Although I can blurt out the Hogwarts Sorting Hat poem while half-asleep I was never especially passionate about poetry. But when I was a wide-eyed 12 year old young girl with big eyes and bigger dreams, I first came across Maya Angelou ‘s Still I Rise in a random book at my local library and since then I have been worshiping Angelou like the second coming of The Lord. In a world where my generation defines ‘feminism’ as listening to Beyonce, watching Girls and reading Jezebel I was relieved to find a woman truly crippled by fate yet who championed the cruel intentions of her reality.
To the uninitiated, Maya Angelou’s wikipedia page describes her as an ‘African-American author and a poet’. But for a girl like me who wakes up in the middle of the night horrified by the plight of the missing Nigerian girls, she was a ray of hope. Her poems were advice which I followed and lived by and her books were the instruments of turning my naive, ignorant self into a furious feminist. So in this short span of my life and the immortal work of Maya Angelou, these are 10 lessons I learnt from her and every woman should.
1) Take control
“I love to see a young girl go out and grab the world by the lapels. Life’s a bitch. You’ve got to go out and kick ass.”
Yes, an african-american who lived in a time when african-americans were slaughtered, a woman who lived when women were still considered inferior, a poet who lived when women’s poetry was not considered serious literature is telling you to take the reins of your life into your own hands.
2) Embrace your feminity
“Pretty women wonder where my secret lies.
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.
It’s in the reach of my arms
The span of my hips,
The stride of my step,
The curl of my lips.
I’m a woman.”
The entire poem Phenomenal Woman is generously littered with pure gold. In a time when delicateness and sensitivity is mocked, she is telling you to embrace your ‘womanliness’. It is not the act of wearing skirts or curling your hair that means ‘feminity’, it is the internal acceptance of one’s form as and how it was given by God.
“Men themselves have wondered
What they see in me.
They try so much
But they can’t touch
My inner mystery.”
Any woman with a handful of experience with the ‘less wise sex’ can easily state that men are but greedy children who want everything. But it is most attractive and stirring when they don’t get it.
4) Stop complaining
“If you don’t like something, change it. If you can’t change it, change your attitude. Don’t complain.”
5) Flaunt your sexuality
“Does my sexiness upset you?
Does it come as a surprise
That I dance like I’ve got diamonds
At the meeting of my thighs?”
This stanza from Still I Rise opened by eyes to unexpected wonders and has defined my entire life from that day onwards. Our media, our patriarchal society and our mothers teach us that women are asexual beings. That we have sex only to please our husbands. That a woman who ‘wants’ sex is a greedy harlot. That we should hide our legs and cover our arms., that we should refrain from reading ‘Lolita‘ and idolize Eve’s obedience. Angelou says otherwise.
6) Don’t trust anyone blindly.
“When someone shows you who they are believe them; the first time.”
Even those you love most.
7) True love means letting go
“I am grateful to have been loved and to be loved now and to be able to love, because that liberates. Love liberates. It doesn’t just hold-that’s ego. Love liberates. It doesn’t bind. Love says, ‘I love you. I love you if you’re in China. I love you if you’re across town. I love you if you’re in Harlem. I love you. I would like to be near you. I’d like to have your arms around me. I’d like to hear your voice in my ear. But that’s not possible now, so I love you. Go.”
8) Express yourself
“There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you.”
The reason why I started blogging.
9) Don’t beg for attention
“Now you understand
Just why my head’s not bowed.
I don’t shout or jump about
Or have to talk real loud.
When you see me passing
It ought to make you proud.”
If you deserve it, you will get it. Don’t wear revealing clothes or act characterlessly to attract cheap attention.
10) Never give up
“You may shoot me with your words, you may cut me with your eyes, you may kill me with your hatefulness, but still, like air, I’ll rise!”
Maya Angelou has left behind a legacy of fantastic poetry and thoughtful stories but the most precious thing she has openly inherited all women of the world is the thought that we, however and whatever we are, are enough. We do not need to change ourselves to please a person or satisfy a society. We simply need to love ourselves the way we are.