Thought-provoking, hilarious, heart-wrenching writing by women was everywhere this year -- despite some suggestions to the contrary. So for the second year in a row we've curated a list of pieces we felt reflected some of the most insightful female voices of the year.
To make the list, a piece had to be published this calendar year and be available online. It had to have inspired debate, conversation and awe, both at our office and on social media. No list can possibly capture all the terrific writing by and about women, but we hope that this one inspires you to take a look (or look again) at some true gems.
I’m Daisy Coleman, The Teenager At The Center Of The Maryville Rape Media Storm, And This Is What Really Happened Daisy Coleman, xoJane When she was 14 years old, Daisy Coleman, a varsity cheerleader from Maryville, Mo., was sexually assaulted by a popular high school football player while she was passed out -- and then tossed in her snowy front yard in freezing temperatures. Despite strong evidence, charges against her assailant were dropped. After months of press coverage, and a Twitter campaign launched by Anonymous (#Justice4Daisy), Coleman spoke out for the first time. “I'm different now, and I can't ever go back to the person I once was,” she wrote. “That one night took it all away from me. I'm nothing more than just human, but I also refuse to be a victim of cruelty any longer. This is why I am saying my name. This is why I am not shutting up.”
In My Head, I'm Always Thin Daphne Merkin, Elle "In admitting to being overweight, I feel like I’m admitting to something truly heinous," writes Merkin, an author who is not exactly shy about opening up -- she's written unflinchingly about her battles with depression and in a famous New Yorker piece revealed her love of S& M. But fat, it turns out, is more taboo. Merkin's brilliant meditation on appetite, invisibility, and the ways we often delude ourselves when we look in the mirror will resonate with any woman who has struggled with body image issues. "I don’t see myself ... with quite the same piercing clarity, the same objectifying gaze as I imagine others do," she writes. "Because it would be too painful and, at its most extreme, lead to my never leaving the house for fear of public scrutiny."
Dig Deep: Beyond Lean In bell hooks, The Feminist Wire Though we generally see Sheryl Sandberg's Lean In as the catalyst for an important conversation about women in the workplace, hooks' critique of Sandberg's white, moneyed, privileged perspective is a must-read for anyone interested in having a larger dialogue about these issues. "Instead of creating a space of female solidarity, Sandberg exists as the lone queen amid millions of admires," she writes. Writers like hooks inspire us to start talking.
What's Wrong With Me? Meghan O'Rourke, The New Yorker This harrowing account of the author's mysterious autoimmune illness is also an exploration of the serious limitations of a health care system that often treats young female patients as the ‘worried well.’”
The Fairy Godmother of Rock Jada Yuan, New York Magazine This masterful profile of the Witchy Woman showed us that Stevie Nicks offstage -- in all of her complicated, neurotic, feminine glory -- is everything we always thought she was and more. Yuan hung out with Nicks for hours (jealous) and captured her singular outlook and charm. This is one of the most entertaining and insightful portraits we read this year. J-school students take note: This is how it's done.
I'm Not Ambitious, And That's OK Elissa Strauss, Salon Strauss reminds us that while it's all well and good to strive for career and financial success, perhaps it's important to strive for sanity as well.
The Opt-Out Generation Wants Back In Judith Warner, The New York Times Magazine In 2003, Lisa Belkin wrote a controversial New York Times Magazine cover story called “The Opt Out Revolution” about a small group of educated and affluent women who were leaving high powered careers to stay home with their children. A decade later, Judith Warner caught up with a different cohort of women who had “opted out” and found that while most didn’t regret having had time with their children, being out of the workforce resulted in financial insecurity, marital discord and great difficulty reestablishing a career.
Women Are Bitches KMA Sullivan, The Rumpus Sullivan writes about the “exhausting” and “relentless” misogyny that exists in the literary circles she travels in “from men who are otherwise kind and educated, who would never think of themselves as chauvinist assholes.” Sullivan suspects that these “reasonably aware and well-intentioned” men harbor sexist attitudes that create room for “unreasonable, ignorant assholes to say and do what most of us (men and women alike) would deem shockingly destructive.” The Barbecue Margaret Wheeler Johnson, HuffPost Weddings Many a bride-to-be has written about the stress and insanity of wedding planning. But Wheeler Johnson's take on the lead-up to her Big Day is among the best we've ever read. Your Friends And Rapists Sarah Nicole Prickett, Medium In this meandering (in the best sense of the word) piece at about the author's rape at age 19, she turns the lens on herself -- but also on the "dick culture" that encourages (and often finds funny) pictures of passed out young women who have been raped. (See: Daisy Coleman, Rehtaaeh Parsons, Steubenville). "I am not interested in what motivates a rapist," Prickett writes. "I am interested in what permits him."
Sunday Sauce, Saving Me Jessica Valenti, The Toast In this beautiful essay, Valenti mediates on food, memory, longing and creating family traditions.
Should You Send A Lady A Dick Pic? A Guide For Men Erin Gloria Ryan, Jezebel In a pitch-perfect send-off to the Anthony Weiners of the world, Ryan cleverly breaks down all of the possible reasons a man would think to send a dick pic -- and then explains why it's almost always a bad idea.
When Your Brown Body is a White Wonderland Tressie McMillan Cottom, tressiemc.com Cottom sets aside discussions about the overt sexiness of Miley Cyrus’ VMAs performance to focus on the less-discussed racial implications of the singer's twerking against a backdrop of curvy, black, female bodies. This essay is not only beautifully-written, but deeply important.
The Perfect Wife Ariel Levy, The New Yorker Edith Windsor, the plaintiff in the Supreme Court case which declared the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) unconstitutional, has become a gay rights icon -- and for good reason. This brilliantly-reported profile about her relationship with her wife Thea Spyer and her dogged fight for marriage equality will inspire even the most hard-hearted of readers.
Shine Theory: Why Powerful Women Make Great Friends Ann Friedman, The Cut In this terrific piece about "that feeling of resentment rather than joy at the personal and professional achievements of another woman," Friedman not only spoke the truth about this very real and toxic aspect of female relationships, she also proposed a simple and wise way to end it: Women should adapt a "I don't shine if you don't shine" attitude. Befriend accomplished women, Friedman says, and you will get much in return: "The associative property of awesomeness" as well as support and inspiration from a tribe of strong women.
My First Year as a Woman Laura Jane Grace, Cosmpolitan "Truth be told though, when it comes to what other people think about me, I say fuck 'em. That's the lesson that I want to impart to my daughter: It doesn't matter what people think of you -- you have to be true to yourself," wrote punk-rocker Grace (formerly known as Tom Gabel), reflecting on the first year of her transition to living as a woman. The rest of the piece is just as bold.
Difficult Women: How 'Sex and the City' lost its good name Emily Nussbaum, The New Yorker Nussbaum traces the glittery show so many love to hate these days (or at the very least, mock, and with some good reason) back to its oft-forgotten, revolutionary beginnings. "It originated the unacknowledged first female anti-hero on television: ladies and gentlemen, Carrie Bradshaw," Nussbaum writes. Closet "Sex and the City" fans, behold your vindication.
I Have a Character Issue Anna Gunn, New York Times After years of playing sociopathic meth-dealer Walter White's wife, Skyler, on TV, Gunn was all-too-familiar with the shocking amount of vitriol some fans directed at her character -- and by proxy, at the actress herself. "Could it be that they can’t stand a woman who won’t suffer silently or 'stand by her man'?," Gunn wondered, calling out all of the men who love to be angry at fictional (and real-life) women. "That they despise her because she won’t back down or give up? Or because she is, in fact, Walter’s equal?"
Michelle Obama, 'feminist nightmare?' How Lazy Journalism Hurts Feminism Roxane Gay, Salon "When can we stop talking about who's a bad feminist?," asks Gay. After reading her piece on the utter ridiculousness of picking apart FLOTUS' feminist and activist credentials, you'll be absolutely sure that time should be now.
You Can Only Hope to Contain Them Amanda Hess, ESPN Hess approaches a very real issue for female athletes -- their breasts -- with respect and substantial reporting. Now this is how you write about women's lives without resorting to stereotypes and lazy generalizations.
Why I F**king Love Teenage Girls Meghan Harper, HuffPost Teen We had never really thought about what, exactly, makes teenage girls so amazingly complicated. Until Harper broke it down for us. The piece starts out slow but keep going and soak in wisdom like this:"Teenage girls find a buoy for themselves in the sea of emotional ruin, and they hold on tighter than anyone else."
My Abortion Meaghan Winter, New York Magazine In their own words, 26 women spoke plainly and powerfully about their varied reasons for choosing to end a pregnancy. Their stories reminded us how often real women get lost in politically motivated debates about abortion.
The Riptide Of Titstare Rachel Sklar, Linked In Rachel Sklar connects the dots between a report about the state of the news business authored by three white men (and based on interviews with 61 people, 54 of whom were white men), the unveiling of an app called Titstare at Tech Crunch Disrupt, and the misogynist tweets of former CTO of Business Insider, Pax Dickinson.
Thanksgiving in Mongolia Ariel Levy, The New Yorker And finally, almost every person we reached out to for suggestions for this list mentioned Levy's stunning essay about the miscarriage she suffered while traveling abroad. Gripping, intimate, wrenching without one superfluous word or false note, this piece will be studied in memoir writing classes for years to come.