How is Maya Angelou’s poem “Phenomenal Woman” a source of inspiration to all woman?  

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Maya Angelou's poem "Phenomenal Woman" could arguably be one of her most popular and beloved poems. While it may not serve as an inspiration for all women, this poem certainly addresses topics and ideas that many women strongly identify with and find to be empowering.

Overall, "Phenomenal Woman" encourages...

Unlock
This Answer Now

Start your 48-hour free trial to unlock this answer and thousands more. Enjoy eNotes ad-free and cancel anytime.

Start your 48-Hour Free Trial

Maya Angelou's poem "Phenomenal Woman" could arguably be one of her most popular and beloved poems. While it may not serve as an inspiration for all women, this poem certainly addresses topics and ideas that many women strongly identify with and find to be empowering.

Overall, "Phenomenal Woman" encourages women to embrace their individuality and cherish their unique brand of beauty.

The word "phenomenal," by its commonly used definition, describes something that is "extraordinary and remarkable." Throughout the poem, Angelou makes a loud and proud statement about her own identity as a woman: she is not just any kind of woman, but a phenomenal one.

Pretty women wonder where my secret lies.
I’m not cute or built to suit a fashion model’s size
But when I start to tell them,
They think I’m telling lies.
I say,
It’s in the reach of my arms,
The span of my hips,
The stride of my step,
The curl of my lips.
I’m a woman
Phenomenally.
Phenomenal woman,
That’s me.
As you can see, the poem starts off with Angelou explaining the disbelief that "pretty women" have when they learn of the positive view she holds of herself. She openly admits that while she is not "cute" or "built to suit a fashion model's size," she is still a phenomenal woman.
According to Angelou, her remarkableness is not derived from fitting society's mainstream vision of beauty or acceptability. Instead, it comes from commonly overlooked attributes such as her stride or the span of her hips. Contrary to popular standards, the individual way she has been formed is what makes her so "phenomenal"—not her dress size. Female readers may find this section particularly inspiring, as it challenges them to identify ways in which they are uniquely phenomenal.
I walk into a room
Just as cool as you please,
And to a man,
The fellows stand or
Fall down on their knees.
Then they swarm around me,
A hive of honey bees.
I say,
It’s the fire in my eyes,
And the flash of my teeth,
The swing in my waist,
And the joy in my feet.
I’m a woman
Phenomenally.
This section of the poem (and the lines that follow) addresses Angelou's impact on men. The notion of men standing or falling to their knees is demonstrative of her innate power over them. Without her having to do or say anything in particular, men respect and desire her. The "fire" in her eyes and "swing" of her waist are things that come naturally to her; they aren't things she can buy or feign, unlike clothing or charm. This portion of the poem may inspire women to start viewing their own natural born qualities as traits men will find powerfully attractive. The ability to simply be themselves and be adored could be greatly liberating.
It is highly possible that Angelou mentions highly sensory descriptions such as "the joy in my feet" and "the flash in my teeth" as an acknowledgment of another definition of the word "phenomenal." This particular definition refers to something that can be "known through the senses rather than through thought or intuition." Instead of Angelou attributing her attractiveness to something someone cannot physically observe, such as intelligence, she mentioned traits that would appeal to a man's physical senses.
Now you understand
Just why my head’s not bowed.
I don’t shout or jump about
Or have to talk real loud.
When you see me passing,
It ought to make you proud.
I say,
It’s in the click of my heels,
The bend of my hair,
the palm of my hand,
The need for my care.
’Cause I’m a woman
Phenomenally.
Phenomenal woman,
That’s me.
In the final stanza, Angelou arrives at a lasting conclusion. She describes how unnecessary it is for her to be timid or brash. Instead of hanging her head in shame or drawing extra attention to herself, she continues to commend the simple little things that make her the remarkable woman that she is. For example, the bend of someone's hair may seem trivial to most. However, Angelou argues that something even that seemingly unimportant is worth celebrating.
Countless women all over the world have found this poem to be a significant source of inspiration because it poses the idea that women do not have to fit into a specific mold in order to value themselves or to be viewed as beautiful by others. "Phenomenal Woman" truly challenges women of all sizes, shapes, and colors to look for and proudly own everything that makes them unique, phenomenal women as well.
Approved by eNotes Editorial Team