Last Updated: Mon Nov 01, 2010 19:47 pm (KSA) 16:47 pm (GMT)

Factors That Stifle Saudi Women’s Creativity

Maha Al-Hujailan

When it comes to using imagination and original ideas, women are far behind men. This has been the case throughout human history. Some even believe that men’s innovative skills surpass that of women, especially in such fields as art, sculpture, or maybe engineering, philosophy and other theoretical sciences.

This is why there’s a common belief that men are more creative than women. The idea raises a few questions: Is there any particular gender that is born with creativity in certain fields? Are there any precise elements of creativity that could be connected to a certain gender?

From a scientific point of view, creative thoughts have nothing to do with sex. Creativity is the skill that enables an individual to be original in what he does. Creativity can’t be separated from the mental and psychological features (such as initiatives, moods, intelligence, flexibility of thoughts) of human beings.

Creative people aren’t different from normal human beings. Except that their mental and psychological functions are systemized and this enables them to be always inventive and innovative. These features have their impact on an individual and his way of thinking or working. This inspires them to work for continued achievements.

Studies were conducted on samples of men and women to know the effects of social upbringing on the development of mental capabilities. The results proved that many women lack independence and originality in thoughts. For instance, young men are trained to be independent since childhood, their parents encouraging them in this process. Therefore, they are always fearless in the face of challenges or when they work in fields that require independence as a basic element. Females, on the other hand, are always told to belong instead of being independent. The idea is that a woman’s independence conflicts with her role in society as a wife and mother. This affects her creative skills.

Creativity, by its very nature, requires both sensitivity and independence. In our culture, sensitivity is a feminine virtue while independence is associated with man. Girls are encouraged to speak quietly, avoid math and science classes, and defer to boys, and value neatness over participation and appearance over intelligence. Rarely do women become scientific discoverers, inventors or composers. Very few women have made contributions to theories of creativity.

A woman’s fear of losing her sense of security and safety from society is another obstacle that stifles her creative impulses. If she dared to think outside the box and push the envelope, then she might achieve some progress. Real achievements in life require boldness and competitiveness. Unfortunately these two traits are considered by a male-dominant society as unsuitable to a woman. That’s why many outstanding female academics sacrifice their career if it militates against the interests of the family or social circumstances.

I’m not exaggerating when I say that Saudi women’s success is restricted to literary fields that don’t involve so much creativity. Their success in applied sciences is still very rare. In fact, conservative men in closed societies are still skeptical of the achievements of women in scientific and related fields. You find them discouraging their daughters from studying natural sciences. Some men refuse to marry women who work in such jobs.

One of the most important researches that studied the relationship of social acceptance to creativity was done by Hoffman in 1973. He explained that discouraging young boys and girls from being independent at an early age leads to the weakening of some of their mental capabilities.

Encouraging children to take the initiative and be independent is connected positively to developing the concept of analytical thinking that is related to the process of creative thinking.

Many studies have shown that a balanced way of upbringing that includes emphasis on independent thinking and creating proper atmosphere to develop skills contribute to the development of an individual’s creativity.

One of the studies actually showed that a mother should not be too protective of her daughters.

This will adversely affect their mental and physical health. The girls should know to sort out problems on their own initiative. This will not be the case if the mother is overcontrolling.

Our overemphasis or misplaced emphasis on gender is a serious obstacle to the development of creative talents. If we want a bigger number of creative Saudi women in different fields of life, it is not enough that we provide them with education and work. Most important, we need to force society into discarding certain fears and worries about women’s participation in businesses and other nontraditional areas.

How can we expect a Saudi woman to be creative in medicine and sciences when society tells her that she’s neither a good mother nor a good wife because of the nature of her work?


* Published by ARAB VIEW on November 16, 2007. Dr. Maha Al-Hujailan is a medical researcher at King Khaled University Hospital in Riyadh.

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