Creative Feminism//Chandra Merry

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“Creativity...involves the power to originate, to break away from the existing ways of looking at things, to move freely in the realm of the imagination, to create and recreate worlds fully in one's mind-while supervising all this with a critical inner eye.”- Oliver Sacks


The creative arts have much to offer to feminism. Creative feminism might include arts-based research methods, feminist art therapy, the participatory arts, or the general use of arts for activism projects.

Some of my most memorable feminist activities have integrated the creative arts. I once facilitated a creative narrative workshop at a feminist conference. In this workshop, feminists deconstructed oppressive social stories, which I provided in the form of magazines, children’s books, and printed advertisements. This was a literal deconstruction process that relied on markers and scissors. Participants then used collage to re-construct these stories in empowering and colorful manners. One participant turned a bridal magazine into a children’s book called Mommy Doesn’t Want to Be a Wife, which she planned to read to her son.
Other creative techniques that I have applied to feminist issues  have involved everything from creative letter writing for reproductive rights,  to devising creative ritual for women’s empowerment, to the use of theatre to research feminist organizations.
Forms and Benefits

Integrating the creative arts into feminism can enhance the transformative outcomes of any project. This is important if the intent of a project is to create individual or social change.  Following is a preliminary list that categorizes three genres of creative arts, alongside related techniques and potential outcomes. This list is based on my experience facilitating participatory arts workshops and an art therapy group, as well as having used arts-based research methods for one of my graduate theses.

Genre: Improvisational Arts
General Description: Involves spontaneous and unplanned creation in response to cues.
Techniques: stream of consciousness drama (ie. role play or scene building) or creative writing exercises (ie. poetry)
Possible Outcomes: Unplanned images and ideas can emerge in improvisational activities and participants can learn something unexpected about themselves or a topic. Innovative ideas may emerge that can lead to growth in individual participants, organizations, and even social movements.

Genre: Participatory Arts
General Description: Involves the use of participatory activities that are as much about creating a final creative piece as they are about enabling an empowering process. Participants take center stage in the creative process of production.
Techniques: community theatre techniques such as Theatre of the Oppressed
Possible Outcomes: This form of the arts is particularly useful for creating inclusive group processes in which marginalized voices become elevated.

Genre: Applied Traditional Arts
Description: Involves the use of drawing, creative writing, and drama activities to explore a therapeutic issue, or a non-therapeutic theme. These activities involve structured instructions in comparison to improvisational art activities.
Techniques: visual arts activities, creative writing activities, drama and art therapy activities (ie. role plays)
Possible Outcomes: Participants may feel increased safety in being vulnerable in a group process, given the use of metaphor and imagery for self expression as opposed to purely verbal conversation. This can be useful in organizational team-building exercises.


The integration of creativity into feminism maximizes the transformative outcomes of feminist projects. This phenomenon highlights the role that psychology students and psychologists might play in creative feminism, given that our strength is human transformation. For example, there is a need for research data on the therapeutic benefits of creative feminism. Additionally, therapists would be particularly powerful facilitators in creative feminist projects, given our specialized training in group processes.

 About the Author

Over the last several years, Chandra has facilitated participatory arts workshops alongside her engagement in grassroots and institutional-level feminism. Her first Master’s degree, ‘Theatre and Global Development’, explored how participatory theatre could be a force for change in the International Development field. During this program, she wrote a thesis on negative perceptions of feminists through the use of theatre research methods. Now completing her Doctorate of Clinical Psychology, Chandra continues to be interested in the fusion of the arts, psychology, and social justice through research and practice.

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