In the 1970s and 80s the iconic British feminist magazine, Spare Rib, provided a space for the publication of essays and articles on women’s rights and feminist issues. The magazine and subsequent anthology, ‘Spare Rib Reader’ were radical, insightful and challenging. Spare Rib ceased publication in 1993 and in today’s digitalised world it is hard to imagine a printed magazine dedicated to feminist content being able to survive for so long.
That is not to say that similar material is not available today. The advantage (and disadvantage) of the internet is the abundance of freely available information. Online feminist magazines such as Bitch, Bust and Wear Your Voice, among others, are perhaps the modern day equivalents of Spare Rib and showcase a range of feminist material often with an emphasis on popular culture and politics. With a little more internet hunting, you can find a range of seminal essays on women’s rights, from historical to current, freely available online. Here we have selected a few that we think are worth a read.
Written in 1791 and published in 1792 Mary Wollstonecraft’s radical essay on women’s rights argues that women should receive a proper education in order to be able to contribute to society. The French revolution had prompted debates on equality and Wollstonecraft’s essay was a response to some of those debates. She stops short of explicitly stating that men and women are equal but, the essay was, nonetheless, ground-breaking and remains relevant today.
“My own sex, I hope, will excuse me, if I treat them like rational creatures, instead of flattering their fascinating graces, and viewing them as if they were in a state of perpetual childhood, unable to stand alone.”
Though technically not an essay, Malala Yousafzai’s Nobel lecture is moving, inspiring and a lesson in how to write a speech.
Yousafzai recalls some of her story and the stories of other girls who have fought for an education and she makes a passionate call for every child to have the right, not just to basic education, but to quality primary and secondary education and for an end to child labour.
In 2014 the Shriver Report produced an anthology of essays on women’s rights with contributors including, Sheryl Sandberg, Hillary Clinton and Eva Longoria. The full 400-page edition is available in print or as an e-book but some of the essays are freely available through the Shriver Report website.
In ‘Gender Equality is a Myth’, Knowles-Carter starts by highlighting the disparity between men and women’s pay and goes on to state the case for teaching boys about equality and respect and teaching girls, “that they can reach as high as humanly possible”. It’s short and the content is probably already familiar but, it’s Beyoncé.
This essay discusses the role of women in peacebuilding. UN Security Council Resolution 1325 was adopted in October 2000 and was broadly seen as a positive step toward placing women at the centre of the peace and security agenda. Resolution 1325 recognises that women are disproportionately affected by conflict and that they should have a key role in conflict resolution and post-conflict reconstruction.
Kumalo notes that, despite Resolution 1325, relatively little progress has been made in terms of facilitating women’s participation in peacebuilding processes. She explains some of the reasons for this and cites both positive and negative examples of women’s involvement in peace processes. Finally, she argues that more is effort is needed to implement Resolution 1325 and ensure the achievement of sustainable peace in post-conflict societies.
Written in February 2018, following the Women’s Marches in the United States, this essay places current women’s movements in their historical context and explores some interesting modern challenges to those movements.
The essay covers the digital age which she says leads us to live, “fragmented social lives” that are not conducive to the long-term commitment required to effect change. Gallo-Cruz also suggests that a culture driven by conspicuous consumerism threatens the equality on which the women’s movements should be based and argues that the movement must be based on mutual support. In exploring the reasons for Hillary Clinton’s electoral defeat, she argues for a rejection of nepotism and over-reliance on patriarchal institutions and proposes that we should build on alternative institutions that can facilitate a participatory democracy.
In conclusion, she suggests that, while there are new opportunities, particularly for mass-mobilisation, there are also new challenges and obstacles to women’s freedom that need to be addressed.
The British Library has published highlights from Spare Rib and back issues on their website.