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9 Essays All Working Women Should Read

One of them makes us laugh—thank god

Cara Hutto
Contributor

I was once sitting in a coffee shop reading, when a stranger approached me and struck up a conversation. After 5 minutes of pleasant small talk and explaining that I was a writer and avid reader, I was left with a golden nugget of wisdom that has stuck with me since. This stranger said to me, “in order to write an inch, you have to read a mile.”

Reading others’ words has the ability to move you, teach you, and change you, and that’s exactly what these pieces by women do. These brilliant writers have fresh perspectives and opinions on life for women and what we can do to improve our situations. Hopefully, you’ll leave this page feeling inspired and intellectually renewed. 

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Why Women Still Can’t Have It All

Author: Anne-Marie Slaughter

In Anne-Marie Slaughter’s powerful essay, she discusses the struggle of striking a balance between work and family. She talks about how women have it especially tough—when it comes to raising children while managing a high-powered position at work, it’s easy to feel like you’re not giving 100 percent in either arena. Slaughter acknowledges this feeling of failure is due to society’s expectations, not her own behavior. 

Men Who Explain Things

Author: Rebecca Solnit

Rebecca Solnit writes poignantly about a situation we women know all too well: when “Mr. Important” tries to mansplain something we already know, using his aggressive over-confidence to silence our achievements and intelligence. Solnit dives into “the battle with ‘Men Who Explain Things’” and encourages women to continue to fight for what they have to say. Did we mention the guy she encountered explained her own book to her? Yeah, awkward.

Why Can't a Smart Woman Love Fashion?

Author: Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie 

Sometimes, women who care about fashion are foolishly equated with being less serious about their work. Novelist Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie puts it perfectly: “I had learned a lesson about Western culture: Women who wanted to be taken seriously were supposed to substantiate their seriousness with a studied indifference to appearance.” She discusses how women’s dedication to their work should not be judged by whether they take pride in their appearance. 

Not Here to Make Friends

Author: Roxane Gay

From a young age, women are taught to be likable. We’re taught to be agreeable, optimistic, and sensitive. (You women in management know how perilous this can be.) Well, writer Roxane Gay is not here for it—she’s here for honesty. Gay describes the pursuit of likeability as a performance, and anytime we falter in our performance, we stray away from what society expects from us. She urges women to free themselves from likability and the guilt that comes with being disliked.

Read more: 17 Memoirs to Inspire Working Women

This Is What a Feminist Looks Like

Author: President Barack Obama

This enlightening essay comes from none other than former President Barack Obama. Damn right, he’s a feminist. He discusses how gendered stereotypes begin at birth and why it’s hard to escape the labeled boxes society places us in as men and women. Many important women in Obama’s life have shaped the way he views feminism, and he knows that although we’ve come a long way, we still have a hard fight ahead of us to continue to break down barriers for women in the workplace, at home, and just in general. 

The Bitch is Back

Author: Sandra Tsing Loh

Sandra Tsing Loh hilariously analizes the advice given to women coping with the mental and physical changes that come with age (hello, menopause). She says we’re often given the same advice, “get more exercise, drink more water, do yoga stretches before bed, cut out alcohol and caffeine, and yet (and how does this follow?) reduce stress.” But there’s one problem—we’re all different. So, what does she suggest? “In the end, the real wisdom of menopause may be in questioning how fun or even sane this chore wheel called modern life actually is.” Too real for career women.

Why Women Aren’t Welcome on The Internet

Author: Amanda Hess

Amanda Hess is no stranger to internet harassment. She’s recieved her fair share of online death and rape threats, just like thousands of other women who speak their mind. She was met with little help from law enforcement and believes, “women who are harassed online are expected to either get over ourselves or feel flattered in response to the threats made against us. We have the choice to keep quiet or respond ‘gleefully.’” It’s time to start taking internet harassment more seriously, and respectively, take women’s concerns seriously. Sound familiar, workforce?

Joy

Author: Zadie Smith

In Zadie Smith’s essay, she discusses the difference between joy and pleasure and the hunt to find both in adulthood and motherhood. While detailing the trials and triumphs of being a mother, she explains that her child “gives [her] not much pleasure at all, but rather that strange admixture of terror, pain, and delight that [she] ha[s] come to recognize as joy, and now must find some way to live with daily.” Everything you go through in order to achieve joy, suddenly becomes worth it—something that’s especially important for working women to keep in mind. If you aren’t head over heels for your job, remember that you are more than your career, and your grind will pay off one day. 

How to Shake Hands With a Woman

Author: Lindy West

And finally, Lindy West provides us with the comedic relief we so desperately need. Her essay explains the super complicated, difficult, and emotionally taxing way to shake a woman’s hand. The secret behind the perfect feminine handshake? Shake her hand the exact same way you’d shake a man’s hand. Mic drop. 

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