” – Rebecca Solnit

The world is changing. Rebecca Solnit describes this transformation as an assembly of ideas, visions, values, essays, books, protests, and more. It has many layers involving race, class, gender, power, climate, justice, etc, as well as many voices. This has led to more clarity about injustice. Solnit describes watching the transformation and how progress and “wokeness” are part of a historical process. Progress is hard work. Not exclusively about feminism, this essay takes a more intersectional look at how progress as a whole occurs.

“How Change Happens” was adapted from the introduction to Whose Story Is it? Rebecca Solnit is a writer, activist, and historian. She’s the author of over 20 books on art, politics, feminism, and more.

“Bad Feminist” extract – Roxane Gay

People are complicated and imperfect. In this excerpt from her book Bad Feminist: Essays, Roxane Gay explores her contradictions. The opening sentence is, “I am failing as a woman.” She goes on to describe how she wants to be independent, but also to be taken care of. She wants to be strong and in charge, but she also wants to surrender sometimes. For a long time, she denied that she was human and flawed. However, the work it took to deny her humanness is harder than accepting who she is. While Gay might be a “bad feminist,” she is also deeply committed to issues that are important to feminism. This is a must-read essay for any feminists who worry that they aren’t perfect.

Roxane Gay is a professor, speaker, editor, writer, and social commentator. She is the author of Bad Feminist, a New York Times bestseller, Hunger (a memoir), and works of fiction.

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About the author

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Emmaline Soken-Huberty

Emmaline Soken-Huberty is a freelance writer based in Portland, Oregon. She started to become interested in human rights while attending college, eventually getting a concentration in human rights and humanitarianism. LGBTQ+ rights, women’s rights, and climate change are of special concern to her. In her spare time, she can be found reading or enjoying Oregon’s natural beauty with her husband and dog.