The other day a friend of mine who designs book covers attended a panel discussion about…um…book design. Two of the three panelists as well as the moderator are considered ‘superstar’ designers, celebrities of the community. Before you snicker at the idea of a celebrity graphic designer, consider the fact that almost every community has celebrities (think bloggernacle). Usually these are people who not only excel at their craft but are propped up (either by themselves or by others) as experts. That means book authorship, speaking engagements and among other things, panel discussions.
As part of the discussion there were audience-submitted questions, one of which asked, “Why do you…suppose there are so few…female ‘superstar’ graphic designers? Is there a glass ceiling in graphic design?” After some stammering by the others, my mentor and thesis advisor Milton Glaser said the following:
“The reason there are so few female rock star graphic designers is that women get pregnant, have children, go home and take care of their children. And those essential years that men are building their careers and becoming visible are basically denied to women who choose to be at home. Unless something very dramatic happens to the nature of the human experience then it’s never going to change. [Regarding day care and nannies] none of them are good solutions.”
Awkward silence ensued after which the panel moved to another topic. The un-PC nature of what he said is a little jarring, especially considering the audience (professional New York designers generally lean left). Twenty years ago this answer wouldn’t have garnered a flinch, let alone even be asked. Now, after saying this, many people are writing Milton off as a product of his time and no longer relevant to the conversation (of the state of graphic design).
Ironically, he’s right.
Don’t get me wrong, there are hundreds of incredibly talented female designers out there (many of which are more talented than all three panelists) but talent isn’t what he was talking about. He was talking about ‘celebrity’. It’s a simple matter of resources and he’s right that the age which the ‘celebrities’ are staying at work all hours of the night, accepting invitations to speak, and writing books is the same age that women have babies.
I suspect there are some (feminists?) who don’t deny what Milton Glaser said, but are upset that that’s the reality, that it’s not fair women have to make a sacrifice that men don’t. Fair enough. Solutions? Well, I agree with Milton that nannies and day care isn’t ideal, a society in which children are raised by someone other than their parents CAN’T be ideal, but they are sometimes the only acceptable alternative. My mother-in-law is fond of saying that women CAN have it all, just not all at once. I like that.