Release Your Creativity

By Julia Stonehouse

“So why has there never been a female Bach or Beethoven, then?”

This was the question that propelled me along my feminist path. I was with a group of men and women in a London bar having the usual heated debate about the position of women in society when one of the men asked the fateful question. Suddenly, everyone became quiet. The women had no answer and looked beaten, while smirks spread over the faces of the men.

I went home very depressed, but woke up determined to find the answer. I got a reading card for the British Library and read every feminist book I didn’t already have. The catalogue of disaster didn’t help. So I turned to anthropology, then to the history of medicine. By this time I’d progressed to specialist libraries, so exclusive they have hairdryers in the bathrooms so you don’t drip rain-soaked hair over the ancient manuscripts. To cut a long story short, I discovered something I didn’t know: until 1900 nobody thought women were mothers.

In Beethoven’s time, the most revered authority on ‘the facts of life’ was a Frenchman called the Comte de Buffon. He wrote “the male semen is the sculptor … the menstrual blood is the block of marble, and the foetus is the figure which is fashioned out of this combination.”[1] 

Because women stop menstruating when they become pregnant, people thought that blood went to make the baby, while male seed provided the spark that turned the blood into a human being. Life itself came from men. Imagine two bodies lying on the floor, eyes closed, and motionless. One person opens an eye and blinks - they’re alive and just pretending to be dead, but the other body is actually dead. The difference between these two bodies is life itself, and they thought the male seed transmitted that to the baby. The woman, on the other hand, just provided the raw material for the male seed to bring alive.

Woman tied up.jpg

This profound gender distinction had been around for a couple of millennia. The ancient Greek philosopher, Aristotle, gave authority to the theory in 350 BCE. He described women as wood (“the matter”), which is given shape by the creative force of the men – the carpenters, who make the babies. According to this life-view, women are no more ‘creative’ than a canvas and few pots of paint. It’s only men who are artists.

From this incorrect biology, they extrapolated further. Aristotle said “The male stands for the effective and the active, and the female for the passive” and “Of course the active elements are always higher on any scale, and more divine.” A sharp gender division was drawn, with women defined as “passive” and less “divine.” And because “that which comes into being is male, is better…” men thought of themselves as superior.[2]

There was more. Aristotle said the male seed provides the “form” and the “principle of the movement” and the “sentient soul” – variously translated as consciousness, soul, feelings, or senses, but in any event describing that which makes us human. So children had to thank their fathers for their conscious mind, their physical “form,” their “movement,” and the spark of life itself. If the child was male, he also inherited creativity and divinity. But the female child did not.

These ideas can be found throughout European intellectual thought for two millennia, and travelled the world with colonization. There were discussions, of course, but basically women were defined by ‘nature’ as non-creative, and for them to venture outside that rigid box was seen as intellectual transvestism.

Women were in a maze with no way out. Not only were they prevented from following their creative dreams by restrictions on their movements, and lack of financial independence, they were constrained by the false notion of ‘nature’ which defined women as non-creative. And to defy that orthodoxy challenged ‘nature’ which was determined by God, making it blasphemous. Defiance could get you killed.

For most of that period of time known appropriately as his-story, women’s creativity was smothered by a thick, heavy, wet blanket from which there was no escape. We need to see that blanket for what it was – ignorant nonsense! So the first thing to do when trying to release your creativity is to throw off that heavy wet blanket. We no longer live in the era of misconception, so don’t let the past hold you down.

Go around any art gallery or attend any classical concert and the artistic role models are invariably male. And because there are so few female genius role models stretching back in time, it’s harder for women to identify with human creativity, which can undermine our self-esteem in subtle and subconscious ways. But lack of self-esteem can lead to self-sabotage, so it’s really important to look forward, not back.

The incorrect patriarchal biology defined men as the creators and women as the machines that ‘help’ men reproduce themselves. This was a clear distinction, with a legacy that even today inhibits female creativity. Specifically, women spend too much time helping men. It’s easy to fall into the ‘helper’ trap and get eaten alive by patriarchy. Do the math: if you spend 30 minutes a day doing more domestic chores than your male partner, you’re being robbed of 26 days a year (0.5 hours x 365 days a year = 182.5 hours a year divided by 7 working hours a day). Think what you could do with 26 days.

Creativity starts with having the time and space to spin your own energy. To think. My advice is, whatever kind of relationship you’re in, avoid falling into the ‘helper’ trap. Stop being so nice. Be creative instead. I doubt that Bach or Beethoven wasted time doing their partner’s laundry.


[1] George-Louis Leclerc, Comte de Buffon, Histoire Naturelle, Vol.3/Ch.5, 1774

[2] Aristotle, On the Generation of Animals