And God saw every thing that he had made, and behold, it was very good.Genesis 1:31, King James Bible
CHRISTIAN DOCTRINE TELLS OF ONE single divine creator, maker of all things. Crucially, it is He, not she, who creates the universe. He is father, not mother, of the world. In the beginning, we are told, there exists nothing but a void, which only He can transform. He goes on to make man in his image, before making woman out of man. The woman is created, both from and by men. Indeed, the marginalization of women creators is engrained in occidental tradition and cultural memory. The ancient Greeks believed in the Mousai, the muses, goddesses of the creative arts; yet these goddesses are only the inspiration for, never the active creators of, works of art. In Ovid's retelling of the story of Pygmalion, the sculptor, "shocked" at what he sees of the "female disposition," creates a sculpture of his ideal wife from ivory.1 When the statue is brought to life by the Gods, Pygmalion is overjoyed, not only that his ideal creation has been granted life, but, as Susan Gubar notes, that he has somehow created, from his art, "female life as he would like it to be," while simultaneously overcoming his own shortcomings: he has "evaded the humiliation [. . .] of acknowledging that it is he who is really created out of and from the female body."2 His creation, Galatea, has no agency or subjectivity of her own; she is subjected to man's creative vision and to his admiring gaze. She is the product of masculine creativity that satisfies a masculine scopic regime. Even though she is brought to life, her lack of agency is akin to her initial existence as a statue—her subjectivity remains petrified. Tradition dictates, therefore, that women are the objects of creation, and not the creators.
Women have long been, and continue to be, largely excluded from the creative industries: the British Royal Academy of Arts, for example, despite counting two women among its founders, did not admit women until nearly a century after it was founded, admitting Laura Herford by mistake after she submitted her drawings with only her initials.3 In the classical music domain, women composers have been all but erased from history, still accounting for a mere 1.8% of the repertoire performed by American orchestras in 2014–2015;4 and a recent study of fiction published between 1850 and 1960 discovered that, while gender roles of characters became more flexible over that time, the number of women authors dramatically decreased from around 50% in 1850 to [End Page 1] just 25% in 1950.5 This exclusion is also reflected in the limited recognition of contemporary women writers in traditional literary institutions, with only two women featuring among the eleven literary laureates in France in 2017, an historic low.6 Sometimes, even events aimed at celebrating female creativity (such as the city of Nancy's annual Salon Talents de Femmes) tend to reduce women's creative outputs to traditional feminine pastimes such as embroidery, pottery, and jewelry-making. For decades, women have been excluded and silenced within the creative arts, unable to share their experiences or escape from the male confines of creation, due to the inaccessible masculinization of forms of representation that are created through the perpetuation of patriarchal norms. Such marginalization of women creators (be they writers, visual artists or composers) contributes to an erasure or a diminishing of female genealogies of creation, and as Joanna Russ rightly pointed out, "[w]hen the memory of one's predecessors is buried, the assumption persists that there were none and each generation of women believes itself to be faced with the burden of doing everything for the first time."7 This burden significantly complicates women's creative endeavors, "as without models, it's hard to work, without a context, difficult to evaluate; without peers, nearly impossible to speak" (Russ 95). One of the aims of this special issue is to act against such omissions, by highlighting the variety and wide reach of women's creative acts.
Bearing in mind...