Women and girls are the most disenfranchised group in the world. Even in places where huge strides have been made, gaps in equality remain. Women’s rights are important within the realm of human rights. Here are five essays exploring the scope of women’s rights, which you can download or read for free online:
Mother of Mary Shelley, who wrote the novel Frankenstein, Mary Wollstonecraft is a juggernaut of history in her own right, though for a different reason. Self-educated, Wollstonecraft dedicated her life to women’s education and feminism. Her 1792 essay A Vindication on the Rights of Woman represents one of the earliest writings on women’s equality. In the Western world, many consider its arguments the foundation of the modern women’s rights movement. In the essay, Wollstonecraft writes that men are not more reasonable or rational than women, and that women must be educated with the same care, so they can contribute to society. If women were left out of the intellectual arena, the progress of society would stop. While most of us believe the idea that women are inherently inferior to men is very outdated, it’s still an accepted viewpoint in many places and in many minds. Wollstonecraft’s Vindication is still relevant.
Poet and activist Audre Lorde defied the boundaries of traditional feminism and cried out against its racist tendencies. While today debates about intersectional feminism (feminism that takes into account race, sexuality, etc) are common, Audre Lorde wrote her essay on women’s rights and racism back in 1984. In “The Master’s Tools Will Never Dismantle the Master’s House,” Lorde explains how ignoring differences between women – whether its race, class, or sexuality – halts any real change. By pretending the suffering of women is “all the same,” and not defined by differences, white women actually contribute to oppression. Lorde’s essay drew anger from the white feminist community. It’s a debate that feels very current and familiar.
Laura Bates founded the Everyday Sexism Project website back in 2012. It documents examples of everyday sexism of every degree and has become very influential. In her essay from 2018, Bates takes reader comments into consideration over the essay’s three parts. This unique format allows the essay to encompass multiple views, just not Bates’, and takes into consideration a variety of experiences people have with skeptics of feminism. Why even debate skeptics? Doesn’t that fuel the trolls? In some cases, yes, but skeptics of feminism aren’t trolls, they are numerous, and make up every part of society, including leadership. Learning how to talk to people who don’t agree with you is incredibly important.
Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie is one of the most influential voices in women’s rights writing. Her book, We Should All Be Feminists, is a great exploration of 21st-century feminism. In this essay from Elle, Adichie takes a seemingly “small” topic about fashion and makes a big statement about independence and a woman’s right to wear whatever she wants. There is still a lot of debate about what a feminist should look like, if wearing makeup contributes to oppression, and so on. “Why Can’t A Smart Woman Love Fashion?” is a moving, personal look at these sorts of questions.
There are countless essays on the Me Too Movement, and most of them are great reads. In this one from The Guardian, Moira Donegan highlights two specific men and the publications that chose to give them a platform after accusations of sexual misconduct. It reveals just how pervasive the problem is in every arena, including among the cultural, intellectual elite, and what detractors of Me Too are saying.