What Do Women Want

By Kim Addonizio


What Do Women Want by Kim Addonizio is a compelling piece that delves into the depths of female identity and desire. Kim Addonizio, a renowned American poet known for her vivid and emotionally charged writing, crafts this poem with a mix of straightforward language and striking imagery. The genre of the poem blends elements of modern confessional poetry with feminist themes, making it both a personal expression and a universal exploration of women’s roles and expectations in society. 📚👩

Addonizio’s work often challenges societal norms and invites readers to question the constructs of desire and freedom. In “What Do Women Want,” she uses a simple yet provocative narrative to voice a woman’s bold and unapologetic declaration of her own needs and desires, turning an ordinary object, a red dress, into a powerful symbol of liberation and self-expression. 🎈👗

Meaning of What Do Women Want

Opening Section
In the opening lines of the poem, “I want a red dress. I want it flimsy and cheap,” the speaker starts with a direct and uncompromising declaration of desire. This straightforward expression sets the tone for the poem, highlighting the speaker’s yearning for something that is seen as transgressive and daring. The red dress symbolizes not just a garment but a bold statement of freedom and self-ownership.

Mid Section
As the poem progresses, “I want it too tight, I want to wear it until someone tears it off me.” These lines intensify the speaker’s initial desire, pushing the boundaries of societal acceptance and personal restraint. The midsection of the poem delves deeper into the emotions and societal judgments faced by women, reflecting on the internal conflicts and the external pressures that shape their desires.

Concluding Section
The poem closes with a powerful assertion of identity and intention: “I want to walk like I’m the only woman on earth and I can have my way.” These concluding lines encapsulate the essence of the speaker’s desire—not just for the dress, but for autonomy, respect, and the freedom to exist unapologetically. It’s a declaration of self-empowerment and individuality, challenging the listener to reconceive what women want.

In-depth Analysis

Dissecting each stanza reveals how Addonizio uses a variety of literary techniques to craft her message:

Stanza One:

  • The use of direct and bold language (“I want a red dress.”) immediately grabs attention, setting a confident tone for the poem.
  • The simplicity of the syntax emphasizes the clarity and straightforwardness of the speaker’s desires.

Stanza Two:

  • Figurative language begins to surface more as the dress is not only a dress but a symbol of what it means to live freely and without restraint.
  • The imagery of the dress being torn off speaks to themes of vulnerability and defiance.

Stanza Three:

  • The concluding lines use hyperbole (“walk like I’m the only woman on earth”) to underscore the intensity and depth of the speaker’s longing for empowerment and visibility.

In examining the poem more closely, we can see how Addonizio crafts each line with a purpose, intertwining poetic devices seamlessly to deepen the thematic impact:

Syntax and Diction:

  • The syntax is direct and uncomplicated, which mirrors the straightforward nature of the speaker’s desires. This directness is crucial in communicating the immediacy and rawness of those desires.
  • The diction is provocative and intense, using words like “flimsy,” “cheap,” “tight,” and “tear,” which evoke a visceral response and challenge conventional decorum.

Literary Techniques:

  • Contrast is used effectively throughout the poem, especially in how the desires expressed by the speaker juxtapose societal expectations of femininity and modesty.
  • Repetition of the phrase “I want” emphasizes the strength and persistence of the speaker’s desires, reinforcing her autonomy over her choices and body.

Figurative Language:

  • The extended metaphor of the red dress serves not just as a piece of clothing but as a representation of what the speaker seeks in life: freedom, visibility, and audacity.
  • The poem also utilizes imagery effectively, painting a vivid picture of the dress and the actions surrounding it, making the reader visualize the scene and feel the emotions.

Themes and Symbols:

  • Freedom and Restriction: The red dress symbolizes freedom in the context of societal restrictions, acting as a beacon of individuality and non-conformity.
  • Identity and Expression: The poem explores themes of self-expression and identity, discussing how external appearances can reflect deeper internal truths and desires.

Poetic Devices used in What Do Women Want

DeviceExample from the Poem
Alliteration“want it flimsy and cheap”
Hyperbole“like I’m the only woman on earth”
MetaphorThe red dress as a symbol of desire
EnjambmentUsage across stanzas to maintain flow and urgency
IronyThe desire for a “cheap” dress as a symbol of something far more valuable and profound
AnaphoraRepeated use of “I want”
Consonance“red dress” sound repetition
Assonance“I want to walk like I’m the only”
ImageryDescription of the dress and actions
SymbolismRed dress representing freedom
OxymoronDescribing the dress as both “flimsy” and a source of power
AllusionNone explicitly, but invokes general cultural notions of red as a color of passion and danger
ToneConfident, defiant, and unapologetically bold

What Do Women Want – FAQs

What is the main theme of ‘What Do Women Want’ by Kim Addonizio?
The main theme revolves around female empowerment, desire, and the societal constraints placed on women’s expressions of these desires.

How does the red dress function symbolically in the poem?
The red dress symbolizes freedom, power, and the defiance of conventional norms about female sexuality and desire.

What poetic form is ‘What Do Women Want’ written in?
The poem is written in free verse, which allows for a fluid and expressive style that enhances the thematic content of personal freedom and desire.

What literary movement does Kim Addonizio belong to?
Kim Addonizio is often associated with contemporary American poetry, with influences from the confessional poetry movement, known for its personal subject matter and emotional honesty.

Can ‘What Do Women Want’ be considered a feminist poem?
Yes, the poem can be seen as feminist in its exploration and affirmation of women’s desires and identities, challenging traditional norms and advocating for personal freedom and expression.

What is the significance of the poem’s title, ‘What Do Women Want’?
The title frames the poem as a response to a longstanding question about women’s desires, turning a clichéd query into a profound exploration of individuality and self-expression. It challenges the reader to reconsider preconceived notions about women’s needs and societal roles.

What Do Women Want Study Guide

Exercise: Analyze the verse “I want to walk like I’m the only woman on earth and I can have my way.” List all poetic devices used in this verse.

Answer Key:

  • Hyperbole: “like I’m the only woman on earth”
  • Imagery: The act of walking in such a confident manner
  • Anaphora: Repetition of the structure “I want” from earlier stanzas

Exercise (continued): Analyze the use of imagery and metaphor in the line “I want it flimsy and cheap, I want it too tight.”

Answer Key:

  • Imagery: The adjectives “flimsy” and “cheap” evoke a vivid picture of the dress, highlighting its tangible qualities while also implying deeper meanings about perceived value and durability.
  • Metaphor: The dress metaphorically represents something that is undervalued and underestimated, much like women’s desires in many societal contexts. The tightness of the dress metaphorically speaks to the restrictions placed on women, both physically and metaphorically.

Through exercises like these, students can deepen their understanding of poetic techniques and thematic exploration, enhancing their appreciation and critical analysis skills.