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Where are the Women?

Here is a small *square* poem about a paradox that's been on my mind recently.
** Little Women**
In school, many
gifted math girls.
Later, so few
famed math women!
At the AWM (Association for Women in Mathematics) website is a link to an article entitled "Large Study Shows Females the Equals of Males in Math Skills." At the NPR website, an article by the ombudsman, Alicia Shepard, entitled "Where Are the Women?" echoes my own concerns about the invisibility of math women; Shepard criticizes NPR for calling on male "experts" far more often than female ones.
More food for thought comes from a cartoon by Randall Munroe, found at his website **xkcd.com** (*A Webcomic of Romance, Sarcasm, Math, and Language*).
Hi Joanne,

ReplyDeleteAs you know I have been concerned about the scarcity of women mathematicians for some time. Women used to be about 20% (1994) of the professional mathematicians moving up to about 30% in 1999 and remaining flat since.

Over the past decades we focused a lot of effort on interesting girls in math and science, but as noted, not many excelled to the point of fame. I believe there are complex forces at work here.

It has been documented that math and science educators teach girl students differently than boy students. The cartoon alludes to the power of language, choice of words, to affect an individual’s perception of success or failure. Boys are asked to respond to more complex questions, are given more difficult problems to solve, spend more time doing math and science.

It is still unusual to give girl children erector sets, chemistry sets, electronic toys. It becomes very difficult for girls to achieve the 10,000 hours Malcolm Gladwell claims is essential to excellence.

I guess we must continue to work on this problem, but, clearly more effective methods must be found.

Toni Carroll

Thanks, Toni, for your thoughtful and informative comments -- you have have long been a role model for my own math-women activism. Three cheers for your bold voice!

ReplyDeleteHi, JoAnne!

ReplyDeleteI can think of a few: Dusa McDuff, Karen Uhlenbeck, Jenny Harrison, Ingrid Daubechies, Chuu-Lian Terng, my friend Sheila Carter, Ulrike Tillmann, Mary Ellen Rudin... but a Fields medal winner would be GREAT!

I've just finished reading, and am about to review, a book that I became aware of via conversation at the last MathFest with the book's author. The book is called "Change Is Possible: Minorities in Mathematics" and yes, it's about minorities other than female, but my strong impression is that most of its pages are about female. There's a wonderful chapter in there called "Skits Tell What's Happening in 1990" (an important part of math history, I think -- and the author of the book played a big part in it); these skits show so much of the subtleties that we still see today (PAST 1990). The book also has chapters on "what's happening" in 2004 (a year before the book's publication), to all minorities in math. A lot's been changed but a lot still needs to be changed.

ReplyDeleteAs I believe JoAnne once emailed me, look who the "stars" are on the MAA site, the ones who write the regular columns, etc. What's the proportion....? -- Marion D. Cohen