Monday, June 11, 2012

Think Like a Man

     To publish mathematics,
     a woman must learn to think
     like a man, learn to write like
     a man, to use only her
     initials so reviewers
     guess she's a man!  Women must
     masquerade, pretend man-think --

     or can we build
     new attitudes,
     so all of us
     have fair chances?       ("Square Attitudes"   by JoAnne Growney)   

      The title of a recently released film, Think Like a Man, has reminded me of a comment made to me years ago by a colleague at my university  -- to get published, a woman must learn to learn to think like a man.  I was puzzled into non-reply but supposed afterward that his remark meant "think like a mathematician."   However, some recent observations about small numbers of women publishing in (and about) mathematics has me puzzling once again.

     My recent concerns about the frequent lack of publicity for women in mathematics were provoked by a book I recently acquired:  The Edge of the Universe:  Celebrating Ten Years of Math Horizons (edited by Deanna Haunsperger and Stephen Kennedy, Mathematical Association of America, 2006).  In the collection, I found an important article by Judy Green, "How Many Women Mathematicians Can You Name?"  Green, now an emeritus professor at Marymount University, opens her article (first published in Math Horizons in 2001) with the admission that until her last undergraduate semester the only female mathematican she could name is Emmy NoetherGreen's article, and a book she has co-written (with Jeanne LaDuke) and its companion website, help to remedy such situations for others.  There are many important math women to know!

     Reflecting on the small numbers of well-known math women leads me to mention a disappointing feature of The Edge of the Universe -- namely, the small proportion of women authors it includes.  
          For the collection of 75 articles, 
                    there are 79 male authors and 8 female authors. 
          For the 65 articles with single authors, 
                    61 of these have male authors and 4 have female authors.
But this book is 6 years old and includes articles even older.  To see the current state of affairs for Math Horizons, an MAA publication for undergraduate mathematics majors, visit the Table of Contents for the current April 2012 issueThe imbalance persists:  in that Contents listing, one of the ten names is female. 

     In addition to too-few-women published in Math Horizons, one may see here, at the MAA Mathematical Sciences Digital Library, other imbalanced statistics:  the small fractions of mathematics writing awards that have, over the years, been given to women.
     What shall we do?

Related posts include:
     "Where are the Women?"
     "Are All Mathematicians Equal?
     "An Elegy from Argentina."


  1. This is very interesting.

    I was interviewed for the editorship of an MAA journal a few years back -- I won't say how many years or which journal. I do remember talking to the MAA secretary about the sheer male-ness of the current crop of editors. And she said that a big part of the problem is that they try to recruit partly from authors within the journals -- people who know the expository standards of the MAA. But most of the people who submit articles are men, not women.

    This surprises me, because if you go entirely by stereotype, MAA journals would seem to be much more typically "female" -- paying attention to audience, motive, etc. just as much as to mathematics. At least, that's part of the self-selection kind of argument I often hear for why Liberal Arts colleges have a higher percentage of tenured female faculty than Research I institutions.

    At any rate, I agree that there are biases keeping women's articles out of journals, but it surprises me the extent to which women themselves just refrain from jumping in. It's very, very hard for an editor to accept articles that were never submitted in the first place. I was really depressed after that talk with the Secretary..

    1. Many thanks for your comment.
      A math journal editor shared with me her reaction to this blog-post as a concern that, if she encourages women to submit, the tough review process will discourage them.
      I'm not sure what has happened to the "I can, I will" attitude. We women are smart and capable.
      Besides, isn't publishing somewhat easy when compared to raising children -- and, even, grad school?