Dr. Foss: What seems to be bothering you?
Female student: Well, I want to be a (fill in the blank with pretty much any profession) but I’m just no good at math.
Only 1 out of 4 people entering a math related field (think physics, computer science, engineering, etc..) are women (Cimpian, 2020). What’s up with that?
I grew up understanding that I was just not “a math person.” I knew who the math people were… and it wasn’t me. I mean, I am a girl, so what should I expect right? I guess that means I have to be good at reading then… YIKES.
Needless to say, not feeling very good at either can leave a girl feeling pretty useless. “Smart” is not a word I would have used to describe myself for most of my life. I had come to peace with it, I had lost the reproductive organ lottery. Oh well.
My husband is a much better cook than I am. What if he had grown up believing that due to his gender he would never be a good cook? I’ll tell you what would happen. He would be forced to eat frozen waffles 5 nights a week and live by the belief that “when pizza’s on a bagel, you can eat pizza anytime.” It would have robbed him of something that he truly enjoys AND excels at… and would have robbed me of his pistachio crusted salmon. Phew, dodged a bullet on that one.
In 2013 I accidentally found myself teaching 8th grade Algebra I. That’s a different story… anyway, the whole first week of school went by and NONE of the girls in my class would speak up. So, one day when the lunch bell rang I told the girls to stay behind. I shut the door and asked my girls what the deal was.
I bet you can guess the answer.
Yep, they didn’t want to look stupid in front of the boys (insert eye roll/vomit emojis). What if they said something wrong? What if they embarrassed themselves? What would that mean for their reputation? For their lives? For the lives of their friends and families?
You think I’m exaggerating here, I am not. These are the questions that young girls are plagued with on a daily basis.
So, I basically told them that they deserved their voice to be heard and that my expectation was that they would stop doubting themselves and start speaking their mathematical minds. It worked. Not for all of them, but for most. The girls showed up, started to take risks, and didn’t die upon failure.
What I am trying to get across here is that the common narrative that boys are “better at math” than girls is LUDACRIS.
So MOVE boys, get out the way… (sorry, my love for Luda runs deep).