Last Updated on September 5, 2023, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 322
While we can often come to some compelling conclusions about the feelings of a text's author, I always caution my students against assuming that the speaker of the poem is the author. Such an assumption can lead us to draw conclusions about the text that are not necessarily supported by its content and can prevent us from correctly interpreting textual details that do not support the author as speaker. It is safest to read the speaker as a character or, at least, as an authorial persona, and so we can consider the speaker as such here.
This speaker is obviously a woman and quite well educated (as we can assume is true of the author as well), as she makes all kinds of references to ancient Greek people and deities, philosophers, saints and authors, ancient Chinese culture, and so on. She has strong opinions about women's rights, double standards held by society based on sex and gender, the biological limitations possessed by women (in terms of being the reproducers of the human race), and more.
Other characters include the groups of men and women that the speaker describes, discusses, and, at times, criticizes or entreats. She describes women who feel compelled to make sure their appearances are always socially acceptable and attractive, women who "kick" other women in order to eliminate competition for male mates, mothers, spinsters, young and single women. She also describes men who want women to play the role of "pastoral heroine" and never be allowed into the figurative meetings where society's standards and mores are established, men who build ridiculous women's undergarments and insist that women have perfect hair, walk around on high heels, and wear lipstick all the time. These groups are not ever made more specific than this—the speaker does not address specific men and women in society who are at fault for this system of inequality, probably because all are guilty on some level.