Gender & Creativity: Does Our Gender Affect Our Perceived Creativity

Thinking outside the box often leads others to view you as unique and memorable, not just in the arts but in any field. Creativity plays a pivotal role in all aspects of life: school, careers, friendships, and even romantic relationships. With creativity can come the formation of memorable impressions on others, which in turn makes you an irreplaceable member of a team or company. Unfortunately, patterns of creative production and attribution seem to be littered with gender inequality or biases such as women’s ideas are not implemented to the same degree as men’s, men’s ideas are seen as more creative than women’s, and thinking creatively is often associated with typically masculine characteristics.

Though inclusivity in the creative world has certainly come a long way from when women artists weren’t even allowed in the artistic realm or recognized for their work, we’ve still got plenty of room for growth- beyond the dichotomy of men vs women, but even a step further to putting forth questions such as: does gender matter when it comes to creativity? Is there anything advantageous for say, being a creative woman vs a creative non-binary human? Put simply, we want to explore the ways in which gender comes into play in the world of creativity.


For Starters, What Do We Mean When We Say “Creativity”?

Definitions of “creative” have been reworked by researchers for decades. The most recent consensus is a 3-dimensional meaning: novel, effective, and task-appropriate. In other words, original and useful, marked by “divergent thinking,” a thought process in which you open your mind to all directions and possibilities. Originality does not necessitate creativity- babies speak their own languages, for example; but do their words always communicate meaning? Usefulness and efficacy make products and ideas much more valuable.

Why is Creativity Such a Hot Commodity? 

Worldwide CEO’s all seem to agree that creativity is the most sought-after skill for the future of business. Companies want innovators, teachers want students who can apply knowledge in new situations, and both parents and students want teachers who are engaging and inventive. A classroom that encourages creativity provides students with more choices and self-confidence while focusing on their interests and elaborating on their novel ideas. Creativity even appears to be an important component of problem-solving and other cognitive abilities, as well as healthy social and emotional well-being.

What Does Gender Inequality Look Like in the Creative World?

There is no conclusive evidence of a more creative gender in childhood, yet we’re seeing a pattern than men will eventually excel further than women in creative fields. It’s possible that genetic and biological differences contribute to this gender gap, but researchers cite extrinsic factors, like societal barriers and cultural expectations. When looking into research on gender and creativity, we find many of the results show that extrinsic constraints (and rewards) decrease creative performance in girls, but not in boys. Similarly, women perform worse under competition than in a baseline condition, but men do just fine.  

Active discrimination, gender-based rules, gender roles, and assumptions all contribute to women’s limited access to creative resources and the jobs that would propel them to higher positions. There is even a correlated increase in gender equality with an increase in modernization as well as creativity among women- evidence that systemic inequality is part of what holds women back from meeting their creative potential.

Society, Traits & Creativity 

There’s a striking bias in how we attribute creativity, and we’re all guilty: all genders associate creative thinking most with historically masculine characteristics, such as self-reliance and autonomy. Classically more feminine traits include social sensitivity, supportiveness, and cooperativeness. This gendered dichotomy of characteristics is referred to as agency-communality, and being creative is more often associated with agentic characteristics.

We see this in examples like a study done where participants were presented with the same exact house design and told the architect’s gender, both women and men rated the design as more creative when told the architect was a man. We know, we were surprised, too!

What’s interesting is that we actually see more women earn more degrees in creative fields, but the top tiers in the arts are ruled by men.  Women earn half of all American MFAs, yet they only receive a quarter of New York solo shows. Even more, only 11.5% of creative directors are female. If you get the chance to have a woman as a peer, mentor or role model that can promote a women’s retention, success, and sense of belonging in male-dominated fields.

Self-Worth & Creativity

Self-esteem is also linked to creativity, and creative production in women goes hand in hand with “sex-role masculinity”- traits such as competence and self-reliance. Socialization and cultural differences have also been seen to restrict creative development by gender labeling, different perceptions and expectations for different genders compared to sons, variation in schooling and other important resources, and over-socialization in traditional cultures. With social cues pulling us in different ways, this can lead to different qualities needed to pursue creative achievement.


How Can We Work to Deconstruct this Creative Inequality?

  • If you’re in a creative field yourself, seek out mentorship or tips on navigating your field without being defined by your gender.
  • Support your local creatives! Even just by attending your friend’s art show or going to see her perform, you’re giving that creative work the attention it deserves.
  • Research the brands and companies you love, ensure they’re supporters of equal rights for all before blindly supporting them.
  • Don’t let the threat of competition turn you away from support! 
  • Be bold and fearless through your art/creativity- sometimes if you’re not being heard you have to speak a little louder.
  • Celebrate creativity without exclusion! Support any and every creative individual in your life, everyone can use it and will appreciate it, no matter their gender (whether they identify with one or not!)

Encourage and celebrate creativity in all of its many forms

As we said, there’s a long way to go until everyone, traditionally gendered or not are equal in the creative fields (and most fields, for that matter.) This being said, it is important to seek to understand the ways in which different areas are unequal on both the small-scale and the large-scale (as we have explored above) so that we can understand where change is necessary and possible. Deconstructing inequality is tragic and aggravating at times, but it’s also an important exercise to understand our society just a smidge more.

At the end of the day, creativity should be encouraged as much as humanly possible. Life is not always easy, but the more creative outlets one has, the easier it is to let go of the negative and embrace all that’s good in the world (because there’s a whole lot). Creativity has countless benefits emotionally, mentally, and physically.

 

Willow Frederick

Willow is an English teacher in NYC, with a Bachelor’s in Psychology that led her to focus on mental health & social psych.  She grew up with seven siblings in Pennsylvania and now lives in Village coffee shops. Priorities include: becoming fluent in Spanish, people-watching, and playing pick-up soccer in the city.

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