Womanhood-Motherhood (by Roya Monajem)




The urge of creativity is one of the two major urges that distinguish humans from other creatures. There are two things that should be taken into consideration when dealing with creativity. The first one is the fact that need is the mother of all creativity and secondly, and regarding what is called artistic creativity having some leisure time is another necessary condition for this human faculty.

Today there is no longer any doubt about women’s equal intelligence and the capacity of other mental faculties.  The number of educated women with highest educational degrees in all fields of Arts and Sciences is exceeding with a surprising high rate.  Despite this fact, we still lack ‘geniuses’ among women.  With the exception of literature and poetry, we still do not have truly creative ‘founders’ of any fields of Arts, Sciences and Mysticism. Why?

During the first few decades of ‘women’s liberation,’ the conventional answers to this question seemed quite satisfactory.  Here again, it was prevalently believed that due to the patriarchal and male-oriented social relationships and also religious outlooks, women were never ‘allowed’ to strive for their individual intellectual, mental development.  They were treated as the ‘second sex.’ They were oppressed. They were always deprived of all the necessary opportunities for this process, etc. Everybody was so busy blaming patriarchal social relationships for the state of women, that many other factors were overlooked. But now, after more than a century of women’s struggle for liberation and equal rights when many of the reactionary obstacles have been removed and we have totally opened the doors to our intellectual growth, the basic picture and scenarios for the majority of women are nevertheless the same as before. This is not only true in developed countries, the birthplace of the above WLM, but also in all ‘ex-communist countries’ where the ‘equality’ of women was resolutely put into action.  In other words, even the communist revolution has not revolutionized women’s status.   In all these countries the housework and child-raising are still primarily the task of women.  They are still ‘bounded.’ It is true that this ‘bondage’ has not prevented them from becoming a ‘good’ doctor, scientist, artist, etc, but they apparently still do not show the kind of creativity that gave rise and still gives rise to genuine discoverers and creators among men.  Why?

There is no doubt that cultural influences are very enduring and long lasting. This factor can very well explain at least a part of the reason for the continuation of the traditional role of women in all developed countries.  When children are brought up in an atmosphere where the old sexual division of labour is still dominant at home and many other areas of life such as the world of propaganda and advertisements, it is very natural that no revolution can occur regarding women’s state. Under such circumstances and in the light of the prevalent role modeling, boys would feel ‘ashamed’ to play with dolls or display a liking to do what is usually considered women’s task. Similarly girls who hate to play with dolls and wish to do ‘men’s jobs’ will be considered ‘odd.’

In addition, there are the long--held psycho-sexual generalizations and beliefs that each sex attributes to the other generation after generation, which only help to keep the old misunderstandings and prejudices alive. For example, nearly all over the world men believe that ‘women are possessive, emotional, revengeful, jealous ...’ and women believe that  ‘men are all selfish, self-centred, egoist, arrogant ....’ Even if there were some truth in these, they still can be rationalized on the basis of men’s and women’s roles and functions in the society.  For example, possessiveness arises out of insecurity, and insecurity may take different forms from economical -- which is also the main reason for mother-in-law-bride enmity, still prevalent in my country where the majority of women are still dependent on men economically--to social, psychological insecurity--due to all the dangers still threatening women as the weaker sex, and so on.  By the same token, men are, for example, ‘self-centred’ because of their more advantageous status quo in the societies and also because they are used to be attended and served --by their mothers and their wives, so on.  In any case, no matter whether such sexual characteristics exist in reality or they are only the figments of the imagination of each sex about the opposite sex, such an attitude can very well implant the seed of pessimism and mistrust in the minds of each sex against the other, and become the major cause of  “the war”, that Nietzche believed is “the true definition of love”.1

There is no doubt that all these psycho-social and cultural factors play a very vital role in continuation of the traditional ‘division of labour’ in modern societies. But what does exactly make some traditions very enduring and long lasting, and the others relatively more time--limited and more easily breakable? For example, why did it not take a very long time for nearly all the third world countries to put away their national investments and get dressed like Europeans, but still hold fast to some of their other traditions and rituals?

It appears that there is a close association between traditions and Nature.  In the last chapter we looked at the relationship between geographical climate and investments, whose original function is to protect us from cold, heat, sun, rain and so on.  Now recent changes in the housing systems, as the result of technological, with all the diverse air conditioning facilities, has provided us with additional and more efficient protection, against adverse weather conditions.  In other words, we have been apparently freed from our dependency on our traditional investments, which in some cases can now even prevent us from easy, free movement around and in our new environment and our technology--based way of living.  So here the change in the tradition became possible, because its relationship with nature was interrupted.  So we can say that the depth and extent of the dependency of any tradition on Nature determines the depth and extent of its changeability and durability.  The more dependent a tradition is on Nature, the less change it can afford to go through and the longer it lasts, unless the Nature is modified in that respect. So if the traditional division of labour is still continuing, despite all the drastic social economic changes that has occurred especially since the last century, it means that it must have a powerful association and dependency on Nature.  And perhaps that is why the communist revolution and Women’s Liberation Movement could not ‘revolutionize’ the traditional role of women.  In other words the natural basis of this division makes any kind of modification difficult in this aspect of human life.

An interesting study on the differences between men and women, published a few years ago in the Scientific American Journal, showed that the scientifically proved existing sexual differences are of the kind that a primitive way of living would demand, i.e. the kind of differences that must have been present in our very primitive ancestors, with their predominant hunting mode of living.2  In other words only a primitive type of living can give meaning and a sound basis to their presence.  For example, it is experimentally proved that spatial orientation is better in men compared to women.  This is a quality that a hunter and explorer of new territories, needed most, in order not to get lost, while its presence in women who due to their bondage to their home-base could not move away very far from it, would be useless.  On the other hand, the presence of a more developed speech center in women, compared to men, arise out of another necessity linked to women’s task as teacher and educator of the children.  Whether these differences are hormonal-based, or whether they arise, as the result of division of labour, is difficult of determine.  In any case, their continuation to the present day shows that so much technology and change in our life style, has not had much influence on our Nature, which has almost stayed the same, despite all the extensive and phenomenal outer changes that our existence on earth has gone through.

So if the traditional role of women is facing so much resistance to change, it can be due to its deep and extensive dependency on Nature.  Now the removal of the majority of ‘oppressions’ and ‘suppressions’ and approval of women’s equality can be compared to the revolution in the housing system, which consequently permitted people abandoning their traditional national costumes. But why is it that the traditional role of women is still as operative as before? Is it thus possible that the reason for the lack of truly creative innovators (geniuses) among women may not be that much related to  ‘oppression,’  ‘secondary status quo,’ ‘social, cultural, psychological and religious prejudices,’ etc., than to their functioning in a different level of existence?

Now before going any further we should also make another point clear here.  What do we mean by creative activity, which is one of the distinguishing features of Homo sapient.  Although some birds can be ingenious ‘architects,’ but none has ever tried to make a plumb line and although some apes can be trained to paint but none has yet made a brush!

Creation can be defined as the process of giving birth to something that had no previous existence, and it can be divided into two categories: material and spiritual.  The former is the generator of what we literally call inventions, and the latter give rise to works of Arts.  Both forms arise out of a need that can be objective or subjective. For example, invention of plates arises out of the objective need for a vessel holding food, but making them out of different materials, with different shapes, colours etc, arises out of a subjective need.  Both are surely a kind of material need.  On the other hand, writing books is an example of spiritual needs. It is objective if it is to transfer some kind of vital information, and it is subjective if it is written as for example in the form of a novel.

We started this chapter by attracting the attention to the lack of ‘geniuses,’ ‘founders,’ ‘pioneers’ or ‘discoverers’ of any artistic and scientific trends among women.  This does not mean that ever have women discovered, invented and created anything.  In order to illustrate this point, let us look at the phenomenon of human creative activity historically.  For this purpose, let us try to sketch out the life of our primitive ancestors as closely as possible.  Based on natural division of labour, women, due to their lower physical strength and their mothering task, stay at ‘home,’ while men, as the provider of food leave home to go hunting.  Now it can happen that his hunting trip takes longer than expected and she is left alone faced with hungry stomachs--of herself an her children and probably her old parents and parent in-laws. She is perplexed and does not know what to do when suddenly she remembers that she had once (or several times) seen what we now call a rabbit, digging out the ground and taking out an orange thing and eating it, or had seen a monkey picking and eating a banana or a coconut, and so on.  And the dawn of botany, gardening and agriculture starts.

Now another source of food is available: cereals and fruits.  This would give rise to another need: some kind of a container for both carrying and cooking.  Day after day and perhaps year after year, she tries different materials, until one day she finally discovers the clay. And so the advent of pottery making. Sometimes before or after the discovery of clay, we also have the emergence of the ‘art’ of basket making.  Therefore the objective, material needs, she is faced with, urges her to look for the ways to fulfil them, and she is as efficient and successful as her partner is in this regard. 

Both the archaeological and anthropological records confirm the dominant role of women in the discovery of the above human activities. In other words, women have been as creative as their opposite sex.

In time the majority of her working-tools are invented, and this means that the majority of her vital, material needs are fulfilled. As a result she is no longer much stimulated by outside needs and the ‘objective’ urges for creation are thus ‘ turned off’ in her.  This is a point of vital importance, due to the nature of women’s tasks the tools that they require for carrying out their specific daily works, once discovered and ‘manufactured,’ do not need much further change and development. A simple comparison shows that her main working tools for this purpose has essentially remained the same, despite the passage of time and the technological progress.  In regards to her working tools, the only thing that has changed is the building materials and their variety.  Bowls and plates, pans and pots, even today, after the major industrial and technological revolution are basically the same as those of our primitive ancestors.  Similarly their other major working tools such as spinning spindle, weaving apparatus, sewing needle, etc, did not need to undergo much radical change. On the other hand, any further change in these tools e.g. invention of sewing machine required a radical change in the total industrial technology.

In addition, let us not forget the fact that the primary role of women, dictated by nature is motherhood, that naturally limits her life to her children and other household jobs and does not allow her to work outside for long hours and as a full-time ‘employer’.  Thus although some of the human activities such as primitive form of botany, agriculture, gardening, pottery etc, have been initiated by women, but later they had to be carried out and continued primarily by men, particularly if they were to become ‘large-scale’ production.  Once these activities become her ‘secondary’ or ‘subordinate’ tasks and responsibilities, she is separated from their immediate process of growth and development and in time gets completely alienated from the possible needs for the further growth of these processes. That is something out of her sphere of interest anyway as the old tools were quite efficient for her limited production.

Thus one component of the urge of creativity is ‘turned off’ in woman by first, the relative unchangeability and qualitative constancy of her working tools, and secondly through her now comparatively passive and subordinate participation in the social production.

With men and their working tools, however, the situation was totally different. Starting from the fact that, whoever had better and more developed and sophisticated hunting tools, could both attack and defend better in ‘wars’--whether with preys or enemies, the development of their working tools changed into a never ending process.  In the next stage surplus production, would have also meant (and still means) more power and authority and thus better chance for survival and well being. The more efficient tools of production the higher the surplus values and so on and so forth.  So while in women’s case, the majority of their needs for better and more efficient survival were fulfilled rather early in the history, men constantly were in need of improving their ‘means of survival.’

To summarize: the important difference in the nature of masculine and feminine duties and responsibilities affects their urge of creativity. In women, a part of this urge naturally fades away as her needs for working tools are fulfilled and secondly they have a passive indirect role in social (outside house) productive relations. In men, it continues with even a greater force as the will to conquest other territories and defending the homeland against other conquerors intensifies due to the increase in population and other factors not relevant to the present discussion. 

As mentioned at the beginning of this chapter, creativity requires another factor in addition to need and that is leisure time.  Here lies another sexual difference. The fact that women are ‘24 hour, full-time’ workers, with almost no time-off and holidays, leaves women with almost no ‘leisure time.’ This factor becomes especially important when the majority of the most vital needs (food, shelter and clothes) are efficiently satisfied.  Time is particularly important for what we called ‘subjective needs.’

Just as women’s working tools have remained essentially the same, despite the radical technological growth and development, the time required for fulfillment of their household responsibilities has also remained more or less the same. According to a study that compared the amount of time urban women spent on housework at the beginning of this century and during its 6th decade[14] both groups of housewives spent the same amount of time, approximately 52--56 hours per week on housework, despite the fact that the second group had access to far more technologically advanced household facilities. It is thought that the reason for this puzzling constancy in the working hours of the two groups, may be that women now spend relatively more time on shopping, washing and ironing, and cleaning in general.  Another interesting finding is that the weekly working hours for full-time housewives are longer than that of an average person in the work market.  For countrywomen, the working hours are even longer than that.  According to the aforementioned article, the working hour for women in the under--developed countries starts at around four o’clock in the morning and continues until midnight

In addition to (1) fulfillment of women’s material, objective, vital needs in a relatively earlier time in history (production of working tools) and (2) lack of any free, leisure time and (3) efficient fulfillment through parturition, there were other factors that played a role in ‘extinguishing’ the urge of creative activity in women. Women due to their primary role and responsibility (child bearing and child raising) that naturally bounded them to their house could not take an active part in the economic social production and relations. Therefore, they were not in direct contact with the needs and requirements of this domain of life as much as their husbands were. In other words, the degree of their involvement in this domain was not enough to make it their concern as much as it was the concern of men. Therefore, many more important factors other than suppression, ignorance, “castration complex” played a role in the lack of ‘prodigy,’ of course the ‘masculine form’ among women.

Up to now we have largely dealt with the ‘material’ component of creativity, i.e. creativity in the service of everyday’s life.  But as it was mentioned before, creativity has a ‘spiritual” component, too, that gives rise to the so-called “works of Arts.” And it is in fact in this domain of human activity that we do not generally find any female geniuses, pioneers, founders, etc (again in the masculine sense of the word).  It is for this sort of activity that ‘free, leisure time’ plays a determining role. In fact artists in the real meaning of the word, emerge when human basic needs (physiological, security) are fulfilled in a sufficient way as to give men some free leisure time. To put it in another way, subjective, ‘spiritual’ needs can manifest only when the ‘objective’ needs are sufficiently fulfilled.  All the “works of Art”, such as primitive cave paintings carried out before this turning point, are classified more as works of ‘Magic’, than ‘Art’. They served some real objective purposes (e.g. to overcome fear, to practice hunting, to possess the prey etc) rather than a spiritual purpose.

Now considering the fact that housewives and mothers are full-time-twenty-four-hours ‘employers’, without any ‘holidays’ or ‘day-off’, they had no ‘leisure time’, at least with the same meaning it had for men. Their minds were totally preoccupied with their immediate tasks.  Regarding such ‘artistic activities’ such as knitting, needlework, embroidery, and other hand made crafts none were considered ‘Art’ until recently. Until recently only ‘non-utilitarian’ works were considered art. Works with no practical use. The scenery men coloured on the canvases, they painted on their handicrafts. The kind of art activity that men were involved with needed a great deal of leisure time with a satiated stomach with no other urgent survival related task. Child bearing and raising make such a state very remote for women. How long does it take to finish painting a canvas, writing a book, composing a piece, discovering a philosophical, scientific dogma? One thing is sure and that is this time cannot be less than half hour that is the shortest time to finish part of a painting, writing a paragraph of a book, composing a melody. The more abstract the field, the longer is this minimum time without interruption. What is the longest interval that women can have in between accomplishing their different tasks and responsibilities? It depends on the age of her children. It is not long anyway. So for discharging her abstract thoughts she needed a kind of activity that allows interruption as much and as short as possible. As long as a knot is made behind a carpet loom, putting the embroidery needle down, making a loop with the knitting needle. The patterns too had to be if not simple, easy to recollect, small in size. In one word, the nature of the artistic work that women could get involved with was mainly determined by the nature of her other tasks and responsibilities. The nature of feminine artistic activity should have been as such to be compatible with her child bearing and raising responsibility. It should have been in a such a way that

·         would allow as much as interruption as possible,

·         would not be harmful for pregnancy,

·         would not harm the child (painting colours even when from herbs could be toxic if drank by a small child),

·         could be carried out with the least conscious attention (the main focus of attention of a mother is on her child).

That can explain why there are not many creative women in the sense of creativity defined by men. They did not have time for such activities.

In short, spiritual needs of women were expressed in ways different from men. In different forms of Art. They were not considered Art and Creative activity because the masculine definitions, values, outlook has been dominant. Art is the name given to that creative production without a utilitarian function or with a purely decorative function. All of the feminine artistic activity has a utilitarian function. According to masculine definitions women can be considered more as artisan than artist.

What can be a more inclusive definition of art? What about “Art as an aesthetic piece of work?” disregarding the rest including whether it serves a utilitarian function or not. This is the definition used in practice in our world of today, when we are including cooking, knitting, in one word any hand-made object as art. Decorative and aesthetic qualities are the other features of a piece of art-work.

The last relevant point regarding the urge of creativity is that parturition can be considered as the culmination of creative activity. Defining creation as giving rise to something that did not exist, then  ‘child-bearing,’ is the climax of this act.  Every human being is a masterpiece that women create.  A unique, invaluable “piece” that no other works of art can ‘compete’ with it.  It can be such an overwhelming, ecstatic experience that can satisfy her urge of creation for life.  Another aspect of procreation is that it is a ‘never-ending’ creation.  Everyday to the last day, it is in fact reproduced anew.  Everyday it actually is a different ‘piece’, another unique quality, not shared by any other works of Arts.

No doubt that this so called ‘feminine’ type of creativity requires a man, in order to be actualized, but this is true for other forms of artistic activity, too. Every form of creativity needs a tool.  An artist cannot paint without a brush,  a musician needs some kind of sound-making apparatus, a scientist needs a laboratory, and so on.  In the process of child-bearing, man is only the means, at least so long as wombs would stay active and within the body of women!

To make it short, as long as women stay as the child-bearer, their need for or their urge of creativity will be satisfied primary through this function.  And this is perhaps the most important answer to the starting question of this chapter.  This is perhaps why we have not had any comparatively great women’s names among ‘creators’.  To me, this trend will nevertheless continue as before, despite the increasing involvement of women in social life and production, unless (1) they start -- as Nietzche said it once -- to “lack the feminine material”2; (2) when our human evolution reaches the stage, when  ‘test-tube’ babies become the norm, and women are free from their child-bearing responsibility or (3) women decide consciously not to have any children very early in life, as the latest statistics in this context show; as many as %26-28, and by now perhaps more, American professional, working women have adopted the above approach on the reasonable basis that they do not want to stay away  from their profession for long, something that will inevitably happen if they get pregnant.  In these cases, the urge of creativity will not be satisfied in the usual feminine way; so it may happen that the pressure of this urge in this generation of women may finally produce geniuses among them, too. Until then, the climax of women’s creativity will be primary ‘limited’ to child-bearing.  She will remain as the creator on earth.


Woman is the god on earth,

Her womb is her canvas

Her heart, her musical instrument,

Her child, her masterpiece.



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