If eyes are a window into the soul, writing is a window into an author's mind. And very often, that mind is dizzyingly interesting and contains insights about our world that we didn't quite know how to articulate on our own.
In a media landscape filled with tweets and "hot takes," it's easy to forget how many beautiful, impactful words are published on the Internet each and every year. So, for the fourth time, we've curated a list of pieces that stood out to us over the last calendar year. To make the list, an article had to be (1) published in 2015, (2) written by a woman and (3) be available online.
This list is by no means exhaustive, but each piece included hits at something special, and, in our opinions, important. In a world where women are still derided for writing about their personal experiences and taking selfies, where we are still fighting for basic reproductive rights and we still haven't had a female president, elevating women's voices has never felt more crucial.
Below are 28 pieces that every woman (and man) should read:
Rebecca Traister, Elle
For many progressive women, Hillary Clinton is both a deeply important and deeply fraught political figure. No one has managed to capture this reality quite like Traister. Her gorgeous piece in Elle outlines the the emotional turmoil Clinton's (second) presidential run brings up and the burden of representation that often falls onto "firsts" in any field. As she writes: "[Hillary Clinton] is the screen upon which all of America's very long-standing, very complicated, fairly unattractive feelings about women will be projected for the next 13 months." Oof.
* * *
Anna Koppelman, MTV News
There is a tendency in our society to both fetishize youth and mock it. But what's most heartbreakingly lost when adults argue about "kids these days" is the voices of those actual kids. Koppelman's stirring essay on first love reminds anyone reading just how real and valid and affecting formative relationships can be. We should all be so lucky to feel like we're "throwing up glitter" over the course of our lives.
* * *
Mallika Rao, HuffPost Arts & Culture
Rao, the daughter of Indian parents, went to Pakistan on a mission to see, touch and love. Just as the personal is political, diplomacy is oh-so-personal.
* * *
Alexandra Petri, The Washington Post
Women spend our lives negotiating how we move about and communicate in the world to come off in a way that doesn't upset or threaten the people (read: men) around us. This is especially potent in the workplace. As Petri puts it, "You start with your thought, then you figure out how to say it as though you were offering a groveling apology for an unspecified error." And thus, that is how “I will be heard" becomes “Sorry to interrupt. No, go on, Dave. Finish what you had to say.”
* * *
Alana Massey, Matter
Massey decided to wage a verbal war on the pressure to appear "chill" -- "a garbage virtue that will destroy the species" -- specifically in the context of dating and sex. As she writes, "Chill asks us to remove the language of courtship and desire lest we appear invested somehow in other human beings." "Chill" is essentially complete and utter bullshit, and we are eternally grateful to Massey for calling that out.
* * *
Jennifer Lawrence, Lenny
Jennifer Lawrence is one of the most privileged people on the planet. She is fabulously famous and wealthy and publicly adored -- yet the bullshit sexism she has to contend with is familiar to women in any profession. Her essay about being paid less than her male co-stars -- and avoiding being seen as too "aggressive" during negotiations -- is affecting, funny and newsworthy. We can all look forward to a day when we don't need an Oscar winner to speak up to get people to pay attention to workplace sexism.
* * *
Josie Duffy, Gawker
In a year where mass, public gun violence dominated headlines, Duffy's piece gets to an issue that's at the very core of much of it: masculinity. "Forget terrorism or video games or gangs. Its the bruised ego that’s responsible for a lot of the violence we see," she wrote. We need gun control -- and now. But we also need to examine the ways in which we raise men who see guns as their only way out of hurt and rejection.
* * *
Jessica Roy, New York Magazine
"Maybe the secret to breaking the glass ceiling is to shatter it with our vocal fry and leave the shards glittering like diamonds in our blowouts," writes Roy. This piece is one giant, refreshing f-you to the people who would write women off for their conventional femininity.
* * *
Lori Fradkin, Cosmopolitan
It's one of those questions that nearly every expectant mother gets, but few expectant fathers ever do. Fradkin gets to the heart of why the double standard is so problematic: "After all, what's the point of encouraging little girls to work hard in school, get good grades, apply for college, and secure a job after graduation if we then turn around and say to them, essentially, 'So, are you still planning to use all that?'"
* * *
Doreen St. Felix, Pitchfork
St. Felix argues that Rihanna's overt embrace of cash is far more subversive than many give her credit for. "Black girls with money are financially independent and visually, confrontationally untethered to men or to goods," St. Felix writes. Rihanna's "Bitch Better Have My Money" video is the apex of this "material liberation." Rihanna is a musical genius. And as St. Felix writes: "To be a black woman and genius, is to be perpetually owed."
* * *
Irin Carmon, New York Times
Wondering why Ruth Bader Ginsburg has become the Notorious R.B.G., why "young women have tattooed themselves and painted their nails with the justice’s face"? Carmon's profile of the 82-year-old Supreme Court justice paints a picture of a woman who is both pragmatic and radical. Women looking to get shit done should look to RBG.
* * *
Lena Dunham, The New Yorker
"My desire for a wedding predated my ability to imagine any other kind of positive attention for myself, any other moment of triumph in my life," writes Dunham, reflecting on how marriage equality made her think more pointedly about the institution as a whole. "What I was waiting for was not the chance to marry but the chance to think about marriage on an even playing field, in a world where its relevance is a little harder to question and its essence a little harder to reject."
* * *
Noreen Malone & Amanda Demme, New York Magazine
In the most comprehensive profile of Cosby's accusers to date, 35 women of different ages and backgrounds agreed to share the traumatic stories they'd kept silent about for years. The piece also includes a moving portrait series of all of the women and an empty chair for victims of sexual assault who have yet to speak up. It is tragic that it took decades and 50+ women coming forward for us to start listening to them, but thank goodness we are hearing their accounts now.
* * *
Margaret Wheeler Johnson, Bustle
Wheeler Johnson's reaction to SCOTUS' marriage equality ruling is the best we've seen, both deeply personal and wholly universal. We dare you not to get chills while reading this paragraph: "It turns out that I am a deviant, too. I am such a deviant that we have a baby girl. And today, as the Supreme Court rules that every American is entitled to marry whomever she or he chooses, the streets will fill with deviants celebrating not only their right to participate in the most conventional of institutions but their right to live beyond stigma and shame."
* * *
Rebecca Carroll, The Guardian
"The idea that white women’s bodies represent that which is inviolable while black women’s are disposable hasn’t changed enough since it was first articulated by white men," writes Carroll. The danger of this underlying societal belief has never been clearer than in the wake of death and destruction wrought by Charleston shooter Dylann Roof. Read Carroll's essay. Take in its message. Remember to #SayHerName.
* * *
Glynnis MacNicol, New York Magazine
It's 2015 and there are still very few narratives out there about single women past the age of 30 who are totally god damn happy with their lives. MacNicol offers one and it's insanely refreshing. She reminds us that being single and 41 can be exhilarating and fun and challenging and lonely and sexy and all the other emotions that make up a human life. "No matter how often we imagine marriage as the solution to women's problems," writes MacNicol, "it is simply another way of living."
* * *
Lindy West, The Guardian
Women are constantly told to be smaller, to take up less space, to compress themselves and their desires in order achieve "true" happiness. Well... Fuck. That. "I have never in my life been fatter than I was on my wedding day, I have never shown my body in such an uncompromising way, and I have never felt more at home in that body," writes West. "I was fully myself, and I was happy. We are happy. This life is yours, fat girls. Eat it up." Amen.
* * *
Claire Vaye Watkins, Tin House
Thanks to Watkins must-read essay on patriarchy in the writing world (and beyond), we've found our new mantra: "Let us burn this motherfucking system to the ground and build something better."
* * *
Clemantine Wamariya and Elizabeth Weil, Matter
"Look, you have this one life," says Wamariya, describing what she tells people when they ask her for her advice on easing human suffering. "If you keep being selfish and unkind, it’s going to come back to you. Ask yourself why you’re scared, why you hate." At a time when panic about Syrian refugees has reached an all-time high in this country, Wamariya's stunning, terrifying account of fleeing the Rwandan genocide feels all the more potent, a reminder to embrace compassion and love in the face of fear and hatred.
* * *
Roxane Gay, GOOD
Most women can relate to that moment when you look at yourself in the mirror and are absolutely convinced that you have nothing to wear that could make you look -- and feel -- good. "Sometimes, I decide on an outfit and leave my bedroom," writes Gay. "In a matter of moments, it begins to feel like these unfamiliar clothes are strangling me... Sleeves become tourniquets. Slacks become shackles. I start to panic and before I know it, I am back in my closet. I am tearing the bright, beautiful clothes off because I don’t deserve to wear them." As with nearly any subject, Gay has the uncanny ability to write about the beauty and struggle of getting dressed each morning in a way that underscores the deep significance of a seemingly mundane ritual.
* * *
Margaret Spencer, Reductress
If you've ever been annoyed at the way beautiful women eating pizza has become a weird fetishized meme, read this hilarious parody piece right now and laugh. A lot.
* * *
Eula Bliss, New York Times
We've included this piece in a list of required reading for women, but it really should be required reading for any white person. "When we buy into whiteness, we entertain the delusion that we’re business partners with power, not its minions," Bliss writes. "And we forget our debt to ourselves." White people in this country need to get their shit together -- and it starts by interrogating their own whiteness.
* * *
Laura Bassett, HuffPost Highline
Bassett's deep dive into the U.S. policy that drives rape victims abroad to seek out unsafe, illegal abortions is as harrowing a read as it is important. "Obama could change this with a single executive action," writes Bassett. "Why hasn't he?"
* * *
Rachel Syme, Matter
Syme's seven-part essay will not only dissect any selfie panic you have, but also make you want to turn your iPhone onto yourself and take about 100 of them. As Syme eloquently points out: "What selfie-haters fear, deep down, is a growing army of faces they cannot monitor, an army who does not need their approval to march ahead."
* * *
Diana Spechler, The Toast
"Your fanny pack. Your dick pic. Your soul patch. My heart." This piece will hit home (and hard) for anyone who has ever online dated.
* * *
Jessica Bennett, New York Times
Monica Lewinsky became famous (or perhaps infamous is the better word) in her early 20s under less-than-ideal circumstances. Now, in her early 40s, Lewinsky is taking back her narrative. Bennett's writing helps capture the current sensibilities of a woman who was once known only as the object of scorn and scandal.
* * *
Jenny Zhang, Rookie
Zhang's beautiful reflection on what it means to grapple with the concepts of adolescent love and attractiveness when you're an Asian girl in a sea of whiteness shows just how far-reaching white supremacy is. "For girls of color, internalizing the message that we are inherently inferior and ugly and freakish can happen explicitly and it can happen insidiously and it can happen just by repeated exclusion," writes Zhang.
* * *
Nona Willis Aronowitz, Matter
One of the most disturbing things about witnessing sexual assault allegations come out about public figures is when those public figures are supposed to be some of the "good guys," like "boy-next-door" porn star James Deen was. Aronowitz pushes us all to stop distancing ourselves and the men we know and love from misogyny. Because, sometimes -- maybe even often? -- "Our Guys" are as complicit in these systems as "Those Guys."
Also on HuffPost: