It is important to consider the roles of the females in her life as well as those of the males. She seems to gather her greatest resources from the female society of relatives and friends, and she likewise strengthens her strong female affinities as a result of the negative relationships and experiences she finds in most of the male characters. Knowledge is passed to Maya through the female mother figures in her life; this includes her mother, her grandmothers, and Mrs. Flowers.
Her first and foremost female relationship, as depicted in Caged Bird, with her paternal grandmother, Annie Henderson, whom Maya and her brother Bailey call Momma. The young siblings are shipped to Momma, in Stamps, Arkansas, by their parents. It is she who raises them during their early childhood years in this rural southern setting of the early 1930's. Momma is known as a good-looking woman, but Maya sees her through different eyes. "I saw only her power and strength. She was taller than any woman in my personal world, and her hands were so large they could span my head from ear to ear" (46). Momma had been married three times. She had two sons, one of whom is Maya's father, Bailey, Sr. Maya accepts Momma as a mother figure and role model. She teaches Maya through her words and through her actions.
Maya learns from Momma how racism plays a part in their lives and how to handle and recognize it (47). An important tribute in the book to Momma's strength is how she deals with the "powhitetrash" girls who come up to the store and taunt her. They mock her stance and her facial expressions, and then one girl does a handstand, and in so doing reveals her lack of undergarments. Momma stands her ground in the face of this insult, and though seemingly powerless, she finds her strength within her will. She wills herself to rise above the whole scene. Not unlike her slave ancestors, she sings and hums in the face of adversity (32,33) Momma tells Maya to wash the tears from her face. And as Maya complies she observes, ''Whatever the contest had been out front, I knew Momma had won" (33). Already, the author recognizes the power, strength, and spirit of her grandmother and appreciates her life and teachings. "Her world was bordered on all sides with work, duty, religion and 'her place.' I don't think she ever knew that a deep-brooding love hung over everything she touched" (57). In her work, "The Grandmother in African and African/American Literature," Mildred Hill-Lubin discusses Grandmother Henderson and others like her. Hill-Lubin calls these women the "sheroes" of the time (p. 266). She talks about how the African family has suffered under the burden of slavery and colonialism. However, she feels that the reason for its perseverance and survival is the grandmother. The grandmother's role, function and importance can be traced to the revered status, position, and responsibilities which elders hold in West African society (Hill-Lubin 258). The grandmother often maintained a household which consisted of her unmarried or married children and of her grandchildren; in this way the resources were pooled. The 1930's was a period of rough times, and there wasn't enough money for individuals to live separately. Consequently, some would strike out on their own, as did Maya's parents, and the childrearing was left to the grandmother. She had to be tough and strong in order to pull things together in so many ways for the entire family' Both of Maya's grandmothers are "strong, independent, skillful women who are able to manage their