Study Guide

Women Speaker

By Louise Bogan

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We're glad you're here, Shmoopers. With a poem like "Women," this may be one of the most important sections to read. (Of course, you should know by now that everything we have to tell you is important.) At the same time, the way you read the speaker of this poem is key to how you understand it as a whole.

So, let's stop beating around the bush. Just what in the wide world of sports is our speaker's deal? What makes her think she can pass such sweeping judgments about every other woman in the world? What does she hope to accomplish with this list of criticisms? Is she a bitter old crone? Is she a prototype of the modern Internet troll? Does she count herself with the women she's so busy tearing down?

So many questions, gang, but let's start with the last one. Notice that the poem doesn't really give us any clues about who our speaker is. We really can't even say for sure that she's a…she. The only thing that gives us that idea is that our poet, Louise Bogan, is a she. Now, it's never a good idea to mix up your poets and speakers because poets are tricky folks and they like to speak through invented characters.

All the same, we wonder if this poem would even be possible coming from a male poet. Well, sure, we can imagine some dude writing this, but really: who would take it seriously? If any man put such a list of sweeping criticisms of women together, he'd automatically be dismissed (rightly) as a misogynistic hack. But the fact that a woman wrote this poem makes things much more complicated.

Does Bogan include herself in these criticisms? It's impossible to tell—she was a very private person and wasn't in the habit of handing out personal insights. What we can say with greater certainty, though, is that this poem gives us a speaker who is, to put it mildly, pretty frustrated.

Think about how you act when life is bugging you. Doesn't it feel like everyone and everything is out to get you? That might explain, in part, why our speaker is lashing out at all women, everywhere. But why? Why so much grump, speaker?

The poem is pretty careful never to let us in on what the speaker's motivation actually is. We're left to take our best guess, based on the amount of hating that's happening in the poem. And that hate is pretty wide-ranging, really. Our speaker doesn't even think women can love in the right way, for crying out loud. So is there any hope for women in our speaker's eyes?

Well, oddly enough, this poem might actually show us that our speaker is indeed hopeful. If women were a lost cause in our speaker's eyes, then why even complain, right? The very fact that our speaker is attacking women with such energy seems to suggest that she's hoping to change their behavior. You know that really mean P.E. coach you had who yelled at you when you were struggling to do the rope climb? And then you started to cry and ran off and hid in the locker room until lunchtime?

What—are we over-sharing again? Sorry about that. Our point is that one way to view these critiques is as pleas for change. Think of our speaker as a kind of coach, or motivational speaker—okay, so the worst kind of motivational speaker. Maybe she's using these criticisms to get women to stop wasting their time worrying about small things ("every whisper") and to start paying more attention to the world around them—cows and snow water and all.

If that's true, then our speaker is actually someone who is deeply concerned for women's welfare and happiness. She just has a…funny way of showing it.

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