Have you ever read an excellent piece of writing that has inspired you? Perhaps it brought tears to your eyes, caused you to laugh out loud or made you tingle from head to toe. This article gives five examples of excellent womxn’s empowerment essays that you should read. It then gives some suggestions on how to write your own empowerment essay.
The word womxn is chosen in this article in order to encompass women, as well as transgender, non-binary and queer folk, who choose to identify with womxnkind. There is a live debate in society right now regarding whether inclusion within the category of ‘woman’ is a matter of biological sex, or gender. To put it simplistically, if being a woman relates to sex, this limits the opportunities for those who were not born female to self-identify as a woman. If being a woman is a matter of gender identity, this widens the opportunity for individuals to self-define as a woman, regardless of their appearance, the sex in which they were born, or other characteristics. Several of these womxn empowerment essays engage with this topic by discussing the relationship between sex and gender. Different authors have different opinions regarding what the word woman should mean. The spelling ‘womxn’ is used to be inclusive, whilst acknowledging the belief of many Feminists that it is legitimate to reserve the term ‘women’ for those who meet certain biological criterion.
Five womxn’s empowerment essays that you should read
There is a plethora of wonderful essays on womxn’s empowerment. The following articles span a time period of 1929 to the present day, and include writers from Africa, the United States, Australia, and Europe. Each of these essays speak to different aspects of womxn’s experiences.
We should all be Feminists Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie is a Nigerian author who discovered that she was a Feminist when she was fourteen years old, in an argument with a childhood friend. In this essay, she discusses her experience as a Nigerian woman who views herself as a Feminist. Speaking of society’s tendency to place men in leadership positions, she says ‘if we see the same thing over and over again, it becomes normal.’ She quotes Kenyan Nobel peace laureate Wangari Maathai saying ‘The higher you go, the fewer women there are’ and questions why this is the case. Whilst Ngozi Adichie acknowledges the role of biological differences between men and women, she argues that socialization ‘exaggerates these… and then starts a self-fulfilling process.’ She therefore urges us to look towards ‘[a] world of happier men and happier women who are truer to themselves.’ Ngozi Adichie suggests that in order to improve the position of women in the future, ‘we must raise our daughters differently. We must also raise our sons differently.’
Transgender: A dialogue In this essay, philosophers Sophie-Grace Chappell and Holly Lawford-Smith engage in a discussion regarding the identity of trans women. By entering a meaningful dialogue, they attempt to address some of the divisions that have arisen with the LGBTQI movement regarding how trans people should be identified within discussions of sex, gender, and sexual orientation.
Chappell speaks out against some of the negative stereotypes which have arisen against trans women. For example, she notes tendencies within society to sexualise transwomen and to suggest that transwomen are a sexual threat to other women. These stereotypes are then used to support arguments to exclude trans women from female only spaces such as bathrooms, despite the absence of evidence to suggest that trans women present a real risk to women. Chappell suggests that rather than being a constraint, gender is a script, which individuals can use creatively when presenting themselves to others.
In response, Lawford-Smith describes herself as a gender-critical feminist. She argues that rather than a flexible script, gender is experienced by many women as cage, which oppresses them. She cites examples of domestic violence, child marriage, and forced prostitution. She suggests that the female physiology is intrinsically linked to these disadvantages. Therefore, rather than focusing on the right to define your own gender identity, Lawford-Smith, argues in favor of the abolition of gender.
One of the highlights of this piece is that the two authors discuss how trans women and other feminists can be allies to each other in their movement towards empowerment.
The uses of Anger: Women Responding to Racism Audre Lorde was an African-American Feminist, who spoke about race, gender and sexuality. In this speech, given in 1981, she speaks about the anger that she felt as a black woman responding to racism. She describes this as an anger ‘of exclusion, of unquestioned privilege, of racial distortions, of silence, ill-use, stereotyping, defensiveness, misnaming, betrayal and co-optation.’ Lorde asks society to confront this anger, and not to simply indulge in guilt which she argues is ‘only another form of objectification.’ She expresses the hope that this anger can be used to create a world ‘where all our sisters can grow, where our children can love, and where the power of touching and meeting another woman’s difference and wonder will eventually transcend the need for destruction.’
Why be non-binary? In this essay Robin Debroff, an assistant professor at Yale University, discusses the suffocating nature of male and female identities, which, they suggest ‘weld gender to assigned sex.’ They give the example of an experience of being searched at an airport, and feeling frustrated by the determination of the security official to place them neatly in the category of male or female. Debroff questions society’s insistence upon categorising men and women. Being non-binary, they argue, is an ‘escape hatch’ through which it is possible to transcend gendered expectations.
A Room of One’s Own Virginia Woolf is English writer, who was born in 1882. In this essay, she speaks about the challenges of being a female author. The title of the essay relates to her need to assert her independence, especially her financial freedom, in order to write fiction. Woolf laments the ‘reprehensible poverty of our sex.’ Whilst the world has moved on since her time, women are still more likely to live in poverty than men. In many instances, women still earn less than men for the same work, and struggle to get recognised for their intellectual contributions to society. Woolf deserves a space on this list because, in the era of our great grandparents, she wrote about women’s empowerment issues that still resonate with us today.
Top tips for writing your own womxn’s empowerment essay
- Define your goal: Before you start writing, ask yourself: what change would you like to see in the world? For example: you believe in better protection of the human rights of sex workers. Over the course of your essay, you need to convey to your readers how you think this change could be achieved. Perhaps you believe that sex work should be de-criminalised. What would need to change in society to make this possible? What are the potential barriers to achieving this goal and how can they be overcome?
- Identify the key debates: On social media sites such as Twitter, Facebook, TikTok and LinkedIn, ethical debates rage between academics, authors, celebrities and politicians. Sometimes these discussions miss the point, and lack the nuances and depth of a good essay. However, looking at the dialogues which are taking place on these platforms may help you to identify the pressure points that are inspiring people to join the conversation. In your essay, you should give your perspective on these controversial aspects of your topic.
- Check your facts, tell the story: Statistics are a great way to back your argument. However, bad science is rife on the internet, and even in reputable publications. Statistics are often quoted out of context, and can be misleading. Make sure that you understand the figures that you are using. If a number seems suspicious or ambiguous, check it out before using it. Remember that one incorrect fact could discredit your entire argument. Some researchers believe facts and statistics aren’t an effective way to convince people. Instead they suggest to use stories to help people empathize and relate.
- Acknowledge your influences: Have you ever got up in the pouring rain to go and stand at a protest? What, or who inspired you to do that? Perhaps it was reading Michelle Obama’s autobiography, or discovering that Greta Thunberg donated her award money to climate activists. Maybe it was hearing of the personal experiences of a friend. Tell your readers about who drew you to speak about your topic. Where you use the ideas of other people, make sure that you credit them by referencing their works correctly. By doing so, you can contribute to the debate, whilst acknowledging those who came before you.
- Ask questions of your readers: We have all caught ourselves scrolling aimlessly on our smart phones. You realise you have lost several minutes of your life doing so, with no recollection of the information that you have absorbed during that time. Don’t let your readers have this experience when reading your essay! Keep their attention by asking them to ask difficult questions of themselves. The best writers encourage us to examine our own biases and fallibilities, whilst also motivating us to be better, and convincing us not to lose hope. Read the first and last line of your favourite empowerment essay, and think about why they are fantastic and thought-provoking. Then use similar rhetorical devices to go out and inspire others.