“In those days spirits were brave, the stakes were high, men were real men, women were real women, and small furry creatures from Alpha Centauri were real small furry creatures from Alpha Centauri.”

– Douglas Adams, The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy

Last week I argued that a truly diverse and divergent business needs to provide a safe space for weirdos to let their freak flag fly (try saying that three times fast). This week I want to turn instead to the question of how freaks are not all treated equally.

There are many ways in which the workplace oppresses people and most of the oppression is admirably equal opportunities. We are all reduced to the sum of our utility, forced to compete against instead of uniting with those in our socio-economic class, dehumanised, and disregarded, patronised and looked down upon. And we, willingly, enter into grotesquely asymmetrical agreements. Consider how we manage performance; agreeing to meet objectives with a clearly defined penalty for failure but no guaranteed reward for success. Oh, you’ve exceeded your objectives? Well done! What? You think we should pay you extra for giving us more than we expected? Pure greed!

Not all workplace oppression is distributed evenly

But not all workplace oppression is distributed evenly. We can’t discuss this without addressing the clearly gendered elements of workplace awfulness. Yes, we have to talk about how unfairly men are treated.

I know, it’s about time someone said it, right? But before this starts getting shared around on those oddball Men’s Rights websites let me be clear; I am not saying that the workplace is, on balance, harder on men than it is on women. But I will here argue that in one specific way, a way that is strongly related to creativity, men do get a raw deal. You see, men are taken far too seriously.

“When I was a child, I spake as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a man, I put away childish things.”

1 Corinthians 13:11, The King James Bible

My approach to helping my clients get creative is predicated on the idea that creative expression is the result of a how we relate to the world. And the time in our lives when we were all particularly strong in this regard was childhood. Sadly, as we grow up, we’re expected to stop acting like children. This is not entirely a bad thing.

Children may be horrible creatures filled with germs, covered in dirt, and producing unnecessary amounts of noise, but they are also wonderful creatures who are playful, curious, inventive, and whimsical. If adults had permission to be more like children we would absolutely be more creative. Which brings me back to my point about men being taken too seriously.

One of the ways in which women are oppressed in the workplace, and in life in general, is that they are infantilised, their points of view not given the weight and import that they deserve. This is a horrible thing, make no mistake. But the promise of creativity is that there is always another way; in this case another way to think about what is, on the face of it, a bad thing. Women are not taken seriously so it follows they have freedom to be less serious.

Brill: In guerrilla warfare, you try to use your weaknesses as strengths.
Robert Clayton Dean: Such as?
Brill: Well, if they’re big and you’re small, then you’re mobile and they’re slow. You’re hidden and they’re exposed. You only fight battles you know you can win. That’s the way the Vietcong did it. You capture their weapons and you use them against them the next time.

Enemy of the State (1998)

In my experience, some women take advantage of this freedom to great effect. They use the fact that they are underestimated to get their own way, play on their femininity to be able to say things that they might otherwise not be able to say, and so on. These are all admirable things; you have to play the hand you’re dealt. But if you want a more generalised example of how women are allowed to be less serious, you can look at their clothing.

Fashion is a form of play, herein defined as adhering to the conditions set out in Homo Ludens by Johan Huizinga. These state that play has five essential elements:

  1. Play is free, is in fact freedom.
  2. Play is not “ordinary” or “real” life.
  3. Play is distinct from “ordinary” life both as to locality and duration.
  4. Play creates order, is order. Play demands order absolute and supreme.
  5. Play is connected with no material interest, and no profit can be gained from it.

Fashion fits these requirements nicely. Through our choice of clothing, we create a form of theatre filled with meaning. We can express ourselves in fun ways, show off different elements of our personality, even create a persona that is partly fictional. Both men and women are permitted to be interested in fashion, of course, but since women are taken less seriously than men they are also free to enjoy more whimsical and playful styles. If you don’t believe me just imagine how folks in your place of work would respond to a man wearing a fuzzy backpack with ears protruding from the top. Or glance around any high street store and you can see that women’s fashions are more colourful, more playful, more express than men’s.

Men are supposed to be serious

While playful backpacks are probably not the most notable achievement in female emancipation they are a signal that it’s OK to be less serious. Men, on the other hand, being taken so very seriously, receive the message that it is not OK for them to be playful. Men are supposed to be serious. I, for example, was once gently reprimanded for wearing a slightly too colourful shirt by a female superior who frequently dressed all in purple! In fact, simply expressing a broad emotional range is something men are not supposed to do. We can find plenty of evidence for this just by looking at perhaps the most modern form of emotional expression: emoji.

A 2015 study reported in AdWeek stated that 78% of women were frequent users of emoji compared to only 60% of men. This, for me, shows that men are both less likely to express a broad range of emotions and tend to avoid things which are associated with childishness. Further to this a 2014 study published in Cyber Psychology and Behaviour found that women used emojis more frequently to express humour while men used them more to express sarcasm. Another way of saying this is that women use emoji to be open while men use them to be closed.

Further to this, I could add my own anecdotal evidence. My wife is a member of the local Rock Choir where she and other amateur singers get to gather to belt out choral versions of pop hits. Singing is a form of play too. And can you guess what the gender balance is? Roughly 90% of those involved are women. Men, you see, are far too serious for such things.

So here we have one element of gendered oppression that can be said to offer, for the creative minded woman, a generous upside. Being taken less seriously offers you the chance to be less serious and being less serious is a great way to be more creative.

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  1. If you happen to be a woman not being taken seriously, take advantage of it! Be more playful. Be more expressive. This is the silver lining of that particular patriarchal cloud.
  2. If you’re a man, you need to fight for your right to be less serious. The stone-faced masculinity that requires you to be very grown up all of the time is not strength, it’s timidity.

Women have a long way to go to be treated equally in the world. I don’t want anyone to take from this that I believe that women should accept being looked down on. But I also don’t think the best outcome would be for women to be taken seriously in the way that men are today. If women end up being conditioned like men to be less playful, less whimsical, more “professional”; that would be a pyrrhic victory.

You don’t have to be some caricature of masculinity

Creativity isn’t just about inventing new things, it’s about the freedom to invent yourself. It’s easy to fit into a space that society has carved out for you. And while much of the talk about gender rightly focuses on what it means to be a woman it’s vital that we also address what it means to be a man. To realise that you don’t have to be some caricature of masculinity with your three acceptable emotions and your socially permitted masculine reticence about anything that may make you seem vulnerable or complex. The deepest truth of all of this is that emancipation for one group cannot come without emancipation for all.

Which may seem scary and after all, staying in your shell is safe and easy, right? So maybe this will help.


Probably not today, probably not tomorrow, but quite possibly sooner than you’d like. So if you’re scared to step outside of what society tells you that you’re allowed to be, imagine how scary it would be to face your final moments having never really lived…

… Or in the words of The Pythons:

Life’s a piece of shit,
When you look at it.
Life’s a laugh and death’s a joke, it’s true,
You’ll see it’s all a show,
Keep ’em laughing as you go.
Just remember that the last laugh is on you!

Monty Python’s Flying Circus

https://i0.wp.com/openforideas.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/03/wannahave.jpg?fit=1024%2C576https://i0.wp.com/openforideas.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/03/wannahave.jpg?resize=150%2C150Aran ReesDiversity & Divergencyemojis,equality,fashion,play,seriousness,women
“In those days spirits were brave, the stakes were high, men were real men, women were real women, and small furry creatures from Alpha Centauri were real small furry creatures from Alpha Centauri.” - Douglas Adams, The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy Last week I argued that a truly diverse and...
Aran Rees
Founder and Coach at Sabre Tooth Panda
Aran is a creativity coach, facilitator and communicator, founder of Sabre Tooth Panda and creator of No Wrong Answers: the hypothetical quiz. He believes that expressing creativity is all about how you and those around you relate to creativity both at an emotional and intellectual level. He helps his clients to get cosy with creativity to solve big problems and have more fun.