Making the choice

rocker aThis past Sunday was Mother’s Day in the United States. A holiday inspired by Anna Jarvis, an educator, editor and business woman who never married or became a mother herself. Instead Jarvis campaigned to honor her own mother, a socially active woman who had encouraged her to attended college.  Motherhood is an honored status in our society and one of the main reasons cited for the lack of creative women in the arts and sciences.

For women there looms an issue that men do not seem to face – the choice between a successful career and a family. Nowhere is this more evident than in fields of creative endeavor. Gilligan (1982) proposed that women often define themselves by relationships and their ability to care for others. There has been an unspoken rule in society that women are to put others first. Gilligan pointed out that conflict arises first in high school, where it is more acceptable for girls to be highly creative and then reappears again after college. [1]

Reis (1998) has found more recently that young gifted women do not believe they are going to face the barriers that previous generations of women encountered. However, they naively thought they could  begin a career, and then stop to marry and have children without any negative consequence to their career advancement. The creative women from their 20’s to 40’s in age that Reis studied realized that they had a finite amount of energy. If they worked on developing their own talents, those they loved would be affected in a negative way. Finding time to do their own work always resulted in compromise. [2]

According to Piirto (2000) “Few if any gender differences are found in creativity until after college, when women must decide how they will manage being mothers, wives, and creators. The double bind hits hard, and this gender difference cuts across all fields and domains. The men creators never seem to wonder how they will manage raising a family and having a career. The women creators always do. That is why many who reached prominence were childless and even lived alone, without a mate.”[3] …like Anna Jarvis did.

Anna Jarvis poured a huge amount of time and effort into her crusade, she even resigned her position as an editor. In 1914, Mother’s Day became a national holiday, and within a few years Jarvis became disillusioned at the commercialization of this day, and was openly critical of the floral and greeting card industries. There is always that possibility of pouring one’s whole life into an effort only to be disappointed. Maybe that is something that many creative women, who continue to struggle make time to care for a family and their own work, have always realized.

[1] Gilligan, C. (1982). In a different voice: Psychological theory and women’s development. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
[2] Reis, S. M. (1998). Work left undone: Compromises and challenges of talented females. Mansfield Center, CT: Creative Learning Press.
[3] Piirto, J. (2000) Why are there so few? (Creative women: Visual artists, mathematicians, scientists, musicians), Davidson Institute for Talent Development.
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