Many readers see "They Flee from Me" as a poem in which normal Renaissance gender constructions are challenged. After the typical, male-dominated relationships of the first stanza, the second stanza flips to being female-dominated. Now the male seducer is the seduced, and the female is the aggressive hunter, seeking out her male prey. All these newfangled gender politics have our speaker totally baffled at the end of the poem, because he doesn't know what to do with a woman who doesn't quite fit the stereotypical female role.
Questions About Gender
- How do you think the speaker defines gender? What, in the poem, makes you say so?
- Do the differences between the speaker and the women he describes suggest a biological difference between them, or more an emotional difference? Or both?
- Do you think this poem has a progressive attitude towards gender? Or is our speaker totally traditional when it comes to how he views men versus women?
- In what ways do the women in this poem challenge popular stereotypes surrounding the behavior of men and women? In what ways do they stick to these stereotypes?
Chew on This
"They Flee from Me" argues that gender roles are more flexible than fixed. Both men and woman can be dominant and passive.
Particularly in the first stanza, this poem suggests that fixed gender roles – "men are this, women are that" – is a way of reducing people to animals.