Clothing is vital to humanity, besides physical protection from bad weather; clothing identifies a person’s personality, culture and gender. In the poem, what do Women Want? By Kim Addonizio is a poem that highlights the threat faced by women because of gender stereotyping due to the clothing they wear. The author effectively conveys her message in the poem by excellent use of literary devices such as metaphors, imagery and symbolism. Clothing is identified as an effective tool used in identifying women emotions, fears, interests and warning. The speaker represents the plight of women in a male chauvinist society while declaring that women are empowered and they have the ability to declare their capabilities. Therefore, clothing is used a communication tool, and its used throughout the poem to give varied interpretations.
The poem illustrates a woman’s desire to metaphorically use the red dress in expressing her emotions. The poem is straightforward in describing the woman’s desire. “I want a red dress.” (Line 1). The direct expression aids the reader in picturing what the woman wants. Red is a bright color that stands out boldly among other colors. By wearing a red dress, the woman desires authenticity within the crowd as she is easily singled out. Red is a passionate color, it represents sex, by wearing a red dress; the woman clearly portrays her sexual desire. Although it may appear that, the poem’s introduction is all about women and their relation to clothes; the strong assertive voice clearly indicates woman’s desire to declare women empowerment and confidence.
The first persona’s expressions enhance the theme of desire as she is wearing the dress to attract and draw attention to all she meets. The red dress symbolically represents the persona’s desires and emotions. The red dress plays a crucial role as it draws attention of the audience to the persona, the red dress is more than a dress, it is her attitude, desire and passion. “I want it flimsy and cheap, / I want it too tight, I want to wear it, until someone tears it off me.” (Line 2-4). The persona desires that the dress be more revealing so that her admires are drawn to her sexuality. The speaker is proud of her beautiful body and wishes to display it by putting on a flattering dress “I want it sleeveless and backless, this dress, so no one has to guess”. (Line 5-6). The speaker wants her dress to fit tightly so that she can display her beautiful curves for all to see. The speaker metaphorically celebrates her prowess over men; she declares that she can outshine men in most aspects.
The attitude and image developed in the poem creates a voice of fantasy as well as defiance. The rich detailing of the red dress clearly indicates the wishes of the speaker whose desires are beyond wearing the red dress. The speaker’s passion lies in her strong description of the red dress. As she describes her walk through the streets, it is evident that the dress is not intended for a runway show, dinner, party or gala. The speakers desire to wear the cloth in the streets during the day as illustrates in the places she passes with the dress. “I want to walk down
the street past Thrifty’s and the hardware store…” (Line 7-8). Addonizio describes the setting of the speaker who desires to embrace her sexuality while enjoying the attention of her admires. The speaker’s context is within an urban setting where people go about their duties. Besides, it is evident that social restrictions within the setting hinder the speaker’s liberty to expression. However, the speaker is illustrated a defiant to the restrictions since she is willing to openly express her desires regardless of other people’s opinion.
The speaker further describes how she badly needs the red dress, as it will make her feel like she is the only woman living on earth. (Line 14-16). The red dress thus disconnects the speaker from the daily labor, and dirt, making her a special object to be admired by all. Therefore, the red dress metaphorically represents desire, confidence, beauty, passion and sex. Besides, the dress is a lifestyle, attitude and personality of the speaker. The speaker is therefore describing her desire to look passionate, sexy, beautiful, confident and desirable to all. The speaker’s desires are illustrated as self-centered as she publicly declares her innermost desires and feelings. On the other hand, the speaker is also portrayed as rebellious because she regards herself as a woman not hindered by social restrictions.
The speaker’s arrogance is further expressed when she states that she does not care about her viewer. She claims that she is willing to let her viewer confirm what she has to show about her sexuality. The excellent use of metaphor and imagery conveys the speaker’s message on the plight of women in the society. The poem describes a woman who desires to live in accordance to what she wants. The woman desires to live a comfortable life without fear but full of passion “to show you how little I care about you ...” (Line 19). The phrase is a personification of the persona’s social expectations from the society.
Conclusively, the speaker is a free woman who desires to express herself in a social restricted society. The use of metaphors and symbolism is extensively used to state the speaker’s desires to the society. The speaker’s voice symbolically highlights the plight of women in the society. The speaker, who represents women, declares that she is superior to men in numerous aspects. The author effectively uses the cloth as an instrument of broadcasting women’s superiority to the society. The speaker metaphorically illustrates women emancipation in the society. By wearing a revealing dress for all men to admire her, the speaker symbolically illustrates that women are able to perform excellently until men admire their success.