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Maya Angelou and Her Feminist Literary Criticism in 'Woman Work'

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Maya Angelou is an African-American poet and actress. She is a world-famous author. She had a tough life. She was raped at a young age and faced racism in her childhood. These events affect her life later, and it is shown in her work. In her poem 'Woman Work' Maya Angelou talks about how the society forced women into gender roles. For many years women and men had their fixed role in the society, and these were made by the ones who were in power. In the poem, Maya tells us about the hardship a woman goes through because of the role that was forced on women.

The feminist movement relies on ideological and political ideas in order to gain popularity. Feminism has its aims as an ideology and as a movement. Although feminism's history can be divided into three phases and it developed over the years. The term ‘feminist’ didn't start to gain popularity until the 1970s. The gist of this movement is to establish women's equal rights and legal protection and to fight for the women from all domains, to spread awareness about the discrimination they face throughout the history, and this become their motivation to continue this movement. The activist feminist also criticized the idea that women only accomplishment is raising children. The women are victims of the roles gender the society forced on them. This system affected women in many ways. They experienced the loss of their identity. One of the movement aims is the right to plan their life and families. In the poem 'Women Work' Maya Angelou talks about this issue from the perspective of feminists.

Feminist literary criticism uses the concepts and ideology of feminism to critique the text. It has elements from other theoretical schools such as Marxism, psychoanalysis, and the post-colonial to analysis the text and the style of the writing. The feminist school examines how the work illustrates women and their attitude toward men in the text. Originally the school was concerned with the women's power and her role in the text. In the second wave of feminist movements in the 1960s, modern feminist literary criticism has its origins. During the second wave, feminism went through three phases: the feminist phase, the female phase, and the feminine phase. Each phase has different style in the critique. Women's authors adhered to male values during the feminine phase. In the feminist phase women's position in society was criticized. And in the female phase, women's works have now been assumed to be valid.

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In the beginning of the poem, Maya describes the typical role for women in the society, being a good housewife who takes care of everything in the house, The first stanza might show that the woman has the power because she has the control in her house, but the language Maya uses show that the woman doesn't have the choose, she's living like a machine that has no soul or needs. Women's role in the society now is much different today than it was in the past. For so long men had the power over women because of these gender roles. From the Marxist feminists’ perspective, the men have the power and authority because they work and make business in the society. While women who take care of the house and the children don't have that power and must obey them. The feminist movement became popular in the 1960s. The women at that time refuse this treatment and start to ask for their rights. As a result, women now have more power and can decide what they want to do. Maya represents the black feminist, the minority feminists. In the rest of the poem, Maya expresses the woman desire to escape her reality, as if like she was a slave and wants her freedom. The woman sees the nature as her sours of comfort. She is under pressure and asks nature to condole her. She takes care of the children, food and the house by herself and couldn't complain because this her work in the people's eyes. The language Maya uses help the readers to see the character's weakness and pain. The last line in the poem could emphasis that the women is living her life like a slave who doesn't own any thing.

Black feminists believe that sexism, racism and class domination are linked together. They experienced both racial and gender discrimination. Throughout the years the minority feminist felt neglected by the main stream feminism. Black feminism claims that black women are inherently different from white women in power structures. For example, earning the right to work outside the home was not seen as an accomplishment by black women, as many black women had to work inside and outside the home for decades due to poverty. The black feminist criticized the feminist who does not recognize intersectional problems. Black feminism has existed since slavery. In Maya Angelou's works, she uses a lot of figurative language to describe the suffer of black feminist faces. 'Woman Work' can be understood from the perspective of black feminists. From this perspective the woman is a slave in her life, all the work she does is for her family and the others.

To sum up, women had gone through many hardships throughout the years. From forcing a role into them to expecting them to accept it without complaining and act like they like it. Maya shows the emotion the character went through, how lonely and tired she felt. Now women's work is not limited to being a housewife and doing the house chores all day, now they can be teachers, doctors, and anything in addition to housewife.

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Maya Angelou and Her Feminist Literary Criticism in ‘Woman Work’. (2023, September 08). Edubirdie. Retrieved December 10, 2023, from
“Maya Angelou and Her Feminist Literary Criticism in ‘Woman Work’.” Edubirdie, 08 Sept. 2023,
Maya Angelou and Her Feminist Literary Criticism in ‘Woman Work’. [online]. Available at: <> [Accessed 10 Dec. 2023].
Maya Angelou and Her Feminist Literary Criticism in ‘Woman Work’ [Internet]. Edubirdie. 2023 Sept 08 [cited 2023 Dec 10]. Available from:
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