Given today’s political climate, every person and institution is becoming more vocal about their stances and opinions. In a way this is great because your choice of essay topics has expanded to include politically-focused narratives. It is tricky, though, for a couple of reasons: 1) many people will be writing with this in mind and 2) your essay still has to be about you. It has to be your own and tell a story that reflects who you are and what you have experienced, not just a statement about something you believe.
Feminism is a topic that many people feel very strongly about. People are inclined to write about it because their experience with feminism reflects who they are. But feminism is multidimensional and feminism is intersectional. The topic spans centuries of history and has a place in everything that is happening today, politically and socially. We want to give you some tips on writing a feminist Common App essay, because here’s the good news: there’s no need to be scared to “go there” right now. We’re already there.
An important thing to consider about your feminist story is making sure that it centers around you and YOUR personal narrative. A truthful and genuine moment or series of moments that you experienced and your own personal evolution of thought on the matter(s). This is not the time to pontificate on second wave vs. third wave vs. whatever this wave is feminism. This is not a research paper, nor is it a time to put your foot down politically and spend 650 words defending the right to choose. Rather, this is a time to share a critical growth moment that happened intellectually and/or emotionally. Just like any other Common App essay, there needs to be a beginning, a middle, and an end. The difference with writing an essay about your experience with feminism is that it’s critical to incorporate the origins of your beliefs and outlook in a creative way.
Our students routinely write political essays rooted in feminism, and we always suggest is that they read some feminist texts that are based in personal narrative. When you read these, take note of how they voice their experiences and keep them local. They do not globalize their experiences or aggrandize them to make sweeping generalizations about feminism or race. They stay focused on their story and keep you deeply invested in understanding their perspective and the ramifications of their experiences. Some books that we recommend to familiarize yourself with this story-telling method include:
- Bad Feminist by Roxane Gay
- Sex Object by Jessica Valenti
- Men Explain Things To Me by Rebecca Solnit
- All About Love: New Visions by bell hooks
A way to approach this essay if you want to address the larger feminist movement is to tell a story about your actual lived experience that--through your story--you can tie to the larger feminist movement. But again, this is not a research paper or a synthesis essay. Even if you’ve read 100 feminist texts, the essay needs to be about you.
There’s no doubt that top universities are becoming more vocal about their viewpoints and are looking for change-makers and thought leaders who are opinionated. More than that, though, they are looking for curious students who are talented at articulating their opinions in such a way that weaves into a larger, thought-provoking history and who are eager to learn about the complexity of the narratives at play. Going down this path for your Common App essay is undoubtedly challenging. It will take a lot of work to craft an essay that tells a compelling story and also subtly comments on our current political atmosphere, but the payoff has the potential to be huge. And by that we mean: acceptance letters.