Last Reviewed on June 19, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 430
The opening lines of the poem are particularly revealing of the poem's tone, mood, and significance. The speaker says,
From Sappho to myself, consider the fate of women.
How unwomanly to discuss it! Like a noose or an albatross necktie
The clinical sobriquet hangs us: codpiece coveters.
Despite interest in the history of just about every subject, when women go to consider their own histories, from the ancient Greeks until today, it is considered unwomanly. It is as though it is not seen as appropriate for a woman to point out the ways in which she has been oppressed. When women do consider and discuss the facts of women's history, we are told that we are simply jealous of men's power, virility, status, and control. Women are not met with an acceptance of responsibility by men; rather, women are made to feel that they ought to stop complaining and not rock the boat.
The speaker also says that
While men have politely debated free will, we have howled for it,
Howl still, pacing the centuries, tragedy heroines.
She depicts women as hyenas, howling and whining for something which men have had forever: the ability to act according to our own wills, the ability to set our own boundaries, the ability to achieve self-actualization and independence. Women who strive for this kind of independence are often undone "In the race for a male" by the "full-time beauties" or their own need to be "cosset[ed]" or receive "well-treatment" sometimes. Men, too, need this sometimes, but they don't admit it. "We will be cows for a while," she says, because we birth and feed the babies with our bodies,
But the role of pastoral heroine
Is not permanent, Jack. We want to get back to the meeting.
While women's bodies may make us responsible for bearing the children, we cannot be expected to only act in our capacity as reproducers. Women demand that we be allowed into the decision-making bodies of society, that we have a say in how society is run: "the meeting." We are told to care about "Our masks, always in peril of smearing or cracking," and "The drape of the male is designed to achieve self-forgetfulness." Kizer wants us, too, to forget ourselves and to rely only on our talent for a while and "see where it gets [us]." In the end, it is up to us to set our boundaries. We can struggle, work, be hated, be proud, refuse to feel guilt for our choices or struggles. We can be mothers without being "devour[ed]" by our children.