The poem “Phenomenal Woman” describes the spirit of womanhood. The poem describes a woman who is proud of being a woman, who is confident, follows her heart, has faith in herself and believes in her inner strength. Such a woman is ‘phenomenally phenomenal.’
The use of the first pronoun ‘I’ indicates that the poet is talking about herself. The poet was subjected to various kind of oppression and discrimination based on race and gender. The poet is an African-American. She has experienced racial discrimination, rape and oppression in America. The American standard of beauty is to have fair color, sharp features and blue eyes. But the African American women do not conform to these standards. On the other hand, Maya Angelou believes that inner beauty is the real beauty of a woman. She feels confident in her curvaceous body and huge physique. She finds joy in her womanhood. The poem is a reflection of her life which was full of struggle. Maya Angelou concludes the first stanza of ‘Phenomenal Woman’ by saying that she is a ‘phenomenal woman’. Here the word ‘phenomenal’ can have dual meanings, one that is she is huge and the second, she has a towering personality. Thus, she is huge in both physique and personality.
The poet tells her readers to ignore the conventional view of being beautiful which is only related to physical appearance. Instead the poet asks us to feel proud of what God has endowed us with. Women should not succumb to the artificial canons of beauty. Maya Angelou reminds us that our beauty lies much beyond the outer appearance. The tone of the poem is that of a strong, confident woman who does not bother what people think about her. She finds happiness in her womanhood. In the first three stanzas, she describes what other people think about and her reaction towards their viewpoint. She is not embarrassed about her huge physique. She considers herself a supreme woman and celebrates womanhood. Maya says that no matter how cool she enters a room, men fall for her and falls on their knees, they swarm around her like bees. She claims that it’s the passion in her eyes, the shine of her teeth when she smiles, the movement of her waist and the lightness of her feet that win men over. She is phenomenally a phenomenal woman. She considers herself as supreme and outstanding.
Thus, Maya Angelou is best known for addressing the world through the medium of her own life. Her works are a reflection of the social issues that were prevalent in the second half of the 20th century. “Phenomenal Woman” by Maya Angelou celebrates femininity and highlights the traits necessary for a woman to become ‘phenomenal.’ She believes that it is not the outer beauty of a person but the inner one which makes each woman phenomenal. She criticizes the biased societal expression that expects women to starve themselves in order to be considered ‘pretty.’
You can also take a look at this Video Playlist to Learn More about this poem in an audio-visual format!