Study Guide

The Prologue Gender

By Anne Bradstreet


Who says my hand a needle better fits. (26)

This is the first point in the poem where the speaker really addresses the subject of gender head on. Before this, she's dropped some hints about there being something wrong with her Muse (16) or her brain (24). Now, though, she comes right out and names the main problem she thinks people have with her as a poet: she's a woman. We should also point out that the "needle" in this line is really a symbol for women's work in general. It's not that her critics care if she sews or washes dishes or scrubs the floor, they just don't want her writing.

Else of our Sex, why feigned they those nine And poesy made Calliope's own child? (32-33)

Now our speaker goes on the attack, and uses her classical learning to confront her critics. She wants to know why the ancient Greeks believed that all art was inspired by the muses, who were women, if women aren't supposed to have anything to do with art. Why would they make poetry into the symbolic child of a female (the muse Calliope) if women are so lousy at poetry?

Men have precedency and still excel; (38)

Now she backs off. "Fine," she says, "men are still the best at poetry." She's encouraging her potential critics not to think of her as a threat. Instead, she just wants to be allowed to exercise her own talents, however small they might be.

Men can do best, and Women know it well. (40)

Again, she agrees that there is an inherent, basic difference in skill between men and women. This is probably kind of hard for a lot of us to read, since we've been brought up in a society where ideas like this have fallen out of favor. It's important to remember that a woman growing up in Anne Bradstreet's time would have gotten this message all the time—in church, at home, in whatever education she got. With that in mind, we think the fact that the speaker of this poem raises these issues at all is pretty impressive.

Preeminence in all and each is yours;
Yet grant some small acknowledgement of ours. (41-42)

Finally, the speaker of this poem gives up on the idea of being as good as her heroes, or matching up to the great male poets of the world. What she asks for instead is for men to be generous enough to give her a chance. You'd have to be a pretty big jerk to refuse a request as polite as that. But we think maybe making these guys look like jerks is all part of the plan.

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