Study Guide

Women Gender

By Louise Bogan

Gender

Women have no wilderness in them,
They are provident instead, (1-2)

This is a pretty typical stereotype about women: they just aren't cut out for kicking up their heels. Instead, they're cautious about life. One could easily argue that women have to be more cautious, because it's historically been harder for them than men to live independently. All the same, the speaker doesn't seem to think this is a good thing, putting the ladies on blast right from the start.

They do not see cattle cropping red winter grass,
They do not hear
Snow water going down under culverts
Shallow and clear. (5-8)

Somehow, this strikes us as an even sadder failure than a lack of "wilderness." Our speaker claims that women just aren't up to noticing the world around them. And yet, the fact that Bogan wrote this poem shows the very opposite. Are we meant to read these lines as sarcastic?

They wait, when they should turn to journeys,
They stiffen, when they should bend. (9-10)

Just like a teacher in a first yoga class, the speaker is telling women that their moves are all wrong. When they should be skipping down the open road, they sit around and wait. And when they should go along to get along, they decide to put their foot down. All these moves are wrong, according to our speaker, and apparently all women make these mistakes. Does she convince you that this is the case?

They use against themselves that benevolence
To which no man is friend. (11-12)

Using your own kindness against yourself is a bit like kicking yourself in the face. It seems pretty hard to do, and yet here we are. It seems that our speaker is describing how women waste energy on being kind to men, since men aren't "friend[s]" with that kind of niceness. In other words, the fellas just can't appreciate women's kindness. It doesn't look like either of the genders is making out too well in this poem.

They cannot think of so many crops to a field
Or of clean wood cleft by an axe. (13-14)

One of the interesting (and disturbing) things about this poem is the way it seems to cling to pretty tired old stereotypes about what women can and can't do. Here our speaker claims that women have trouble with math and physical labor. Are we meant to take her seriously, though? Is this our speaker's honest assessment, or is she just parroting misogynistic talking points?

Their love is an eager meaninglessness
Too tense, or too lax. (15-16)

Put down those flowers and that box of chocolates, ladies. You're only going to hurt yourselves. This critique seems pretty over-the-top: women can't even love in the right way. We wonder if this is meant as a comment on men as much as it is on women. After all, it takes two to tango—or to trip over each other in a graceless tumble down life's stairs.

As like as not, when they take life over their door-sills
They should let it go by. (19-20)

This is a pretty cold burn. Our speaker sums up her rant by saying that women are basically incapable of life. They shouldn't even bother with it. Still, that's just one (pretty damning) interpretation. Another would be that women are better off doing their own thing, not bringing in outside expectations over their "door-sills" since the rules of life are stacked against them. In 1923, when this poem appeared, that idea would make even more sense than it does today.

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