What Do Women Want? Poem By Kim Addonizio Summary, Notes and Line by Line Explanation in English for Students


The poem “What Do Women Want?” Is written by the poet Kim Addonizio. The poem was published in 2000 in her poetry collection “Tell Me”. The poem answers the age-old question – What do women want? This question was first raised by the famous psychologist, Sigmund Freud. The poet answers the question not by saying that women want love or materialistic things. Rather, what the poet, a woman, wants is a red dress. This red dress is a symbol of her power and sexuality. It stands for her confidence in her beauty and charms. The red dress is something that the society looks down upon, judging the poet. But in this judgment, the poet finds liberation and power. The poet answers the question of what women want by saying that women want power, sensuality and control over their own bodies.

About the poet

Kim Addonizio was born in Maryland, USA. She is an American writer and a poet. Her poems are characterized by her street-wise use of language and the themes of sexuality and substance abuse. She has published multiple poetry collections including, “The Philospher’s Club” in 1944 and “Jimmy and Rita” in 1997. 


The poem is written in one long stanza. It is written in free-verse form. The poem consists of 27 lines, all varying in length.

Lines 1-9

I want a red dress.

I want it flimsy and cheap,

I want it too tight, I want to wear it

until someone tears it off me.

I want it sleeveless and backless,

this dress, so no one has to guess

what’s underneath. I want to walk down

the street past Thrifty’s and the hardware store

with all those keys glittering in the window,


The speaker says that she wants a red dress. She wants it to be flimsy and inexpensive. The dress does not need to be made of any high-quality material or by any designer brand. It does not even have to be the right size. She wants the dress to be tight on her. The dress should be snug enough to be worn until someone removes it. She envisions the dress to be sleeveless, backless, eliminating any mystery about what lies beneath. The tight, sleeveless and backless dress will leave little to the imagination as it will hug her figure perfectly. She wants to walk down the street and as she passes by Thrifty’s and the hardware store, she wants to look at the keys glinting in the window.


In this poem, the poet’s desire for a red dress serves as a metaphor, reflecting themes of sexuality and power. The details of the dress being flimsy, cheap, and tight suggest a rebellious and provocative attitude towards the expectations of the society. The repeated emphasis on the dress being tight, worn until someone removes it, and sleeveless/backless highlights the speaker’s desire for a garment that empowers her figure and leaves little to the imagination.

These details contribute to the theme of sexuality, as the dress becomes a symbol of self-expression and liberation, challenging traditional notions of modesty. In the act of walking down the street, particularly past Thrifty’s and the hardware store with glittering keys, the keys in the window may symbolize power and control.

Lines 10-18

past Mr. and Mrs. Wong selling day-old

donuts in their café, past the Guerra brothers

slinging pigs from the truck and onto the dolly,

hoisting the slick snouts over their shoulders.

I want to walk like I’m the only

woman on earth and I can have my pick.

I want that red dress bad.

I want it to confirm

your worst fears about me,


The speaker also wants to stroll past various local figures like Mr. and Mrs. Wong selling day-old donuts and the Guerra brothers handling pigs. She wants them to see her walking confidently on the street. She knows that they will judge her. But by walking past them, she proves that she does not care for their judgements or snide remarks. As she walks, she envisions herself as the sole woman on earth. She wants to feel like she has the power and the freedom to choose whoever she wants. Her intense desire for the red dress is driven by a wish for it to embody and confirm others’ negative perceptions about her. She wants to wear the dress specifically to prove others that their fears about her are correct and she is someone to be afraid of.


The poet’s desire for the red dress extends beyond personal expression. It is used to initiate a deliberate confrontation with judgments and expectations of the society. The act of strolling past characters like Mr. and Mrs. Wong and the Guerra brothers becomes a symbolic assertion of independence. The speaker anticipates judgment but chooses to defy it.

The couple represent the older generation and the Gurerra Brothers are the representatives of the Male gender. The vivid imagery of the woman walking confidently as if she is the only woman on Earth serves as a metaphor for challenging the patriarchy. The intense longing for the red dress aims not only to express herself but to wield the dress as a tool for unsettling and confronting the judgments of others.

Lines 19-27

to show you how little I care about you

or anything except what

I want. When I find it, I’ll pull that garment

from its hanger like I’m choosing a body

to carry me into this world, through

the birth-cries and the love-cries too,

and I’ll wear it like bones, like skin,

it’ll be the goddamned

dress they bury me in.


The speaker wants to express how much she does not care about others. She has a profound disregard for others. The only thing she focuses and cares about it her self and what she wants. She plans to find that dress and treat it as a vessel. The dress will be like a physical body that she can fit her soul and identity into. The dress, once worn, will become a symbolic second skin, a representation of her identity. She wants to wear the dress during her birth-cries as well as her love-cries. The speaker concludes with a defiant statement, declaring her intention to be buried in the dress, emphasizing its importance and the embodiment of her individuality.


The poet has a strong sense of individualism and self-focus. This is evident when she talks about her disregard for others and a singular pursuit of personal desires. She declares a profound disinterest in anything beyond her own wants. The poet’s intention to treat the dress as a second skin emphasizes the deeper desire for self-expression and identity. She metaphorically talks about pulling the garment “like choosing a body”. This signifies a deliberate and meaningful selection. The dress, once worn, becomes a symbolic second skin, emphasizing the intimate connection between the speaker and this dress. The talk of birth-cries and love-cries suggests that the dress will accompany the poet through the various stages of her life.

The defiant declaration of being buried in the dress serves as a powerful conclusion, highlighting the importance of personal desires even in death.