February 22, 2010
WHY IS IT that women seem to be on average better musicians, better singers, better painters, better sculptors, better poets, better novelists, better artists, and yet the vast majority of artistic geniuses are men? How can this be? Patriarchal conspiracy, some active repression of female talent, must be responsible for the low representation of women at the apex of artistic creation.
In fact, this strange contradiction makes sense. It is perfectly consistent with the dichotomy in male and female ability in many areas. Men tend to be the worst and the best. Women tend to fill the middle. This is the curse of female mediocrity. But it is only a curse in the eyes of the greedy and envious. Women may seldom be geniuses, but they also tend to be less represented among history’s abject failures. To be average is better than being awful. Women are amply compensated in the long sweep of history by having escaped the ruinous consequences of intense competition and masculine focus, and by the ability to excel in areas that will never garner Nobel Prizes. Besides, artistic endeavour is as much a feminine as a masculine thing.