The XX Factor

The Best Things Written About Women This Year

This was a huge year for Taylor Swift, and a good year to read about her.

Photo by Adrian Sanchez-Gonzalez/AFP/Getty Images

It was a year of bad news, including for women—which made it a fabulous year for writing about them. Here are some of my favorite pieces from 2014 on the heroines (Diana Nyad), villains (Bill Cosby), delights (1989), and horrors (The Other Woman) visited upon women this year.

Super Heroine” and “Not a Girl, Not Yet a Woman” by Tavi Gevinson in Rookie and Elle

Tavi Gevinson, patron saint of smart girls everywhere, kicked off the year by interviewing Lorde—a pop superstar who’s on Gevinson’s wavelength—and followed it up by interviewing Miley Cyrus—a pop superstar who is … not. In the first interview, Gevinson was so nervous she ended up humming “Royals” subconsciously under her breath, but in the second, she’s self-assured, pushing Cyrus to answer for criticism of her appropriative twerking. In both cases, it’s refreshing to see these pop stars through the lens of a peer—or at least a member of their target demo. Gevinson also managed to wring out the best “[sic]” of the year, courtesy of this Miley quote:  “I worked more when I was a kid than I’d ever allow myself to do now. What is it from The Sixth Sense [sic], where he’s like, ‘All work and no play makes Jack a very dull boy’? That was totally me.”

Breaking the Waves” by Ariel Levy in the New Yorker

Levy’s profile of endurance swimmer Diana Nyad is her latest feminist sports story, following deep dives on runner Caster Semenya and boxer Claressa Shields. Levy finds Nyad at age 64, three decades after her ostensible retirement, as she attempts to finally fulfill a lifelong goal of swimming unassisted between Cuba and Florida.

Poison Candy” by Wesley Morris on Grantland

Morris’ reviews of bad movies are so good, they make you wish Hollywood churned out more bombs. His piece on the unintentionally tragic comedy The Other Woman functions as both review and referendum on the faux girl-power flick and a lament of the downward career trajectories afforded to female rom-com stars once they reach a certain age.

Women Listening to Men in Western Art History” by Mallory Ortberg on The Toast

While other bloggers race to churn new fodder into hot takes, Ortberg reaches through history to find the perfect frame for her comedic talents. Her captions of classic paintings work on two levels—her ultramodern voice is ironically dissonant, but her social commentary resonates with the centuries-old works. “i keep drinking,” says the woman sitting next to a man in Jean Béraud’s The Drinkers, when Ortberg lends her a voice. “but it’s not making him more interesting.”

Battered, Bereaved, and Behind Bars” by Alex Campbell on BuzzFeed, and “For Jared Remy, Leniency Was the Rule Until One Lethal Night” by Eric Moskowitz in the Boston Globe

Ray and Janay Rice dominated the national conversation about domestic violence this year, but the best writing on the topic focused on stories of victims and abusers who slipped under the national radar: Campbell’s investigation into the battered women who are punished for their partners’ crimes (like Arlena Lindley, who was sentenced to 45 years in prison after her abusive boyfriend killed her son), and Moskowitz’s tale of a serial abuser with a powerful family to whom the courts granted 20 second chances before finally convicting him for killing his girlfriend.  

Working Anything but 9 to 5” by Jodi Kantor in the New York Times

Kantor’s expose of Starbucks’ employee scheduling software—which leads to inconsistent work schedules, making it almost impossible for poor parents to arrange care for their children—spurred the company to pledge to improve its scheduling practices within a day of publication. But Kantor’s intimate portrait of 22-year-old $9-an-hour barista and single mother Jannette Navarro reveals bigger barriers than just scheduling software to working and parenting in America.

What Black Parents Tell Their Sons About the Police” by Jazmine Hughes on Gawker

“There are so many things I need to tell my future son, already, before I’ve birthed him; so many innocuous, trite thoughts that may not make a single difference,” Hughes wrote after Michael Brown was shot and killed by police officer Darren Wilson in Ferguson, Missouri. “Don’t wear a hoodie. Don’t try to break up a fight. Don’t talk back to cops. Don’t ask for help. But they’re all variations of a single theme: Don’t give them an excuse to kill you.” Hughes then goes on to ask black parents across the country how they relay that sentiment to their sons and finds no easy answers.

Why Kids Sext” by Hanna Rosin in the Atlantic

A lot of adults talk about teens sexting, but few actually talk to them about it. Rosin really goes there, asking high schoolers in one Virginia county all the awkward questions about their social and sexual motivations for trading naked pictures. The result is packed with Thy Neighbor’s Wife–style scenes, including this account of a teenage boy attempting to masturbate to a picture of a classmate: “Seated on his bed, he pulled out his phone. The first thing he noticed was that his battery bar was red. Now there was the problem of finding the power cord, and stretching it as far as the center of the bed.”

Bill Cosby Drugged Me. This Is My Story.” by Beverly Johnson in Vanity Fair

After months of accusations against the comedy legend, Johnson’s piece is the most detailed account yet of Cosby’s alleged M.O. and its effect on the women who fell into his orbit.

Pink and Blue” and “It’s Hip to Be Swift” by Molly Lambert on Grantland

Women dominated the music world this year, and while they don’t yet dominate music reviewing, female critics like Lambert and New York magazine’s Lindsay Zoladz showed it can be done. Lambert is the queen of the surprise pop cultural allusion. On Minaj: “To paraphrase the saying about Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers, Minaj has been ass clapping backward and in heels.” On Swift: “The whole thing feels a little bit like a murder mystery, with Taylor as its Laura Palmer. Who killed ‘Haylor’?”