A new (for me) answer to the classic question, Why aren’t there any great women Xs, occurred to me when I saw a website for a small company of composers specializing in music for dance troupes (all four composers were male) shortly after a male friend of mine confessed that if he wasn’t getting paid to do it (write a book – he’s an academic with a university position), he probably wouldn’t, and another male friend confessed confusion at the idea of composing something just out of his soul (everything he’d written had been for pay – soundtracks for video games and what have you). Until then, the answer to that age-old question seemed to go to merit and/or opportunity. Now I’m thinking it goes to money.
How many of those great-man achievements would have occurred if they had to have been done on their own time at home? Discoveries, inventions – they’re done on company time at work. When my friend works on his book, it’s just part of his job. All those great men, who we know to be great because of the prizes they win, the fame they garner – they get those prizes and that fame for just doing their job. And those prizes and that fame is in addition to the pay they’ve already received for whatever it is they’ve done.
In addition to the motivation factor (if they weren’t getting paid, they wouldn’t put in the time, the effort, that, occasionally has led to great things), there’s also the legimitizing factor: payment for your work is the stamp of quality – consider the dual meanings of ‘amateur’ and ‘professional’. So even if you do make a great discovery or write a great book on your own time at home, no one will recognize it as such; getting paid for it is prerequisite for its identification as great.
And it doesn’t hurt that when you’re in a paid position, you have access to resources, such as a lab or a studio, that you probably otherwise don’t have.
And here’s the thing: men have, in far greater proportion than women, held paying jobs and received commissions; they’re the ones who have been getting paid for their time, their effort, their work.* The work that sometimes leads to greatness.
*And why is that so? One could say that women don’t get the jobs or the commissions because they’re not as good – it could come back to merit after all. But we know that’s simply not true.
It might come back to opportunity though: the people who get the jobs and the commissions are the ones in the boy’s club – being male (still) increases the opportunities to land the money, status, and resources of a job/commission (the people who are in a position to pay, the people with money, are men, not women, and men are more apt to hire other men than they are to hire women, unless they’re after some political correct currency).
But even the individual entrepreneurs, the guys who set up their own company to provide music for dance groups, for example — why is it that men, so much more often than women, have not just jobs, but careers? Because that’s been their role. They’re supposed to make a living. Women are supposed to make a home. They’re supposed to support their family. Women are supposed to make that family. Also, I think somehow men find out how to turn jobs into careers. I don’t know how they do, but they do. Perhaps it’s simply because their social network is more apt to include someone who has done just that, or perhaps it’s because they get informal mentoring more often than women. But show me two composers, one a man and the other a woman, and I’ll bet it’s only the man who thinks to get some buddies and form a company. (The woman is composing for free, giving her music away, to school groups or church groups or friends…)