Looking to add a healthy dose of feminism to your day? These six poems subvert the idea of feminity as weakness, packing an empowering punch with each line. They serve as a not-so-gentle reminder to never underestimate the power of the female poet.
“The Applicant” by Sylvia Plath
It’s no surprise that a poem by Plath lands first on our list. In “The Applicant,” Plath delivers a heavy blow to the meaning of marriage, gender stereotypes, and social pressures. “A living doll, everywhere you look,” she writes. “It can sew, it can cook, / It can talk, talk, talk.” Her lines parody the image of the homemaker, described by a sales-y (and perhaps sarcastic) narrator.
“Phenomenal Woman” by Maya Angelou
If you’re into the hips swingin’, don’t-give-a-fig kind of attitude, “Phenomenal Woman” is a poem to wear proudly. Angelou writes, “I walk into a room / Just as cool as you please… The fellows stand or / Fall down on their knees.” The poem illustrates just how stunning and alluring confidence is. She writes that she is not “cute or built to suit a fashion model’s size,” but she keeps her head high and her stride strong because she knows she is a phenomenal woman.
“Mothers” by Nikki Giovanni
This heart-wrenching poem reveals how it feels to become mature enough to understand what a mother goes through. Grammy-nominated poet and professor Nikki Giovanni writes, “…we must learn / to bear the pleasures / as we have borne the pains.” Her poem, “Mothers,” pays homage to the sacrifices her mother made, the kindness she showed, and the lessons she passed down.
“A Woman Speaks” by Audre Lorde
Rich with symbolism and history, Lorde’s writing reveals the internal and external conflicts she experiences as a woman of color. In “A Woman Speaks,” she critiques patriarchal society and confronts the idea that black women are dangerous. “I have been a woman / for a long time,” she writes, “beware my smile / I am treacherous with old magic.” Also examining the relationship between women within the feminist movement, the poem is a meditation on worth, power, and vulnerability.
“They shut me up in Prose” by Emily Dickinson
Dickinson tears apart the idea that little girls are to be seen and not heard in this poem. Quick, witty, and forward, “They shut me up in Prose” takes on a rebellious tone as Dickinson explains that her mind and creativity cannot be quashed with captivity. “They might as wise have lodged a Bird / For Treason – in the Pound,” she writes. The bird then laughs at its captors, as it could not be contained.
“Pro Femina” by Carolyn Kizer
Divided into three parts, “Pro Femina” addresses the history and urgency of feminism. In part one, she laments that “while men have politely debated free will, we have howled for it.” She goes on to write that historical women (like Saint Joan and Jane Austen) were quieted by society. In part two, she addresses what she calls “independent women” who she suggests are not as independent as they seem. She writes, “But the role of pastoral heroine / Is not permanent, Jack. We want to get back to the meeting.” In part three, she encourages women to “stand up and be hated,” and to “keep our heads and our pride while remaining unmarried,” and to “kill guilt in its tracks” in their pursuit of the arts, power, and more.