Women Creativity in Patriarchal Culture

  • Kyung Hee KimEmail author
  • Yi Hao
Living reference work entry
DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/978-1-4614-6616-1_200072-1


Gender and creativity; Gender difference in creativity; Women are less creative than men

The CATs framework identifies the three steps that lead to innovation: first, cultivate creative Climates; second, nurture creative Attitudes; and third, apply creative Thinking skills. Regardless of an individual’s inborn creative potential, creative climates are the key to creative attitudes that enable them to apply creative thinking skills to achieve innovation (Kim 2016).

Seven Ways Patriarchal Cultures Stifle Women’s Creativity

Women in History: The Inferior Sex

Creativity development is strongly associated with individuals who form their own opinions and strive for self-actualization. Throughout history, almost every culture has promoted and perpetuated the idea that women are the inferior sex. Documents of ancient Western cultures depict women to be subordinate to men both socially and legally. Many quotes from the Bible provide evidence to this insistence, such as “Thy desire shall be to thy husband, and he shall rule over thee” (Genesis 3: xvi). The reiterations of the subjection of women to men was studied and revered for centuries, through Homer’s Iliad; the Old Testament; Aristotle, who described women as “deformed males”; and others. In Confucian (Asian) cultures, women are at the bottom of the hierarchy; before all other virtues, women are expected to be obedient, and men are expected to control every stage of women’s lives; a woman is expected to be obedient to her parents when she is a child, to her husband when she is married, and to her son in her old age. More recently, Darwinism’s emphasis on survival of the fittest provided scientific justification that women are biologically and intellectually inferior to men. Friedrich Nietzsche said “when a woman has scholarly inclinations there is usually something wrong with her sexual organs.” Ernest Hemingway regarded women as “sick in the head or sick anywhere.” T. S. Eliot looked down upon Virginia Woolf’s writing and he wrote, “there are only a half dozen men of letters (and no women) worth printing.” Thomas Edison commented on feminism, “direct thought is not an attribute of femininity. In this, women is now centuries… behind men.” Napoleon Bonaparte, “nature intended women to be our slaves… Women are nothing but machines for producing children.” There are countless other documents on men’s opinions of women in many patriarchal cultures throughout history. In such cultures, women are taught not to believe in themselves and conditioned to believe that they do not have the ability or the same potential to fulfill tasks and overcome challenges. They themselves believe that they are inferior to men, less smart and less creative than their male counterparts. Men are especially judged to be more creative than women when they display high levels of masculinity. Women believe that they are not good enough to do what men do, and thus they give up on competing with their men peers. This belief completely prevents women from developing creative attitudes and thinking skills (Kim 2016; Simonton 1987).

Different Expectations and Resources

Women who are successful in their fields, not only show early excellence, perseverance, and hard-working attitudes but also benefit from their supportive social environment, including encouragement, stimulation, and direct teaching by their parents and others (Walberg et al. 1996). Male dominance in innovation results from raising daughters and sons with two different parenting styles. Different expectations and recourses underlie different paths of parenting styles and socialization for both genders. Parents correct their daughters’ creative behaviors, more than their sons’, in the name of manners. These corrections stifle critical creative attitudes, including the ability to challenge convention and question the authority (Reis 1999). Birth order matters in women’s creativity development, and it is an example of how parental expectations make a difference in daughters’ creativity development. The relationship between family size and birth order indicates that regardless of family size, firstborn women often show higher achievements than later-born daughters regardless. This is because firstborn daughters are often raised with fewer gender-role expectations than later-born daughters. Differentiated treatments toward daughters and sons during their upbringing transmit an invisible power that causes women to strive for encouragement and positive reinforcement from others, rather than seeking for independence against the norms, which is necessary for creativity development (Kim 2016; Simonton 1987, 2008).

Taught to Focus Inside Home and on Others

Women’s desires and needs are not prioritized in a patriarchal cultural climate. Masculine traits are associated with task orientations, whereas feminine traits are associated with being emotional, kind, and gentle. This leads women to be oriented toward others’ interest. They are expected to take care of others’ needs first, such as their husband or children. Women often display higher levels of originality when they are given the task of others’ interests and benefits than that of their own interests (Kemmelmeier and Walton 2016). If one’s creativity development is compared to a marathon with its finish line on innovation, women are not encouraged to run the marathon; they are expected to take care of the men who run it, and thus women suppress their desire to even participate. When they do want to become winners, it becomes a burden or provokes repeated feelings of guilt because they feel selfish to focus on their own creativity development and they should be devoting themselves more to those they love (Reis 1999).

Forced to Conform

Conformity has a long-term effect on one’s state of mind. It is unconsciously fostered when children’s independent self-expressions are discouraged or punished by their parents or others, or when positive reinforcement is only given when children adhere to rigid rules and regulations. Over time, this conditioning influences an individual’s personality and attitude development (Sheldon 1999). Moreover, creative attitudes are associated more with traditionally masculine traits, such as independent, risk-taking, autonomous, nonconforming, and defiant attitudes, than with traditionally feminine traits.

In today’s society, women are more encouraged to make their voices heard and develop their own thoughts than ever before. However, women are still strongly influenced by patriarchal cultural forces, where they obey the conventional values to conform to traditionally women-favored roles. In order to conform to their roles, women focus on group harmony rather than their own individual uniqueness (Belenky et al. 1986). Conformity starts limiting women’s creative potential and opportunity for their creativity development in early childhood and results in fewer women who are willing to take risks to achieve innovation. Conformity fosters long-lasting insecurity and anxiousness in exchange for acknowledgment and praise of others (Sheldon 1999). Conformity hinders creativity development because creativity is making something that is unique and useful, and uniqueness is the opposite of conformity. Conformists care about others’ perceptions rather than their own uniqueness and try to protect their own self-image and self-esteem and creative thinking from others’ judgment. The pressure to conform inhibits their willingness to follow through on generating a new idea or creating something new (Kim 2016). Further, regardless of whether conformists actually believe the normative opinions that they espouse, a lack of self-efficacy (true confidence) can lead them to falsely endorse incorrect group views internally and externally. Internally, conformity accepts the status quo, which blocks creativity development, and externally, conformity requires maintaining private countervailing views, which dismisses potential opportunities to receive relevant information and critical feedback for creativity development (Sheldon 1999).

The Dilemma Between Career and Family

Associating women with domestic sphere and men with the public causes women’s creative achievement to decline especially after college. This is a critical period in creativity development because it is the time when commitment and efforts are particularly important. Time commitment during this timeframe is a major issue because women are torn between family responsibilities, childbearing, professional roles, and values and expectations from others. The phenomena may also be rooted in the differences between women and men in developing their styles of self-expression and discourse under a patriarchal cultural climate where women’s are more limited than men’s self-expression and self-promotion. Because prejudice and discrimination surrounding gender stereotypes have long existed, even subtle expressions of these gender-related attitudes have a negative influence on women’s career decisions which, in turn, further constrain their advancement compared to men. Professional women are under greater societal pressure to be wives and mothers, especially for those who chose to enter traditionally male-dominated domains. These women must maintain a somewhat “normal” life to balance their achievements. In addition to the pressure due to these dual-role duties, women face career barriers in terms of career choices or opportunities in an obvious or subtle way (Noe 1988; Baer and Kaufman 2008).

Fewer Role Models and Mentors

Women innovators often have fewer remarkable colleagues, collaborators, or mentors than male innovators do. Mentors tend to choose mentees with similar backgrounds including sex, race, and social class, which cause fewer women to go into certain professional fields than men. For example, in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM), fields are traditionally male-dominated. This can cause women to be stricken with anxiety to achieve perfection, which debilitates their performance. A lack of women role models and mentors is one of the reasons few women continue studies in STEM, which prevents more women from going into these fields starting from an early age, and this results in fewer achievers in these fields later. Thus, the presence of women role models and mentors in the fields is critical because it can provide women with social support and encouragement to persist their academic and career choices (Kim 2016).

Underrated Professional Accomplishments

In organizations men outnumber women in senior positions with formal power, authority, high status, and high income, and women have fewer, slower, and lower advancements than men. This contributes to devaluation of women’s work accomplishments (Heilman 2001). When women innovators do have an opportunity to work with remarkable colleagues, collaborators, or mentors, they are often less acknowledged for what they have achieved than male innovators do (Kim 2016). Women’s prominence is less recognized by the media and the public, even the ones who are well accomplished. This is because patriarchal cultures depreciate women’s values and underrate or ignore their work (Kim 2016; Simonton 1987). Media have the power to influence political situations because of today’s Internet. However, media outlets are not gender neutral, and they are mostly driven by the pervasive patriarchal values that are discriminatory against women. Those who own and control the media industries have the power to silence women’s voices, ideas, experiences, problems, and achievements. Despite having the capacity to empower women, the media plays a key role in the perpetuation of inequality by disseminating content and reproducing sexist stereotypes in social, political, and economical sectors (Gallagher 1981).

Conclusions and Future Directions

At the starting line of the innovation marathon, both women and men are born with similar amounts of creative potential (Kim 2016). However, not only do fewer women make it to the finish line but also fewer women achieve innovation. The pathway of women’s innovation marathon is uneven and has many more obstacles than men’s. Men are encouraged and supported to participate, practice, and finish the marathon, but women are neither encouraged nor supported to run faster or try harder. Despite the fact that gender equality is promoted more now than ever before, the competition is still unfair because gender discrimination dominates a patriarchal cultural climate. Seven ways that patriarchal cultures stifle women’s creativity are imperative for progress in the world, because the unfairness nature of the race between male and female not only contributes nothing to but hinders the betterment of the world. There must be more advocates for women to get involved in the race, as they have equal talents and are capable of being creative. Men must also become allies and cheerleaders to help women so that there will be a more creative world that further promotes the creative engagement of everyone.



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© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC, part of Springer Nature 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.The College of William & Mary WilliamsburgUSA

Section editors and affiliations

  • Igor N. Dubina
    • 1
    • 2
  1. 1.Novosibirsk National Research State UniversityNovosibirskRussia
  2. 2.Altai State UniversityBarnaulRussia