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Diana L. Miller, PhD.

Department of Sociology, University of Toronto

NOTE: This is the accepted version of an article published in Sociology Compass. The Version

of Record is available at

Abstract: Women artists are systematically disadvantaged across cultural fields. Although some
of these disadvantages resemble gender inequalities in non-artistic work, such as lower pay,
underrepresentation, work-family conflict, and symbolic devaluation, others are unique to artistic
careers. In this essay, I extend Acker’s work on the implicit gendering of the ideal-typical worker
to show how gender implicitly organizes social expectations around artists and artistic work. I
highlight themes emerging from past research on gender relations in artistic careers, which suggest
that the ideal-typical artist builds on a masculine model in at least three ways. First, collective
understandings of creative genius center a masculine subject. Second, bias in aesthetic evaluations
systematically favours men over women. Third, the structure of artistic careers, particularly the
need for entrepreneurial labor and self-promotion, requires artists to engage in behaviors that are
more socially acceptable in men than in women.

Gender inequalities in artistic and creative careers take many forms. Women are

underrepresented as both practicing artists and canonical figures in most genres of art, music, and

literature (Cowen, 1996; Parker & Polock, 2013 [1981]; Tuchman & Fortin, 1984; Bielby, 2004;

Piitre, 1991). Women artists and musicians experience difficulty obtaining paid work (Bielby &

Bielby, 1996; Goldin & Rouse, 2000), earn less on average than men (Menger, 1999), and

sometimes experience overt discrimination (Bielby & Bielby, 1996; Brooks & Daniluk, 1998;

Leonard, 2007). Judgments of aesthetic quality by critics, peers, audiences, and support workers

systematically devalue women (Leonard, 2007; Millar, 2008; Pheterson et al., 1971; Stokes,

2015); and, life histories of accomplished women artists reveal steep personal and emotional

costs of struggling to succeed in male-dominated artistic fields (Kosmala, 2007; Midler, 1980).

Collectively, these findings suggest that the spaces where women artists work, create, and

perform are not designed around their needs. Yet, scholars who study creative careers have not

yet synthesized this literature to draw out an important underlying social dynamic: the ideal-

typical artist, like the ideal-typical worker (Acker 1990), is implicitly masculine.

This essay reviews scholarship on gender inequalities among creative and artistic

producers, using Acker’s (1990) work on gendered organizations as an analytic lens. Acker

argues that organizational texts like job descriptions and workplace policies assume a masculine

subject; the ideal-typical worker therefore appears gender-neutral, but actually embodies

stereotypically masculine traits. This important insight—that organizations, job descriptions, and

career paths can have gendered qualities—has not been well integrated into scholarship on

artistic labor, but stands to improve our understanding of artistic work. Understanding how the

ideal-typical artist is gendered allows cultural sociologists to theorize gender inequality in

multiple artistic fields, and points toward general principles explaining how women artists are

disadvantaged. Applying Acker’s analytical lens to artistic and creative work as a unique case

also allows gender scholars to better understand structural differences between artistic and non-

artistic work.

I begin by highlighting key connections between the ideal-typical worker and the ideal-

typical artist. Artistic careers demand total commitment from incumbents and thus create the

same gendered time pressures that exist in non-artistic workplaces (Nochlin 1989). I then use

literature on gender and artistic careers to unpack three undertheorized ways in which the ideal-

typical artist is implicitly masculinized. First, collective understandings of creative genius center

a masculine subject. Second, collective evaluations of aesthetic quality systematically favor men

over women. Third, the need for artists to do entrepreneurial labor privileges practices that are

more socially acceptable in men than women, such as self-promotion and risk-taking.

Notably, these inequalities suggest multiple forms of gendering that occur concurrently,

and which may or may not intersect with each other. As I will argue, the expectation of total

commitment and creative genius suggest that the ideologies associated with artists are symbolic

aligned with masculinity. The fact that collective judgments of aesthetic quality are gender-

biased suggests the social structuring of perception as another mechanism of gendering. Finally,

work-family conflict and the need for entrepreneurial labour suggest that the structure of artistic

careers privileges men artists. Progress on only one of these dimensions—for example, de-

gendering collective ideologies surrounding artistry without re-structuring artistic careers—may

therefore represent only partial progress toward gender equality in artistic careers.

Deconstructing how the artist archetype is gendered matters because gender inequality is

easily disguised by the rhetoric surrounding creative scenes. What appears to be audience

preference or innocuous differences in taste can actually be the subtle, systematic favoring of

men artists and creative workers. In the case of any individual woman artist, there might be a

plausible explanation for lower earnings, lesser opportunities, or artistic work that is valued less

highly than work by comparable men; yet, in the aggregate, gender inequality among artists is

clearly a systemic issue (Cowen 1996, Nochlin 1989, Parker and Pollock 2013[1981]).


Gender is commonly viewed as an individual characteristic, both in popular

understandings and much early gender scholarship. Acker’s (1990) work represents an important

conceptual shift toward viewing gender as also embedded in social structures (Britton and Logan

2008). Gender scholars came to view jobs, organizations, and hierarchies as implicitly gendered,

as they require workers with gendered characteristics and who engage in gendered practices

(Acker, 1990; Fudge & Vosko, 2001; Kelly et al., 2010). Acker analyzes the “abstract worker”

imagined by organizational texts such as job descriptions and workplaces policies, and argues

the abstract worker is actually a man, and it is the man's body, its sexuality,
minimal responsibility in procreation, and conventional control of
emotions that pervades work and organizational processes. Women's
bodies—female sexuality, their ability to procreate and their pregnancy,
breast-feeding, and child care, menstruation, and mythic "emotionality"—
are suspect, stigmatized, and used as grounds for control and exclusion
(Acker 1990, p. 152).

Acker thus argues that workplaces are designed around habitual ways of being and acting

that center men’s experiences. Bureaucratic workplaces rely on a separation between the public

and private spheres, which advantages men who assume less responsibility in the home.

Organizational management practices teach workers to suppress sexuality, reproduction, and

emotionality, which are all culturally associated with femininity. In short, shared understandings

of an “ideal worker” more closely resembled shared ideas about masculinity than femininity

(Acker, 1990; Kelly et al., 2010). This disadvantages women workers; employers and managers

more easily value and reward men because they more closely resemble employers’ implicit

understandings of how good workers behave (Kelly et al., 2010).

Shared understandings of the ideal-typical artist differ from images of the ideal worker.

Artistic creation rarely occurs within the bureaucratic organizations that Acker (1990) describes,

or within the “standard employment relationship” (Fudge & Vosko, 2001) of full-time waged

work on an employer’s premises. More commonly, artists are freelance and contract workers, or

self-employed. Additionally, many artists are not workers at all; they are amateurs or hobbyists

oriented toward peer recognition rather than earnings (Bourdieu 1993, Finnegan 1989, Finney

1993). The ideal-typical worker is dedicated to an organization, and suppresses his personal life

and emotions in service of that organization’s goals (Acker, 1990; Kelly et al., 2010); the ideal-

typical artist is unconstrained by conventional society, seeks individual status and recognition,

and pursues creative endeavours that are not tied to a particular organization (Beebe, 1964;

Nochlin, 1989). Empirical evidence from artistic fields—particularly, men’s overrepresentation

as artists and their advantages in pay and evaluation (Bielby & Bielby, 1996; Clawson, 1999)—

suggests that shared understandings of an ‘artist’ privilege masculinity rather than femininity.

But, these important structural differences between the ideal worker and the artist archetype

suggest that the mechanisms underlying gender inequality in artistic careers differ from those

outlined in non-artistic workplaces.

How, then, is the ideal-typical artist implicitly masculinized? Men outnumber women as

creative producers in almost all artistic fields (Bielby, 2004; Cowen, 1996; Menger, 1999; Parker

& Polock, 2013 [1981]; Tuchman & Fortin, 1984). Notably, life histories of influential women

artists often emphasize how their atypical life circumstances facilitated their success; many

significant women artists had indulgent parents who allowed their daughters to receive artistic

instruction, or were childless and therefore had the freedom to pursue the arts (Cowen 1996,

Parker & Pollock 2013). Others were simply unusually determined and ‘masculine’ in their

disposition (Kosmala, 2007; Midler, 1980). Importantly, biographers and critics justify these

women’s artistic careers by highlighting their differences from other women, suggesting

contradiction in the very notion of a “woman artist” (Cowen, 1996; Piitre, 1991). In short, gender

is written into our shared beliefs about art and artistry. But what are the key junctures at which

this gendering occurs?

The differences previously outlined between the ideal-typical artist and the ideal worker

are important, but there are also key points of similarity around the ideas of total commitment

and work-family conflict. The ideal-typical artist, like the ideal-typical worker, is expected to

make a “total commitment” to his vocation (Kelly et al., 2010; Midler, 1980; Stokes, 2013). The

ideal worker is expected to prioritize his job over his personal life and perform visible

commitment to his organization (Acker, 1990; Cooper, 2000; Kelly et al., 2010); similarly, the

ideal-typical artist is expected to prioritize artistic creation above all else, and perform visible

commitment to art as a “passion” or a “calling” (Beebe, 1964; Dobrow, 2012; Stokes, 2013).

This expectation of passionate commitment runs through classic works of cultural sociology; for

example, Bourdieu (1993) notes that audiences and support workers expect artists to feign

disinterest in all non-artistic concerns, particularly economic concerns, because passionate

commitment to art is the only motivation to which artists may admit publicly.

This norm of total commitment to a single calling is a highly gendered expectation.

Nochlin (1989) suggests that women have historically been discouraged from developing a

single competency in depth, as moderate competence in multiple areas was considered more

suitable for women who needed skills in multiple domestic tasks. The freedom to focus on a

single skill, Nochlin suggests, was reserved for men.

The structure of artistic careers, like the structure of bureaucratic workplaces, also

conflicts with child care and domestic responsibilities (Piitre, 1991; Stokes, 2013). In many

cultural fields, such as film, television, and theatre, work is organized around project-based

arrangements that alternate between periods of little or no work, and periods of intense work

(Caves, 2000)—for example, 14-hour days on a film set, alternating with unemployment

between projects. Other creative work occurs at inconvenient times; for example, chefs and

many performing artists must work in the evenings, when customers wish to eat dinner and

audiences wish to attend plays, concerts, and other cultural events (Harris and Giuffre 2015).

Creative and artistic careers can also require extensive travel and last-minute availability—for

example, musicians or photographers might receive an opportunity for an out-of-town gig or

photo shoot on short notice—which creates conflict with personal and family responsibilities

(Bayton, 1998; Leonard, 2007; Menger, 1999; Stokes, 2013).

Acker (1990) famously suggested the flexible and non-standard working arrangements

might ease work-family conflict, and thus benefit women. Contrary to her expectation, these

non-standard, project-based and travel-based artistic careers seem no easier to combine with

child care, elder care, or other social-reproductive responsibilities than a standard, full-time job

(Harris and Guiffre, 2015; Parker and Pollock 2013[1983]). In some cases, public-private

conflict in artistic careers may also be exacerbated because many artists perform demanding

artistic labor in addition to working a full-time job (Menger 1999). Indeed, literature on women

artists consistently highlights social-reproductive responsibilities and work-family conflict as

major barriers to gender equality. Women artists experience more frequent career interruptions

due to child-rearing (Stohs 1992), and many women artists feel pressured to prioritize their

family’s needs before their artistic careers (Brooks and Danliuk 1998: Piitro, 1991).

Unsurprisingly, many historically successful women artists deliberately avoided bearing and

raising children because of the toll it would take on their art (Cowen 1996, Pollock and Parker


These are two important similarities between the artist archetype and the ideal-typical

worker: an expectation that individuals will perform visible, total commitment, and a career

structure that creates conflict between vocational responsibilities and social reproductive labor.

Yet, literature on gender relations in creative fields suggests that the ideal-typical artist is also

gendered in ways not fully elaborated by scholarship on gender, work, and organizations (Acker,

1990; Cooper, 2000; Kelly et al., 2010; Fudge & Vosko, 2001). In particular, the artist archetype

is symbolically masculinized through: (1) an expectation of creative genius, (2) gender bias in

aesthetic evaluations, and (3) the necessity of entrepreneurial artistic labor.


In contemporary Western society, shared images of the artist center an individual creative

genius, removed from mundane aspects of everyday life (Becker, 1982). Beebe (1964) conducts

a literary analysis of novels featuring an artist-hero, and finds that,

although the artist figure claims individuality in that he is different from

the majority of men, his quest for his true self usually ends in the discovery
that he is very much like other artists, that in fact he embodies the
archetype of the artist (Beebe, 1964, p.6)

Beebe (1964) argues that the artist archetype centers an individual who experiences life

more deeply than others, and has difficulty fitting into polite society as others misunderstand his

genius. Art and artistry, in this view, take on quasi-sacred properties and transcend the everyday

(Eyerman, 2006; Nochlin, 1989), but also disconnect the artist from society, and from rules and

norms followed by others.

This view of artists as temperamental geniuses disadvantages women. We more easily

view men than women as transcending the ordinary and achieving greatness (Cowen, 1996;

Ocshe, 1990; Parker & Polock, 2013 [1981]). For example, Schmidt (2015) aggregates data from, a website allowing students to evaluate college and university

instructors, and finds that students more commonly describe men than women as “genius,”

across all disciplines. Similar themes are evident in literature on artistic fields. Nochlin (1989)

argues that shared definitions of “genius” are implicitly masculinized. Similarly, Parker and

Pollock (2013 [1981]) observe in the title of their book, Old Mistresses, that we lack a feminine

equivalent to the term “old masters,” which describes canonical male painters and sculptors.

Indeed, in the Renaissance era men argued that women artists should be limited to painting

simple subjects like flowers and fruit, while men should do major historical and allegorical

works because "men are the true artists, they have genius; women have only taste. Men are busy

with serious works of the imagination on a grand scale but women are occupied in minor,

delicate, personal pastimes" (Parker & Polock, 2013 [1981], p.13). In a study of musical practice

in a community orchestra, Finnegan (2007 [1989], p.160) notes, “it is commonly believed,

especially within the classical music world, that composers worthy of that name are either dead

or (if alive) men of genius far removed from ordinary life” (emphasis added). And, women

musicians routinely report that audiences and support workers assume that they are

instrumentalists, while their male bandmates are the songwriters and creative forces behind the

band (Bayton, 1998; Groce & Cooper, 1990; Leonard, 2007).

Even in female-dominated or symbolically feminized artistic fields, transformative

creative vision is attributed to men more readily than women. Food is a historically feminine

domain, yet men are credited with elevating cuisine to art (Johnston & Baumann, 2007; Harris &

Giuffre, 2015). In fashion design, Stokes (2015) finds that media coverage frequently frames

clothing by male designers (specifically, gay men) as creative, visionary, and artistic, while

women designers are praised for mundane characteristics like the “wearability” of their designs.

These empirical findings point toward a broader underlying process: that we associate creative

genius with masculinity.

Creative, transformative genius can also be considered symbolically masculinized

because it often suggests antisocial behavior, which is more socially acceptable in men than

women. The artist archetype often involves moodiness, sensitivity, eccentricity, and a limited

ability to function in ordinary society (Beebe, 1964). Becker (1982, p. 14) similarly notes that the

“romantic myth of the artist suggests that people with such gifts cannot be subjected to the

constraints imposed on other members of society”. In fact, the foil against which Becker frames

his argument is a lone creative genius, working in isolation.

This long-standing association of creativity with reclusion and eccentricity has gendered

implications because antisocial behavior is more easily excused in men than women (Ridgeway,

2011). Literature on gender and workplaces finds that managers overlook rudeness, aggression,

and poor social graces from high-performing men, while requiring women to be nicer in order to

wield influence and authority (Eagly et al., 1992; Kanter, 1977; Ridgeway, 2001). Artists’

biographies and artistic works suggest similar dynamics (Brooks & Daniluk, 1998). Midler

(1980), shows that George Eliot’s female artist-heroes continually confront the fact that ego and

temper in the pursuit of greatness are expected of men, but surprising in women, and reads this

as an expression of frustrations that Eliot herself experiencedi. In a more contemporary example,

Kurt Cobain famously struggled with addiction and depression, criticized the music industry in

press interviews, and often retreated from social contact; yet, he was romanticized as a “tortured

artist” while his wife and fellow musician Courtney Love —who did many of the same things,

often with Cobain—is widely portrayed as out-of-control and untalented. Women who retreat

from society and ignore others’ needs to focus on artistic creation are often considered selfish,

dangerous, or unruly rather than heralded as geniuses (Huf, 1983).

In short, the perception of artists as tortured creative geniuses introduces implicit

symbolic gendering into shared understandings of the artist archetype. Transformative creative

potential is more strongly associated with masculinity than femininity, and reclusion,

temperamentality, and antisocial behavior are more socially acceptable in men than women.

When we imagine artists as unpredictable creative geniuses, we implicitly imagine men.


The ideal-typical artist both seeks out and depends on widespread recognition and

acclaim from multiple publics, including peers, critics, media, and audiences (Bourdieu, 1993).

Artists generally want their works to be seen, heard, and read. They continually seek new

audiences, and depend on multiple ancillary workers (e.g. editors, agents, publicists, promoters,

art dealers) to appreciate and champion their work (Becker, 1982; Caves, 2000). Artists must

also continually establish and defend their works’ aesthetic value (Baumann, 2007; Becker,

1982; Chong, 2013).

Unfortunately for women artists, perception and evaluation are structured by gender.

Women are generally evaluated less favorably than men across multiple domains of social life.

On average, women are perceived as less competent and less authoritative than men (Nieva &

Gutek, 1980; Ridgeway, 2011). Evaluations of the same objects and texts—résumés, paintings,

and online courses, for example—are on average higher when those objects are attributed to men

(MacNell et al., 2014; Pheterson, 1971)

Empirical findings suggest that similar processes of undervaluation occur in artistic fields

and evaluations of aesthetic legitimacy. Women artists, musicians, and writers describe being

taken less seriously than men, being treated as novices when they are actually skilled

professionals, and having to work harder than men for equal recognition (Cowen, 1996; Leonard,

2007; Midler, 2980; Miller, 2014). Indeed, many women artists adopt male or gender-neutral

names to avoid gender-based symbolic devaluation, such as George Eliot (pen name of Mary

Ann Evans), J.K. Rowling (whose publishers urged her to use initials to avoid revealing her

gender), and Currer, Ellis and Acton Bell (better known as Charlotte, Emily, and Anne Brontë).

This perception bias is compounded because women are systematically sanctioned for seeking

attention (Ridgeway 2011), and may therefore be less active and enthusiastic in the self-

promotion that is necessary to secure these positive evaluations.

Evaluative bias is particularly problematic for women artists because aesthetic quality is

inherently ambiguous (Hirsch, 1972). There are no definitive standards for what makes “good”

art, literature, film, or music. Participants in artistic fields develop practices to reduce this

uncertainty; Baumann (2007) emphasizes that the development of a shared critical discourse is

central to artistic fields, and argues that this discourse creates mutually understood evaluative

standards. Nevertheless, aesthetic evaluation always retains a degree of uncertainty and

subjectivity. Notably, when individuals make judgments in conditions of uncertainty, they are

more likely to draw on intuitive, unexamined criteria such as gender stereotypes (Ridgeway,

2011; Steinberg, 1990; Miller, 2014). Creating more structured conditions of evaluation—for

example, formal application processes and scoring systems for allocating public arts grants or

performance slots at folk festivals (Miller 2014), or “blind auditions” for symphony orchestras

(Goldin & Rouse, 2000)—reduces gender inequality by drawing evaluators’ attention away from

artists’ gender and toward qualities of the artistic work itself. Yet, these formal evaluative

processes are the exception in most artistic fields, rather than the rule; and even in these cases,

gender bias is not reduced to zero.

Stokes (2015) refers to men’s advantage in developing recognition and esteem as “the

glass runway.” Unlike Williams’ (1992) concept of the glass escalator, which suggests

promotion through an established occupational hierarchy in a workplace, the glass runway

metaphor describes gendered processes of reward that are specific to creative careers: men are

pushed forward into the spotlight and showered with attention, facilitating increased recognition,

higher demand for one’s work, and future opportunities.

Lang and Lang (1988) suggest another mechanism underlying male artists’ greater

recognition: men’s family members posthumously preserve their works and legacy. For example,

male artists’ wives and daughters of many male artists organize retrospective exhibitions and

legacy scholarships that help to cement their place in the artistic cannon, while the surviving

families of female artists less systematically perform this preservationist work. If women artists

are sanctioned for soliciting positive attention while they are alive, and less likely to have this

attention sought by others on their behalf after their death, it is easy to see how women artists

can be left out of lists of legendary and canonical figures.

As long as global evaluative bias favours men over women (Ridgeway, 2011),

evaluations of aesthetic quality will likely favor men as well. This positions the ideal-typical

artist as implicitly masculine, as his routine behaviors are more acceptable in men than women:

seeking out recognition from multiple stakeholders, and convincing others (both ancillary

creative workers such as art dealers and publicists, and family members who will preserve his

legacy) to champion him and his work.

Evaluations of women creative workers can also be gendered, if they focus

disproportionately on women’s appearance and sexuality. When evaluating women artists and

musicians, audiences often view talent and artistic prowess as incompatible with physical

attractiveness; for example, they assume that a successful woman musician used her

attractiveness as a “gimmick” (Miller 2014) or, worse, slept her way to the top (Bayton 1998,

Leonard 2007). Women artists, particularly in performance-based genres, may also face pressure

to manage and strategically deploy their sexuality as part of their public persona; for example,

when women musicians are asked to perform sexual availability and coquettish femininity for

audiences (Donze, 2009; Leonard 2007). This creates a double bind. Women performers who

refuse to perform sexual availability may be viewed as difficult to work with, and lose out on

performance opportunities; but, women who do foreground their sexuality may find that the

resulting attention ignores their actual work and talent, focuses on their appearance, and

ultimately harms their credibility. Additionally, some women artists may be unable to trade on

their sexuality, and may actually be negatively evaluated for not adequately adhering to norms of

feminine attractiveness—for example, when older women in Hollywood have difficulty finding

film roles (Lincoln and Allen 2004). This is another way that perception and evaluation of

women artists is gender-biased: others may perceive women artists through the lens of sexuality,

and filter their opinions through the general social expectations that women should always be

physically attractive and sexually available (Beres 2008).

Overall, then, the social structuring of perception and evaluation disadvantages women:

first in at least two ways; women are globally perceived as less competent than men and,

relatedly, other actors in creative fields may attribute women’s success to their physical

attractiveness rather than their talent. Viewing artistic evaluation as inherently gendered

synthesizes findings from a range of cultural fields, which indicate that women and their

artworks are perceived as less aesthetically legitimate than men (Leonard, 2007; Pheterson et al.,

1971). These gender-biased evaluations of aesthetic quality are particularly damaging because

artistic careers depend heavily on reputation and prestige; recognition, buzz, or “symbolic

capital” (Bourdieu, 1993) is a key currency in cultural fields. If this currency is more readily

available to men than women, then artistic careers are systematically structured by gender, and

the ideal-typical artist who regularly and accumulates and uses this currency is symbolically



Artistic creation rarely occurs within a full-time employment relationship. Instead, artists

work in a number of irregular arrangements, including contract and freelance work, full or partial

subsidies (e.g. by obtaining a residency, patronage relationship, or public grant), and self-funding

artistic creation while working a non-artistic ‘day job’ (Becker, 1982; Caves, 2000; Menger,

1999). Most of these irregular work arrangements have an important commonality: they require

artists to do significant entrepreneurial labor to advance their careers and find exhibition,

publication, and performance opportunities. Writers must continually pitch their work to editors

and publishers; musicians actively seek out promoters and gigs; fashion designers continually

look for new projects (Stokes, 2013). In short, creative workers continually promote themselves

and their work to sponsors and funders, to ancillary creative workers who function as

gatekeepers (e.g. gallery owners, concert bookers, editors), and to audiences.

The need for entrepreneurial labor symbolically aligns the artist archetype with

masculinity. Successful entrepreneurship requires individuals to take risks, self-promote, ask for

resources, and seek attention (Banks & Milestone, 2011; Tams, 2002), all of which are more

socially acceptable in men than women (Martin, 1998; Ridgeway, 2011). Women who ask for

raises (a behavior that resembles an artist asking for sponsorship or media attention) are

perceived more negatively than men engaging in the same behavior, and sometimes negatively

sanctioned (Bowles et al., 2007).

Entrepreneurship also individualizes risk and responsibility in creative industries.

Because artist-entrepreneurs seek opportunities, resources, and attention, they face considerable

pressure to be continually available because those opportunities and resources may emerge at

unpredictable moments (Banks & Milestone, 2011; Stokes, 2013). Stokes (2013) outlines the

pressure that fashion designers face to attend social events outside of work time; notably, fashion

workers clearly experience such events as work commitments rather than leisure. The pressure to

be continually available for networking on top of one’s artistic practice, of course, assumes an

implicitly masculinized artist-subject unencumbered by family or domestic responsibilities

(Banks & Milestone, 2011; Stokes, 2013)

Furthermore, entrepreneurial labor in artistic fields often occurs through informal

networks rather than formal hiring processes. Foster et al (2011) find that local booking agents

for music clubs share information about musicians they perceive as innovative rising stars; gig

booking thus occurs largely through word-of-mouth, rather than official applications.

Accordingly, musicians often cultivate relationships with club bookers (Cohen, 2013), much like

non-artistic entrepreneurs cultivate relationships with clients and potential new clients. With few

exceptions (e.g. structured audition processes to join a symphony orchestra (Goldin & Rouse,

2000)), performance and exhibition opportunities often occur outside of formal job descriptions

and hiring policies (Caves, 2000; Menger, 1999), suggesting that this informal hiring is the norm.

These informal social networks often advantage men. Social networks in artistic fields

can resemble ‘old boys clubs’ where information, resources and opportunities circulate through

men’s friendship networks and remain less accessible to women (Banks & Milestone, 2011;

Cohen, 2013; Finney, 1993). In the absence of clear, structured standards and hiring processes,

ancillary creative workers can easily base their decisions about which painters to show,

musicians to book, and screenwriters to hire on speculation and hunches about what audiences

will like. As formal, structured hiring and evaluating policies can reduce gender bias (Britton &

Logan, 2008; Goldin & Rouse, 2000; Steinberg, 1990; Miller, 2014), the informal networks

surrounding much artistic work create the risk of gender inequality. If the ideal-typical artist-

entrepreneur must be able to work and thrive in these network-based creative scenes, that suggest

that the artist archetype is implicitly build around a masculine model.

Entrepreneurial labor can also be considered implicitly masculinized because it requires

extensive self-confidence, which is systematically eroded in women artists and musicians.

Women in artistic scenes report significant skepticism of their abilities. Sargent (2009) describes

the considerable suspicion and resistance that women musicians face in a single environment:

music instrument and supply stores. Other women artists report skepticism from support

personnel such as bookers, promoters, and critics (Groce & Cooper, 1990; Harris & Giuffre,

2011; Leonard, 2007). On average, women are less confident in their artistic and musical

abilities than men (Wehr-Flowers, 2006). This has led to institutions such as girls’ rock camps,

which attempt to build girls’ and women’s confidence in their ability to produce original art,

music and culture (Giffort, 2011). Because the artist-entrepreneur requires unshakable faith in his

abilities, and women’s self-confidence is systematically eroded through micro-interactions in

multiple artistic fields, we can view the ideal-typical artist as symbolically masculinized.

Overall, then, the need for artists to do entrepreneurial labor is implicitly masculinized

because entrepreneurial labor draws on practices that are more acceptable in men than women,

often occurs through informal networks that advantage men, and requires self-confidence that is

systematically eroded in women musicians and artists.


As I have shown, sociological literature on gender and artistic careers suggests numerous

ways in which cultural understandings of artists assume a masculine subject. Yet, significant

questions remain for future research. In particular, we know disappointingly little about how the

artist archetype and its gendered qualities vary across situations. In this essay, I have focused on

commonalities among artistic careers, such as the need for recognition and self-promotion; but,

artistic careers also exhibit important differences (Caves 2000), which may shape how gender is

built into shared assumptions about artists. For example, I have highlighted the intense level of

commitment required by artistic careers as evidence that the artist archetype is implicitly

masculine. Future scholarship might compare artistic fields requiring different levels of

commitment, as genres requiring lower levels of commitment (poetry as opposed to film

production, for example) may be less strongly based on a masculinized model.

Another useful project would be to compare gender relations in artistic genres with

historically different symbolic associations. Literature has long had feminine associations; in the

Victorian era, literature was viewed as suitable for middle-class women because it was refined,

not strenuous, and could be both written and read in the home (Midler 1980). To this day,

women read more than men (Christin 2012), and many canonical writers have been women. The

gendering of the ideal-typical poet or novelist is likely less masculinized and more feminized

than, say, the ideal-typical sculptor or abstract painter. Yet, it is still unclear whether these more

feminized symbolic associations actually translate into gender equality. Interestingly, research on

literary scenes still finds gender gaps in recognition, pay, and career length (Ekelund and

Börjesson, 2002; Tuchman and Fortin 1984), suggesting that much more research is needed to

pinpoint the underlying mechanisms driving gender inequalities among artists.

We might also compare gender differences in “art worlds” like abstract painting and

haute couture with “craft worlds” (Becker 1982) like fan fiction and quilting, or compare fields

of mass production like Hollywood film to fields of “restricted production” (Bourdieu 1993) like

opera or classical music. Expectations of creative genius are particularly important to the fine

arts, while popular culture and craft worlds may have different standards of evaluation (Becker

1982, Bourdieu 1993). Aesthetic standards in craft worlds and in popular culture may de-center

creative genius (and thus, implicitly, masculinity), relative to fine arts genres. Some tentative

evidence finds that women are particularly disadvantaged in fine arts fields (Schmutz 2009),

suggesting that this is an important direction for future research.

Future research should also analyze gendered implications of the mechanisms through

which people produce art, convey it to audiences, and earn income from it. There is only one

standard employment relationship: a full-time job, with set hours, on an employer’s premises

(Fudge & Vosko, 2001). However, there are multiple non-standard employment relationships

(and collaborative relationships that are not employment relationships at all) in artistic fields,

some of which may center an implicitly masculine subject more strongly than others. For

example, is it easier for creative women to achieve success in long-term employment

relationships (e.g. continuing full-time employees of a movie studio or symphony orchestra) or

in self-directed but precarious freelance and casual conditions of work? Acker (1990) suggested

that more flexible work arrangements would benefit women by lessening work-family conflict;

yet, more recent literature suggests that women are hit hardest by the shift to a temporary,

precarious, and on-call economy (Vosko 2000). This raises an important and as-yet unanswered

question: if artistic careers were shaped around women’s experiences and needs, what would the

organizational structure of those careers look like?

In building these cross-case comparisons, it may be helpful to look at atypical cases; that

is, creative careers where women are advantaged. In fashion modeling, for example, women

models have higher average earnings than men, receive more media attention, and have access to

more work opportunities (Mears 2011). Modeling may therefore provide insight into what

creative careers might look like when they are built for and around women. However, the case of

modeling suggests that artistic careers that assume a feminine subject may even more precarious

than other artistic careers. Although women models earn more than men, models’ average

earnings are on average lower than earnings in other artistic fields (Mears 2011, Czerniawski

2015). Models also have sharply limited creative autonomy; they take direction from others (e.g.

clients, fashion designers, agents) and largely help to realize others’ creative vision rather than

developing and pursuing their own. Modeling is also available only to young, physically

attractive women (Czerniaswki 2015). The ideal-typical model is fairly clearly feminized; and, it

is quite telling that this atypical case of a symbolically feminized creative worker involves lower

pay, less autonomy, and more stringent physical requirements than most other creative careers.


In this paper, I have shown that literature on gender in artistic careers positions the ideal-

typical artist as implicitly symbolically masculinized. Some themes emerging from this literature

echo scholarship on gender and occupations; like the ideal worker, the ideal-typical artist should

be committed to his work, and prioritize it over personal and family commitments (Dobrow,

2012; Stokes, 2013). Yet, previous scholarship also suggests points of symbolic gendering that

are unique to artists. First, the association between art and creative genius is symbolically

masculinized because we associated transcendental genius with men, and excuse unpredictable

and antisocial behavior from men more easily than women. Second, the artist archetype suggests

masculinity because the ideal-typical artist relies on aesthetic evaluations from multiple publics

(peers, critics, audiences), which are systematically biased in favor of men. Finally, the ideal-

typical artist is an artist-entrepreneur, which suggests masculinity because entrepreneurial labor

draws on practices that are more socially acceptable in men than women, and because artistic

entrepreneurship often occurs through informal social networks that advantage men.

Notably, these multiple intersections between gender and the ideal-typical artist suggest

different underlying social mechanisms. The ideologies associated with the artist archetype

(particularly, expectations of a total commitment to art, creative genius, and self-promotion)

privilege practices that are symbolically associated with masculinity. The structure of artistic

careers creates public-private conflict (or at least, does not solve the public-private conflict

created by standard workplaces), by requiring entrepreneurial labor and round-the-clock

availability that is difficult to combine with personal and family obligations. And, the social

structuring of perception introduces gender bias into collective evaluations of aesthetic quality.

I have also highlighted the need for comparisons across artistic fields to flesh out how,

when, and to what extent the artist archetype is gendered, and with what consequences. My focus

here has been on social processes that are broadly relevant to multiple types of artists, but there

are many important organizational differences between creative fields (Becker, 1982; Caves,

2000) and comparative scholarship that examines how the structure of cultural fields shapes

gender relations is unfortunately rare. Studying gender relations in artistic fields represents a

unique opportunity to synthesize literature on gender, work, and organizations with scholarship

on cultural sociology, creative labor, aesthetic evaluation, and artistic fields. This synthesis

represents a rich area of sociological inquiry, the surface of which has barely been scratched.

In popular culture, creative genius in male mathematicians is also particularly associated with eccentricity and
antisocial behavior; see, for example, the characterization of Sheldon Cooper in The Big Bang Theory, Alan Turing
in The Imitation Game, Will Hunting in Good Will Hunting, and John Nash in A Beautiful Mind.


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