‘Owning our creative powers takes us from passive passengers or victims, to active change-makers and powerful contributors to our shared culture.
It is time to accept our gifts.’
Lucy H. Pearce from the book Creatrix, she who makes
It is definitely time for us to accept our gifts as creative beings. This is what the world needs right now. The world needs authenticity, perspective and truth.
As Camille Gajewski of Tate Exchange tells us in her article on women and art, for centuries we have been systematically excluded from the records of art history. We have faced challenges due to gender biases, from finding difficulty in training to selling work and gaining recognition. While women artists are very slowly beginning to gain a fairer share of the art market, their male counterparts continue to outperform them dramatically at the highest end. In 2015 a $25 million Bourgeous was the only work by a woman to make the list of the top 100 lots sold at auction.
Women artists aren’t the only ones to have struggled, Virginia Wolf talks about the struggles of women writers in a Room of One’s Own:
“Intellectual freedom depends on material things. Poetry depends on intellectual freedom. And women have always been poor, not for two hundred years merely, but from the beginning of time. […] Women, then, have not had a dog’s chance of writing poetry.”
This book was written just under 100 years ago, in 1929. Whilst many women are more economically independent there is still a long way to go before we reach equality. This is demonstrated by the way that pandemic lockdowns have affected women more adversely than men. According the the Office of National Statistics women were more likely to be furloughed, and to spend significantly less time working from home and more time on unpaid household work and childcare. Furthermore, women’s mental health suffered more, with more women experiencing anxiety, depression and loneliness. This doesn’t leave much room for creativity.
A woman’s view of the world
Women haven’t only been disadvantaged due to economics, space and time. There also seems to be a bias around what women authentically have to offer. Due to their experiences as a woman at this time, many women may have had a lot to say about relationships and communication but it was the seldom few who managed to gain an audience. Virginia Wolf tells us:
“Only Jane Austen did it and Emily Brontë. It is another feather, perhaps the finest, in their caps. They wrote as women write, not as men write. Of all the thousand women who wrote novels then, they alone entirely ignored the perpetual admonitions of the eternal pedagogue—write this, think that.”
Stereotypically female strengths such as intuition, compassion, caring and feminine creativity have been, and often still are, shunned in favour of more ‘masculine’ traits. The rejection of feminine traits cannot be seen anywhere more clearly than in the witch hunts of the 17th and 18th centuries. In his 2005 book “Escaping Salem,” Richard Godbeer examines the case of two Connecticut women – Elizabeth Clawson of Stamford and Mercy Disborough of Fairfield – accused of bewitching a servant girl named Kate Branch.
Both women were “confident and determined, ready to express their opinions and to stand their ground when crossed.” Clawson was found not guilty after spending five months in jail. Disborough remained imprisoned for almost a year until she was acquitted.
It is arguable that the bias against female expression is still alive and well in many quarters. It takes a long time for this type of bias to wane and many of the women involved in these witch trials have only just been posthumously absolved.
Women need to continue to assert their place in the creative history of the world and comment creatively on our society. If you would like to find your own creativity, Lucy H. Pearce’s book Creatrix is a great way to start.