Where are the women in math/science?

Every now and then I’ll have a conversation where the topic flows into women throughout history. The conversations can become frustrating because according to some, if women were in fact equal by nature then history should reflect their accomplishments. The oppressions of the patriarchy are always dismissed as a minor obstacle that the truly great women of history should have been able to overcome. The specifics of the conversation generally go something like this:

Man (it’s usually a man; I am not trying to be stereotypical): If women were really just as good as men we would hear more about women in those fields through history. If women are just as good why don’t we hear more about women scientists and mathematicians?

Me: Those fields are historically dominated by men because men were the ones to have education in math and science. Or education at all.

Man: But there are always the cases where a woman is a genius. Why don’t we hear about those women?

Me: We do, they’re just not talked about as often as their male counterparts because the fields are incredibly sexist and gendered. Women are not naturally worse at math and science.

Man: But they are, otherwise we would hear about more of them.

By this point I don’t know what else to say. it’s enough that the conversation is working from the starting point that women are not equal, but it continues to degrade women by talking about ‘special cases’ where a woman is a genius. Apparently only geniuses are good with math and science. Women in male dominated fields are barely talked about because women’s history is designated to one month of the year and that’s good enough. The patriarchy considers women to be another minority to be designated to second class status. This might be a news flash to some people, but women are half the population and have talents just as widespread and immense as men.

To paraphrase a quote from Vindication of the Rights of Woman by Mary Wollstonecraft, women are given ‘trifling employments’ and therefore are ‘triflers’. This was true in 1792 when the text was written and it is true today as well. Girls are raised to play house and  play with dolls, while boys are building lego cities. Is it surprising then that more men are architects and engineers? That more men have developed the critical thinking skills of math or science? Historically speaking, when women were not allowed a proper education outside of the home and family life, is it surprising that women scientists and mathematicians were a rarity?

My room mate is a math major. I know tons of brilliant women majoring in the hard science. They are not exceptions to the rule that men dominate in math and science because that rule does not exist.

What do you say in a conversation where the opposing party is so set in his or her ways? I’ve had this conversation with my brother before and it is perhaps the most frustrating topic to dig into. If you have any incite into how to handle these sexist discussions or would like to share your own stories about how ‘men are logical’ and women are ’emotional’ I would love to hear from you.



5 thoughts on “Where are the women in math/science?

  1. I don’t know where to go in a conversation like that, and it quite irritates me.

    For what individual experience is worth, while teaching mathematics courses at college and university I didn’t find any appreciable difference in ability between the female and the male students. There was a difference in number, which I’m unhappy about, but whether they were taking Introduction to Statistics, Numerical Methods, or Computational Quantum Mechanics, the level of ability was there.

  2. Most women are not naturally inclined to mathematics and sciences,as most men are not naturally inclined to take of other’s feelings and take care of children.I said most because there are exceptions for each gender.From 1918 women have the right to vote and are considered equal and they are given the same education as men.Why are women geniuses a rarity?.Feminism is just a tool used by those who rule the world to turn women against men.Divide and conquer.By the way,if you are not interested in a subject you will loose your ability.

    • I believe, Gaurron, you are a bit confused. To begin with I have doubts that you understand what feminism is and suggest you do some additional research before making claims that that feminists rule the world and hate men. Secondly, in your assumption that women are not inclined to math and science and men are not inclined to emotional care, you are insulting men and perpetuating gender stereotypes that frankly are not natural and never will be. If you believe women to be considered equal, as your comment suggests, then why do you feel the need to tell me I am wrong because I am a feminist?

  3. I am a senior female mathematics and fine arts double degree student. Just as a female, I feel isolated in my usually all male mathematics classes and also in the quantum field theory research group that I am in. I’ve never come across someone who is both a math/art student, ever. So right there I feel alone. I’m also asexual and feminist… So you add those to the mix and you get me. I swear, I feel that I am the only one of my kind in existence today. It is very difficult to relate to anybody… Especially since I am bipolar! I aspire to go to graduate school in both mathematics and art and to be a professor in both fields. I often wonder which department my office would be put in lol. I don’t even know if such professors exist! Why do I have to be so complicated gah! Also, pretty recently a woman won a Fields medal! The first time a woman has ever won that prize! 🙂

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