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Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Is Creativity Masculine?

I just got back from seeing Suzanne Vega in concert a couple hours ago. The show was fantastic -- a nice mix of the old and songs from her new album, Beauty and Crime.

I've always thought of Ms. Vega as being waif-like -- at least that's the image I had of her based on her early stuff (the amazing "Luka" and "Tom's Diner", for instance).

512JLBUJQ7L._SS500_.jpgAnyway, she came on stage dressed in black...a black half slip, a black jacket and black pants. On her head, she wore a gray man's hat. Her speaking voice was deeper and more confident than her singing voice, and she carried herself in a somewhat masculine fashion.

As the show went on, she charmed us all with song-after-song and pithy explanations of their genesis. Near the end, it got me thinking. Is creativity masculine? I'm a big fan of women in music...my all-time favorite singer being Ani DiFranco. Anyway, it hit me --many of these women, the most creative of the lot, have a slightly masculine persona. In fact, when it comes to music, all of the women I enjoy have a somewhat masculine persona, from Tracy Chapman to Annie Lennox to Ani DiFranco.

Don't throw anything at me -- I'm not trying to be sexist or provocative here, it's seriously something that just hit me and got me thinking. Because (and this may be sexist), overall, men seem to be more creative, in a quantitative if not qualitative sense. I understand all the possible reasons for this, really, I do. But they're "possible" reasons, so the issue may be worthy of discussion.

So, is it possible that when a woman picks up a guitar or a paintbrush or a pen, she's leaning more on her masculine side?

P.S. By the way, if you haven't heard Suzanne Vega's latest CD, Beauty and Crime, do yourself a favor and pick it up. All you're buddies will punch your shoulder and compliment your skillz in choosing music!


Charles Gramlich said...

Interesting discussion question. I'll have to pay attention this. I can't say I've noticed it so far in writing and visual art. But I haven't really been watching for it.

Thomas M. Sipos said...

Some studies (which have doubtless been criticized, I'm sure) claim that men are more likely to fall on the extremes of the spectrum than are women.

Men are more likely to be geniuses, and more likely to be retarded.

Men are more likely to be creative, and more likely to be destructive.

Men evolved more likely to take risks, to leave the cave and explore and hunt and fight. Women were more inclined to stay in the cave, which was necessary to protect and nurture the young.

So men evolved as more risk-oriented and extreme and winner-take-all; women evolved more risk-averse and inclined to value security and stability and cooperation and compromise.

Well, that's the theory.

FWIW, lesbian iconoclasts Camille Paglia and Florence King both believe that creativity is a male impulse. (Ayn Rand may have also, but I'm not sure.)

Clifford said...


Thanks for the comments and the facts...very interesting, especially the issue of men and extremes.

But genetic predispositions? Back to the cave dwellers? I don't know. I do believe that there are definite genetic queues that we respond to, but there are so many exceptions that I think nurture has as much to do with who we are as nature. Probably, more. Lots more. I think creativity, if indeed it turns out to be "male", is a good example. Often, I think, we are who we're told to be, and when we find ourselves what we're really doing is finding a reflection of ourselves and trying it on for size. Those of us who decide to be someone other than who society tells us we are are constantly fighing to maintain a true equilibrium of self...

Kate S said...


I've often thought it's the other way around, but that men's works are more likely to be publicly noticed and accepted. (Thinking of the female writers, artists and musicians through history who had to pretend to be male just to have their work published/accepted)

Maybe there's a certain level of independence and risk taking common to creative types that is equated with masculinity? (ie, I've often been told I "think like a man" - go figure :)

Clifford said...


Thanks for chiming in on this issue. I just realized, last night, that the reason this issue bubbled back up to the top of my conscousness is because of my Nanonovel...I have a vampire community that is made up of middle aged men...they are very sexist and ageist and forbid the turning of women the young or the out of shape. It's funny, when asked where ideas come from I rarely know...this time, the crux revealed itself.

It's funny that people tell you you think like a man. I bet you didn't take much umbrage to it. But image the reverse -- a man being told he thinks like a woman?

Amber said...

It's funny that we're all too eager to assign positive traits like empathy and compassion to femininity, but we cringe at the idea that something as positive as creativity could POSSIBLY be massculine...

Clifford said...

Interesting observation, Amber. I guess I cringe at the fact that it's either. Maybe the whole "feminine side" thing is a sham?

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This is me and one of my two cats. His name is Cougar, and he’s an F1 Chausie. A chausie is a new breed of cat under development. Chausies are the result of a cross between a domestic cat (in Cougar’s case, a Bengal) and a jungle cat (Felis Chaus). Cougar’s mom is 8 pounds and his father is a 30-pound jungle cat. He’s about 16 pounds, super intelligent, spirited, and toilet trained. A writer without a cat (or two) is not to be trusted.