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Women and creativity: a feminist view on intellectual property’s shadows #worldipday

26 Apr 2018 15:27 | Lucero Ibarra Rojas (Administrator)
April 26th is the World Intellectual Property Day and, this year, the celebration goes under the theme “Powering change: Women in innovation and creativity”. With this, the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) seeks to highlight women’s role in the creative field, both in arts and in science.
“The time is ripe to reflect on ways to ensure that increasing numbers of women and girls across the globe engage in innovation and creativity, and why this is so important.”[1].
This call to show women’s contributions remains necessary. There are plenty of cases in history in which artists have used pseudonyms to hide or disguise that they are women, and accounts of female scientists that have made great contributions to science only to be ignored while their male colleagues were recognized (Marie Curie herself almost didn’t get her Nobel). As a consequence, our voices have been much less heard.
While contemporarily many aspects have improved, others continue pending. The International Labor Organization (ILO) study “Towards a better future for women and work: Voices of women and men”[2]indicates that gender disparities in the work sphere are reduced as education increases, however, women remain with less access to both education and payed work. The same study also indicates that there are still over 20% of people worldwide who think that women in fact shouldn’t work outside the household.
In the academic field, women’s creativity and intellect continues to face huge challenges expressed in well known problems such as the payment gap, the glass ceilings or the maternity penalty. Women are paid less, occupy less higher positions and face grave consequences in our career because of poor conditions for motherhood. In addition, a series of studies have documented “what we already know” about the subtle (and not so subtle) ways in which our work is undervalued: from less favorable student evaluations[3], less quotations[4]and syllabus inclusion, to excessive representation in administrative duties[5]and even the fact that the notion of imposter syndrome (as the constant fear to be found as a fraud) was coined in a study on the psychology of women in academia[6]. This without even mentioning the sexual harassment in academia cases that have come to light and that recently motivated the creation of a Special Committee against Harassment in the Latin American Studies Association (well done LASA!). Despite all this, and without a doubt, the creative processes of academia are widely acknowledged and legitimated.
If we join the World Intellectual Property Day as “an opportunity to highlight how the intellectual property (IP) system can support innovative and creative women (and indeed everyone) in their quest to bring their amazing ideas to market”[7], we must look beyond academia’s Ivory tower, which is actually rather favoured by intellectual property models. A wider view shows that there are female creativities and knowledges that are even further from recognition, that intellectual property’s coloniality is particularly damaging for women, and that a feminist critique calls for a reconsideration of intellectual property.
As in many other productive aspects, women are only recognized as we generate value in spaces that are historically male; while historically female spaces are kept invisible. The intellectual property rights system based on the author’s genius and disregarding of collective creativities that share a closer link with tradition, hinders creative environments that are frequently female dominated, as can be artisanship (as a field that is conceptually different from art, and valued differently as well) or all the everyday knowledges that are unnamed by science (like the medicine of common wisdom or the one resulting from activities of caring for the family and home).These are the knowledges outside the books.
The matter, however, is not that the creativity of many women cannot fit the intellectual property rights system, but rather that creative experience shows the limits of the law. To begin with, not all extraordinary ideas belong in the market, nor are monopolies (which is what intellectual property establishes) the only way to acknowledge the value of an idea. Although those of us who know Mexican artisans also know that the lack of recognition is based on a classist and racist undermining of the work of many women on profoundly unfair economic conditions. Women who live their creativity in collective process that go beyond personal talent, who sometimes argue and who often organize themselves. The many female artisan cooperatives that one can find are not always, or not necessarily, an expression of harmony, but rather an acknowledgement of shared needs and creativities. Several arguments are built from these spaces for an acknowledgement made from sharing logics, as can be seen in Santa María Tlahuitoltepec’s statement[8]against the improper appropriation in the hands of French fashion brands.
In the same sense, open access feminist theories hold that ideas are not independent, as people create in social relations networks. Therefore, author’s rights should establish interaction rules with the users, instead of enabling exclusion mechanisms[9]. But far from being an isolated and exceptional view on creative processes, it is shared by different collectives and scholars who favor collaboration with social actors. Indeed, at the center of collaborative and activist methodologies one can find an ethics of shared production that has little to do with the exclusion strategies that are later expressed, rather thoughtlessly, by the assertion of authorship from traditional forms of intellectual property.
Thus, to the problems that privileged women who decide to develop in historically male environments face, we must add the complete disregard of any value for the spaces, creativities and intellectual endeavors developed in historically female environments. In the earlier we are yet to achieve equality; the latter remain unnamed. In that sense, a true appreciation of women in creativity and innovation requires that we think over the paradigms of intellectual property and other aspects of regulation in which law determines what we consider knowledge, art or science. And in this endeavor, it is fundamental we engage with the feminist critiques and the proposals that are made from recognition ethics that do not entail monopolies.


Lucero Ibarra Rojas

(Professor at the Center for Research and Teaching in Economics - CIDE)


 “I do not think I ever opened a book in my life which had not something to say upon woman's inconstancy. Songs and proverbs, all talk of woman's fickleness. But perhaps you will say, these were all written by men."

"Perhaps I shall. Yes, yes, if you please, no reference to examples in books. Men have had every advantage of us in telling their own story. Education has been theirs in so much higher a degree; the pen has been in their hands. I will not allow books to prove anything.”

Jane Austen, Persuasión, 1818.


[1] http://www.wipo.int/ip-outreach/en/ipday/

[2] Gallup Institute y International Labour Organization, Towards a better future for women and work: Voices of women and men (Geneva: International Labour Organization, 2017).

[3] Kristina M. W. Mitchell y Jonathan Martin, “Gender Bias in Student Evaluations”, PS: Political Science & Politics, 2018, 1–5.

[4] Daniel Maliniak, Ryan Powers, y Barbara F. Walter, “The Gender Citation Gap in International Relations”, International Organization, 67.4 (2018), 889–922.

[5] Cassandra M. Guarino y Victor M.H. Borden, “Faculty Service Loads and Gender: Are Women Taking Care of the Academic Family?”, Research in Higher Education, 58.6 (2017), 672–94.

[6] Pauline Rose Clance y Suzanne Ament Imes, “The imposter phenomenon in high achieving women: Dynamics and therapeutic intervention.”, Psychotherapy: Theory, Research & Practice, 15.3 (1978), 241–47.

[7] http://www.wipo.int/ip-outreach/en/ipday/

[8] https://twitter.com/MunicipioTlahui/status/606142512235823104

[9] Carys J. Craig, Joseph F. Turcotte, and Rosemary J. Coombe, “What’s feminist about open access? A relational approach to copyright in the academy”, Feminist@law, 1.1 (2011), 1–35.

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