Here you can find a short story that deals with the way women are viewed by others, the expectations others have of them, how they balance their responsibilities, how they try to lead fulfilling lives, and what their options are in some cases. See also:
Short Stories About Women
“Detour” by Joyce Carol Oates
Abigail feels light-headed as she’s driving home. Three-quarters of the way there, she sees a “Detour” sign. She thinks about ignoring it, but it’s not in her nature. She follows the signs through the country roads. She thinks about her husband and children and how she has lived her life.
“Detour” can be read in the preview of Night, Neon: Tales of Mystery and Suspense.
Anyuta | Anton Chekhov
Anyuta lives in a cheap hotel room with a medical student, Klotchkov. She’s lived with several men like him; they all leave her behind when they move on to a better life.
This story can be read in the preview of Stories of Anton Chekhov.
The Answer (Bridesmaids) | Patti Callahan
Lachlan waits for Beatrice’s answer, but she doesn’t give one right away. He asked a simple question, but there’s a lot to consider. They love each other, but still, she’s uncertain.
“The Answer”, the first part of Bridesmaids, can be read in the Amazon preview of Reunion Beach: Stories Inspired by Dorothea Benton Frank.
The Darling | Anton Chekhov
Olenka falls in love with Kukin, a theater owner who complains to her of the difficulties of his profession. They marry and she helps with the theater. She tells people it’s the most important thing in the world. When Kukin goes to Moscow on business, she has a difficult time getting by without him. He gets delayed. Olenka has a tendency to follow the lead of the men in her life.
This is the ninth story in the preview of Classic Short Stories.
A Pair of Silk Stockings | Kate Chopin
Mrs. Sommers, a great bargain hunter and responsible mother and wife, finds herself with a little extra money. She thinks of all the practical things she could do with it, but gets distracted when she examines a fine pair of silk stockings.
This is the sixth story in the preview of 50 Greatest Short Stories.
Roselily | Alice Walker
Roselily, an unmarried woman with three children, is getting married. She thinks about how her life will change by marrying a member of the Nation of Islam and moving to Chicago. She doesn’t know a lot about her fiancé or his religion, but she’s willing to change her life for her children’s sake.
This story can be read in the preview of In Love & Trouble: Stories of Black Women. (Go into Paperback preview first, then select Kindle)
A Spinster’s Tale | Peter Taylor
The narrator, Elizabeth, grew up in an all male household. Looking back, she relates some interactions with her father, her brother, and Mr. Speed. Her brother drank too much, and Mr. Speed was a repulsive drunk.
Some of this story can be read in the preview of Complete Stories.
“Hot Pants” by Elaine Kagan
Lucinda visits her father in a group home for people with dementia. She works as a waitress at Sorrentino’s, a popular restaurant. She needs the job to pay for everything, which is why she stays there despite a problem with Sal.
This story can be read in the preview of At Home in the Dark. (22% into preview)
“Daughter of the Book” by Dahlia Adler
Rebekah, seventeen, learns how to sew from Mrs. Samuels. Rebekah yearns for a more thorough education, but this isn’t allowed for girls. She tries to learn what she can from Caleb, a young man studying to be a rabbi. The many rules surrounding propriety and women’s education make it difficult.
This story can be read in the preview of The Radical Element: 12 Stories of Daredevils, Debutantes & Other Dauntless Girls. (18% in)
“The Washing” by Christopher Fowler
Linda and Miguel are new to the building. She becomes acquainted with the woman who lives above her, Pippa. Pippa tells her about some of the other residents. She points out that you can figure out a lot of what is going on by paying attention to the clotheslines. One of the residents, a pretty woman named Maria, marries an older man who controls her movements.
This story can be read in the preview of Invisible Blood. (52% in)
“A Society” by Virginia Woolf
A group of women are having tea talking about the praiseworthy qualities of men when one of them, Polly, burst into tears. Her father left her a fortune on the condition that she read all the books in the London Library. After extensive reading she’s come to a conclusion—for the most part, books are very bad. Her companions object, but when she reads a few passage aloud, they have to agree with her assessment. This gets the women thinking about how they’ve taken it for granted that their duty is to bear children. They decide to postpone that and form a society of women who ask questions and learn about the world.
This story can be read in the preview of The Complete Works. (71% in, or select Monday or Tuesday in TOC, then the title)
“The Little Red Hen Tells All” by Margaret Atwood
The famous Little Red Hen let’s us in on the full story of when she put in all the work to bake bread while the other animals lazed around. Things didn’t turn out the way we were told.
This story can be read in the preview of Good Bones and Simple Murders. (85% in Kindle preview)
Zikora | Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
When Zikora, a Nigerian lawyer living in DC, gets pregnant, her lover leaves. Her mother comes to town for the birth. Their old dynamic asserts itself. Zikora thinks about her and her mother’s struggles.
The beginning of “Zikora” can be read in the Amazon preview.
“The High-Heeled Shoes, A Memoir” by Hisaye Yamamoto
A woman who’s home alone gets a phone call at mid-morning. It’s a man named Tony who greets her warmly. She doesn’t know of any Tony, so she tells him he has the wrong number. He insists the number is correct. Thinking he’s a salesman, she asks what he wants. It’s not what she was expecting, and she hangs up on him. It makes her think of other incidents where she and other women she knows had unwelcome encounters with men.
“The Kiss” by Kate Chopin
Brantain sits in a dim room at the home of Nathalie, who sits by the firelight. He loves her and has made his intentions known during the past two weeks. They talk of inconsequential things. Suddenly, a young man enters the room and, not seeing Brantain in the darkness, walks over to Nathalie and kisses her.
“Night Women” by Edwidge Danticat
A prostitute works at home next to her young, sleeping son. She’s concerned about his eventual realization of what she does, but in the meantime, tells him she does herself up at night in case an angel arrives.
“An Extinct Angel” by Charlotte Perkins Gilman
The narrator relates information about a species of angel that used to inhabit earth. Almost every household had one. They were virtuous and well-behaved, and their presence improved every facet of life. They handled numerous daily tasks and made things more comfortable. Despite this, humans didn’t always treat the angels that well.
“Making a Change” by Charlotte Perkins Gilman
Julia is a new mother and her baby cries often. Her husband, Frank, is annoyed with the situation, as is his mother, who also lives with them. She claims she knows how to stop the crying, but Julia wants to do her duty as a mother herself. Julia used to be a musician but doesn’t play anymore. The strain of her new routine and her mother-in-law’s interference are wearing her down. Everyone agrees that there has to be a change. Julia’s thoughts start to get desperate.
Mrs. Dutta Writes a Letter | Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni
Mrs. Dutta, an elderly, Indian widow, moves to her son’s home in America. She tries to adjust to American customs. A friend from India writes her a letter, asking if she’s happy in America. Mrs. Dutta thinks about how to respond.
Three Thanksgivings | Charlotte Perkins Gilman
Mrs. Morrison is a fifty-year-old widow in a difficult financial situation. Her children want her to sell her house, while Mr. Butts, who holds the mortgage on her house, wants her to marry him. She tries to come up with a way to live independently.
Be Fruitful and Multiply | Madeleine Ferron
A girl marries young and has one child after another.
Babette’s Feast | Isak Dinesen
Two aging sisters keep their late father’s church going and minister to the poor in a town in Norway. At the request of an old beau, they take in Babette Hersant as a maid after she flees Paris.
A Country Love Story | Jean Stafford
Daniel, a professor who has just spent time recuperating in a sanitarium, moves with his younger wife, May, to a place in the country. A distance develops between them with Daniel working on some research and May turning to fantasy to get her through the days.
A Respectable Woman | Kate Chopin
Mrs. Baroda’s husband tells her that his friend, Gouvernail, is going to stay with them for a while. She was looking forward to some quiet time after doing a lot of entertaining. Her husband thinks very highly of Gouvernail, but she isn’t impressed with him.
Snow | Alice Adams
Graham arranges a ski trip for his new girlfriend, Carol; his adult daughter, Susannah; and her partner, Rose. Everyone is privately worried about something. The mood improves when they stop for lunch.
Death in the Woods | Sherwood Anderson
The narrator tells the story of Mrs. Grimes based on what he’s heard and his imaginings. She married her husband, a known thief, to escape a bad situation as a servant. One day she goes to town to trade eggs for some supplies.
Women in their Beds | Gina Berriault
Angela Anson, an aspiring actress, works in a hospital telling elderly and infirm women where they will be sent next. She feels the women in her ward represent all women in a way, and isn’t sure if she can keep the job.
Big Blonde | Dorothy Parker
Hazel Morse had been a model and is popular with men. She marries when she’s almost thirty. She becomes melancholy and starts drinking. As her marriage deteriorates she starts keeping company with a new group of people.
Life | Bessie Head
A woman, Life, has to return to her Botswana village. The neighbor women welcome and help her until they learn she’s a prostitute. Life meets a wealthy cattleman, Lesego, and they take an instant liking to each other.
The Revolt of ‘Mother’ | Mary Wilkins Freeman
Adoniram Penn is building a new barn on the spot where he had promised his wife, Sarah, that he would build the family a new house. She confronts him about it but he won’t speak of it. She sees an opportunity to assert herself, and takes it.
In the Middle of the Fields | Mary Lavin
An unnamed, recently widowed woman lives in Ireland on her farm. The grass on her farm needs trimming, so Ned, an old farm hand, suggests hiring a neighbor, Mr. Crossen, to do the job.
The Chrysanthemums | John Steinbeck
Elisa is in the garden working on her chrysanthemums when a traveler pulls in looking for work. They develop a rapport and she pays him to do a little job. He expresses interest in her flowers.
Meeting Mrinal | Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni
Asha had an arranged marriage to Mahesh in India. They moved to California, but Mahesh left her for a younger white woman. Asha gets a call from an old friend, Mrinal, a career woman in town for a conference. Mrinal wants to get together.
On Discovery | Maxine Hong Kingston
A Chinese explorer, Tang Ao, discovers The Land of Women. He is captured and forced to undergo a grooming process so he can meet the Queen.
On Discovery is an allegory of Chinese immigrants’ experiences in America and of the treatment of Chinese women, or women in general.
Immigration Blues | Bienvenido N. Santos
In San Francisco, two Filipino women go to the home of Alipio Palma, a Filipino widower. One of the women, Mrs. Zafra, is the wife of an old friend of Alipio. While having lunch together, she tells the story of how she was able to stay in America by marrying her husband, an American citizen.
Customs | Julia Alvarez
Yolanda visits her uncle in Central America. She lives in the United States and is surprised by the unenlightened attitudes of the men she is visiting.
Eating Bone | Shabnam Nadiya
Disha leaves her home after hearing a new taunt from her husband. While she thinks about her life, she catches the aroma of roasting chicken.
Saints | Denise Chávez
Soveida recounts the many saints whom she identified with as a young Catholic girl, including many who endured mutilation rather than surrender to desire. Her grandmother, Mamá Lupita, wanted her to become a nun, and frequently railed against men.
The Waltz | Dorothy Parker
A woman agrees to dance with a man even though she doesn’t want to. Although she is annoyed with his clumsiness, she is extremely tactful.
Profession: Housewife | Sally Benson
Dorothy and Joe Grannis are newly married. A couple they have invited over declined the invitation. They don’t have many friends. Dorothy quit her job when she married, and now tries to stretch her housekeeping tasks over the day.
Obtaining Supplies | Louisa May Alcott
Miss Tribulation is looking for something to do. Her family makes a few suggestions which she rejects. Her younger brother, Tom, says she should go nurse the soldiers. This strikes her as a good idea. At first the path to this is unclear. In a few days, a townswoman arranges an interview with a sisterhood.
Read “Obtaining Supplies”
The Lottery | Marjorie Barnard
Ted Bilborough is on his way home from work when he finds out his wife won a lottery. His acquaintances tease him a bit and ask what he will do with the money. He thinks about that as well, and also wonders where she got the money for the ticket.
Hairball | Margaret Atwood
Kat goes to the hospital to have a large ovarian cyst removed. There’s no way to know if it’s malignant until the doctor “goes in”. After the operation she makes an unusual request. We learn some of Kat’s personal history, including her job at a fashion magazine, her relationship with Gerald, and the many versions of her name.