A Phenomenal Woman By Maya Angelou Analysis

Maya Angelou’s poem ‘A Phenomenal Woman’ is a powerful tribute to the strength and success of women in the face of everyday antagonism, oppression and other forms of gender discrimination. It is an anthem of defiance and resilience which speaks to the true power of the female spirit. The poem is an acknowledgement of the many hardships women have faced through history, but also an inspiration for celebration of the strength, determination and courage of women everywhere.

The poem is written in the first person narrative and celebrates the ‘phenomenal woman’ by centering around a series of characteristic traits which allude to her strength of character. In the first line of the poem, Angelou boldly exposes the extent of the discrimination women have faced, proclaiming ‘Pretty women wonder where my secret lies’. Immediately the reader is made aware of the woman’s ongoing struggle against society’s injustice in valuing her beauty over her achievements.

Angelou conveys the idea that the goddess within the woman is a source of unconquerable strength and power, claiming “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”. This suggests that although the ‘phenomenal woman’ might not be considered attractive by conventional standards, she stands strong in her own power. By recognizing and appreciating her inner strengths, Angelou claims her success rests upon her own terms.

In the final verse, Angelou proclaims that “ men themselves have wondered / What they see in me”. In claiming this, Angelou suggests that her success is not tied to admiration from powerful men, as is traditionally expected. Rather she finds solace in her own abilities and words, suggesting that her success should be attributed to her own hard work and persistence.

Angelou’s poem celebrates the effects of her own struggle against discrimination and injustice, and reaches women everywhere in the hope of inspiring them to recognize the power which lies within them. The poem challenges the idea that women need to fit in with a certain standard to achieve success, suggesting that it is only through transcending predetermined gender roles that true success can be attained. It is this idea which contributes to the poem’s timeless authoritativeness.

Female Role Models

The ‘phenomenal woman’ in Angelou’s poem is a powerful role model, highlighting the importance of respecting and celebrating the achievements of female role models who have come before us. From civil rights leaders to scientists and artists, these women have achieved success, regardless of the gendered structures in society which have sought to limit the accomplishments of women for centuries. By becoming examples of courage, resilience, and determination, these women have proven that it is possible to rise above and succeed in a society which so often seeks to limit them.

An example of such a role model is Harriet Tubman, a former slave who became a powerful advocate for civil rights who also risked her life to free hundreds of slaves through the Underground Railroad. Tubman’s success was built upon a combination of hard work, courage and creativity, leading many to praise her strong sense of determined leadership. Along with Tubman, the achievements of influential women such as Susan B. Anthony and Sojourner Truth have set the stage for power to be conducted in a female and diverse manner.

Although these role models have not always been able to overcome the obstacles of their time, their example of courage and determination continues to inspire generations. Despite the hardships they faced, their actions spoke volumes to their strength and influence, as well as the power of women everywhere. The lives and examples set by these individuals has significantly contributed to the idea of female empowerment and is one that Angelou’s poem seeks to recognize and celebrate.

Promoting Female Empowerment

Angelou’s poem encourages readers to celebrate the inner strength of women while also recognizing and respecting the continued discrimination faced by many. Her words represent a powerful call-to-action, inspiring readers to recognize their own potential and value the power that lies within. Through her poem, Angelou is able to address a range of issues faced by women in the world today, encouraging readers to continue to strive for female empowerment and gender equality.

In seeking to empower women, Angelou highlights some of the strategies which can be utilized when working to achieve female rights. These strategies include valuing the stories of successful women, encouraging young women to take leadership roles, and promoting awareness and education about issues facing women. These strategies are aimed at empowering women by recognizing the importance of their words and actions, as well as providing them with the support required to participate in decision-making processes.

In addition to recognizing the importance of these strategies, Angelou also seeks to inspire readers to hold their own governments accountable for gender discrimination. Though governments have acknowledged the necessity of policies aimed at aiding women in poorer countries, acknowledging the rights of women in wealthier nations is often neglected. Angelou’s poem recognizes this, speaking to the need for governments to take active steps to achieving gender equality, thereby promoting female empowerment around the world.

Challenging Gender Norms

Angelou’s poem speaks to the significance of challenging gender norms, stressing that in order for true empowerment to exist, women must be willing to stand up for themselves and be vocal about the injustice they face. In a world where traditional gender roles and expectations of femininity still exist, Angelou is well aware of the danger of succumbing to these norms. She works to encourage women to reject the idea that being a woman is a state of powerlessness, a detrimental notion which has been used to hold woman back for centuries.

In order to directly address these issues of gender expectations, it is essential that women become more vocal and proactive when it comes to their rights. In the poem, Angelou speaks of the power of words, urging women everywhere to rise above expectations and reclaim the empowered lifestyle they deserve. By being vocal, women can send a message to those in power, challenging the idea of gender boundaries and displaying the strength of female solidarity as a driving force in advocating for change.

In addition to engaging in advocacy, Angelou’s poem encourages women to pursue their dreams without conforming to traditional standards. Women should be encouraged to strive for their own paths of success, recognizing their own worth and refusing to subordinate themselves to the idea that their only value lies in conforming to traditional gender roles.


Angelou’s poem ‘A Phenomenal Woman’ speaks to the necessity of celebrating the inner strength and successes of all women, regardless of the obstacles they face. Through her powerful words, Angelou encourages women everywhere to embrace the power which lies within them and to stand up for their rights, challenging gender norms and striving to achieve the highest level of success possible. By highlighting the strength of women, Angelou is able to inspire readers to embrace the power that lies within and take control of their own lives. In doing so, they are able to celebrate their individual successes and become a driving force in the fight for gender equality.

Dannah Hannah is an established poet and author who loves to write about the beauty and power of poetry. She has published several collections of her own works, as well as articles and reviews on poets she admires. She holds a Bachelor of Arts in English, with a specialization in poetics, from the University of Toronto. Hannah was also a panelist for the 2017 Futurepoem book Poetry + Social Justice, which aimed to bring attention to activism through poetry. She lives in Toronto, Canada, where she continues to write and explore the depths of poetry and its influence on our lives.

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