Math Facts (Not!)

There aren’t enough women pursuing careers in higher mathematics: Who knew?

And it’s not because we aren’t good at math (!) or because of our hormones, either. Whew. I was worried about that, and I’ll betcha you were too. But to my relief, and yours, I’m sure, an article in this month’s Monitor on Psychology reassures us that “Choice–not ability–steers women away from math-intensive careers” (Novotney, A., 2009).

Most of the page is taken up with a photograph of an anorexic model wearing a huge necktie and geeky glasses. With geeky hair and bee-stung lips and probably no 12-year molars. She has a stumped expression on her face.

But the text is worse. Yep, A. Novotney tells us, those girls just don’t want to be mathematicians! It would take too much time away from being Mommies! Which we all know is what girls really want, right? Or we “choose” something “more people-oriented” (p. 16).  Not that anybody here is stereotyping girls or anything.

The American Psychological Association is an organization of liberal dudes that really seems to be patting the ladies on the head with this one. Would that it were a radical feminist organization instead: How then might it have interpreted this data? Well, for one thing, we’d probably be looking at different data. We’re told Ceci and colleagues “spent three years reviewing more than 400 articles and book chapters by endocrinologists, economists, psychologists, sociologists and neuroscientists examining sex differences in math and spacial [sic] ability [emphasis added]” (p. 16). A feminist would have spent a third of the time asking all the girls who “take just as many advanced math courses as their male counterparts and often receive higher grades” (p. 16) why they didn’t pursue careers in it if they’re so damned good at it.

And I bet they would find that (a) higher mathematics is a boys’ club that won’t let girls in, and (b) the structure of “the” family in the patriarchy prevents her from pursuing either higher mathematics or any other demanding career. And that’s not a matter of choice. It’s a lack of freedom of choice.

Now if, as Stephen Ceci says in an interview, “The timing of childrearing coincides with the most demanding periods of their careers, such as trying to get tenure or working exorbitant hours to get promoted,” (p. 16) it makes no sense that a girl would choose medicine as an alternative, does it? But that’s exactly what they are suggesting: That we want less demanding jobs. And their solution to this is–wait for it–for employers to “offer more family-friendly options such as part-time opportunities” (p. 16).

Let me clue you in, guys. We don’t want you to dumb it down for us. What we want is the same opportunities a man has. On which subject, let me ask: Why would you not propose “family friendly options” for men, too? What is up with this assumption that woman=family?

So I propose a survey of my own: If, dear reader, you were really, really good at math in high school, why did you not pursue a career in higher mathematics?


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