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Psychological Androgyny and Creative People

Virginia Woolf

“A writer should be woman-manly or man-womanly…” Virgina Woolf

Creativity researcher Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi explains that psychological androgyny refers to “a person’s ability to be at the same time aggressive and nurturant, sensitive and rigid, dominant and submissive, regardless of gender.

“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.”

From his book Creativity: The Psychology of Discovery and Invention.

The quotes by Csikszentmihalyi are from another fascinating Brain Pickings article by Maria Popova: Why “Psychological Androgyny” Is Essential for Creativity.

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Actors and androgyny

Charlize Theron “is very much a whole person, very feminine, but at the same time strong and masculine. That’s one of the reasons she can play anything.”

Theron’s producing partner, Meagan Riley-Grant, from article “Why She’s the Toughest Woman in Hollywood”, Elle magazine, June 2003.

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Helen Mirren - Eye in the SkyIn Eye in the Sky (2016), Helen Mirren plays Col. Katherine Powell, in command of an operation to capture terrorists.

The director, Gavin Hood, said Mirren’s role was “originally written for a man, but he kept seeing Mirren in his head.” [ABC News]


The Virginia Woolf quote (from her book A Room of One’s Own) comes from an article on this intriguing topic of androgyny by psychologist Scott Barry Kaufman, who notes that Woolf thought “that to be an ideal writer, one ought to be

“woman-manly or man-womanly… Some collaboration has to take place in the mind between the woman and the man before the art of creation can be accomplished. Some marriage of opposites has to be consummated.”

Kaufman adds, “In the essay, she praised a number of famous androgynous writers, including Shakespeare, Keats, Sterne, Cowper, Lamb, and Coleridge. She was unsure, however of the brilliance of Milton and Jonson, Wordsworth and Tolstoy, saying that they had ‘a dash too much of the male’, and Proust, since he was ‘a little too much of a woman.'”

Blurred Lines, Androgyny and Creativity By Scott Barry Kaufman, Scientific American blog ‘Beautiful Minds’, September 1, 2013.

Scott Barry Kaufman is scientific director of the Imagination Institute in the Positive Psychology Center at the University of Pennsylvania. He is author of Ungifted: Intelligence Redefined and co-author (with Carolyn Gregoire) of Wired to Create: Unraveling the Mysteries of the Creative Mind.


Anne Meredith-imdb“I mean, I know I am a woman, and there’s no doubt about it, but all of this stuff that society heaps on girls and women about what it means to be a woman — I just never bought any of it, so I really don’t know how to define myself or where I stand, except I know it’s on the fringe.

“I’m happy there. Totally.”

Screenwriter Anne Meredith (Bastard Out of Carolina; The Red Tent; The Fosters and other movie and TV projects. Photo from imdb profile.)

[Quotes are from my interview with her many years ago for a print magazine.]

See more on androgyny, plus material on transgender artists, in my much longer article Gender Identity and Being Creative.

One quote: “We live in a majority-enforced gender binary world.” Lilly Wachowski.


Psychological Androgyny and Creative People

Douglas Eby

Douglas EbyDouglas Eby, MA/Psychology, is a writer and researcher on psychology and personal development related to creativity; creator of the , and author of books including [link to book site with excerpts.]
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APA Reference
Eby, D. (2016). Psychological Androgyny and Creative People. Psych Central. Retrieved on May 19, 2019, from


Last updated: 14 Mar 2016
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