How Thinking Like The Opposite Sex Can Help you Be More Creative


There are many ways we can find new inspirations and ideas. From researching new work, doing workshops or experimenting with new techniques, most of us have these regular go to methods of getting ourselves out of a photographic funk. Psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi proposes that thinking more like the opposite gender can expand our creativity and essentially give us more scope in the ways we express ourselves in our work.

Csikszentmihalyi, who is renouned for his studies on artists and creativity, proposes the theory of psychological androgyny based on his book “Creativity: The Psychology of Discovery and Invention”. 

“In all cultures, men are brought up to be “masculine” and to disregard and repress those aspects of their temperament that the culture regards as “feminine,” whereas women are expected to do the opposite. Creative individuals to a certain extent escape this rigid gender role stereotyping. When tests of masculinity/femininity are given to young people, over and over one finds that creative and talented girls are more dominant and tough than other girls, and creative boys are more sensitive and less aggressive than their male peers.”

As the psychologist suggests, there are limited perspectives in the ways that both genders operate, and having a greater appreciation of the other can play a significant part in moving towards a more effective way of expressing ourselves creatively. It is certainly debatable what are masculine and feminine traits, but can having a greater awareness of gender expectations and cultural conditioning improve the way we work as photographers?

Getting Over Gender Stereotypes

I remember the awkward feeling of buying bridal magazines as a very young photographer to help train myself to create better wedding images. I studied the styles and compositions closely but I made sure no one saw me do it lest they questioned my masculinity in owning magazines from the women's section of the news agents. My cultural expectations of gender worked against the way I needed to grow as a creative. If I had given in to these expectations I would have been a lesser wedding photographer for it, and a very silly one. Studying imagery aimed at a female audience helped me to value things like the tailoring of the wedding dress and to focus on the emotions of the couple - which I may have otherwise struggled to do as a young man. This perspective, being sensitive to details and growing in empathy with my subjects is something I now value and seek in all types of photographic work I do.

This is one instance where having a more androgynous mindset helped me as a creative. There are other examples I can share but I'm interested in what the readers think. Please try to respond thoughtfully and respectfully as gender can be a sensitive issue.

  • What are your thoughts on the androgynous mind being a trait of creative individuals?
  • What gender stereotypes have you come against as photographers that you had to work through?
  • Do you feel there are masculine and feminine approaches to creativity?


A Fresh Perspective

The photographic world used to be very male dominated, but this has certainly changed in the past decade. I think there is a much better balance of genders in this field nowadays, and we are all richer for it. It is certainly a good time to seek out lessons we can learn from the opposite gender in ways of thinking and working. Embracing the values and approach of both genders can definitely be an advantage as Csikszentmihalyi states,

“A psychologically androgynous person in effect doubles his or her repertoire of responses and can interact with the world in terms of a much richer and varied spectrum of opportunities. It is not surprising that creative individuals are more likely to have not only the strengths of their own gender but those of the other one, too.”

Having this psychological flexibility, as Csikszentmihalyi found, lends a creative advantage to those who possess it. We could choose to see this trait as fixed, but if seeking the positive aspects of both genders can increase our effectiveness as photographers and artists, what is there to lose?

To read more about this topic you check out the site Brain Pickings by Maria Popova.

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Spy Black's picture

This is open to interpretation, and lots of jabs...

Matt Owen's picture

As for the androgynous mind, it's a great help. Understanding (in at least a limited fashion) how women think and what they perceive as beautiful helps get better results and greatly increases engagement during a shoot. Speaking to gender stereotypes, whenever I bring up the subject of shooting to a woman generally their first thoughts are I'm either looking for a date or just want them to undress. The (mostly deserved) reputation that men are pigs is difficult to overcome at times.

Jason Ranalli's picture

What I do know is that women are really doing much better in photography recently than in the past. Nearly every child/baby photographer is a woman.

I think wedding photographers that are couples can clean-up as well.

Ralph Berrett's picture

It reminds me when I was talking to a model about Lingerie for a shoot. She most male shooters liked dark colors like Red and Black where a lot of female prefer lighter colors like whites, and tans. I have worked with a lot of female shooters but I have not seen a major difference in approach.

My personal view here is what we are seeing is cultural and not hardwired.