I am a woman in math

10 Jul

That should be pretty clear from the fact that I put together that women in mathematics symposium a few months ago.  And from all the photos of me with my baked goods.  I hope that the fact is not necessarily obvious from the fact that this is a baking and math blog as, I’m friends with plenty of men who bake and do math. (In fact, I’ve linked to this guy and his cookies before on this blog).

I’ll probably end up writing many things about the fact that I am a woman in math, but this is just a short post about my thoughts right this moment.

I spent some part of the afternoon reading this heartbreaking blog “What is it like to be a woman in philosophy?” where women and men write in with their stories of misogyny, sexism, and battling these things.  As I read I kept thinking to myself “phew!  Glad I have my adviser!”

Since I’m not a woman in philosophy I didn’t submit this story to them, but I do want to write it somewhere, so here goes.  One day there was a marvelous talk in our geometry, topology, and dynamics seminar, and a few days later I met with the professor I’d come to UIC to work with about various math, as well as a conference coming up.  He asked who was speaking at the conference, and I said something like “that girl who spoke on Tuesday here.”  He gave me a look, and then said, “You mean the woman.  You would never refer to a man who gave a talk as that boy.  Women have it hard enough in our field, we don’t need to make it harder by demeaning them.”

I was rightly chastised, and that was also the moment when I decided that I would ask him to be my adviser- we discuss math together well and he’s brilliant, but that’s true of many professors.  He values feminism as much as I do, and can also rebuke me when I need to be.  So he’s fallen into the category of my mom, my boyfriend, and my closest friends.  Fantastic!

As for using the word “girl”- my friends say things like “girls’ night”, and this is a common phrase in our culture (there’s about 975 million more of those, these are just the first things that came up when I googled “girls night”).  But my adviser’s right that I absolutely should not refer to a female mathematician as a girl.  Perhaps it’s unprofessional language?  Or perhaps we’ve just internalized our systematic infantalization (whoa calm down there Yen you’re not a sociology student you don’t even really know what those words mean).  So no conclusions on this (my friends didn’t have them either).

On a positive note, two of my math heroes are interviewed here, over at Roots of Unity, on being women in math.  They actually talk very little about being women in math, and more on just being them and being awesome in math, which is fantastic.  They do both mention the importance of role models, and I hope they both know that they’re huge role models to many, many graduate students at their respective universities.  Because they’re mathematicians, and women, and totally cool with both of those things, whereas a lot of us grad students sort of nervously juggle the two when we meet strangers.

I could just keep writing about being a woman in math but I will stop.  Look at this hilarious stock photo (I love stock photos)



10 Responses to “I am a woman in math”

  1. Devina July 10, 2013 at 5:41 pm #

    I attend UIC as well, and am a part of the College of Engineering. A group of me and my friends discovered last semester, there are more males named “Mike” in Computer Science than there are females in CS.

    • yenergy July 10, 2013 at 5:50 pm #

      Devina, that’s ridiculous! We really are poorly represented in our fields. I wonder at what point we’d feel like there are “enough” women (definitely need more women than Mikes, no offense to mikes)

      • Ulzo July 10, 2013 at 5:55 pm #

        Probably around the time when people stop giving me this weird look every time I tell them I am in computer science. I feel as though it has become some kind of weird social abnormality for women to go into engineering and mathematics, and even if they do, they are expected to fail.

        I try to convince younger girls to pursue an interest in mathematics, to no avail. Math isn’t cool yet, but hopefully it will be.

    • Susannah September 4, 2015 at 10:44 am #

      [just saw this 2 years later]

      Actually it’s been a running joke(?) for ages that you know you’re in computer science when your lab, department, startup, whatever, has more men named “Dave” than it has women. Perhaps that has changed to “Mike” within a local neighborhood?

  2. EfficientAsianMan July 10, 2013 at 8:42 pm #

    This is an awesome post.

    • yenergy July 11, 2013 at 3:40 am #

      Thanks Edward!


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