HomelifeIs Gender Bias Part of My Math Problem?

Numbers and partially solved math equationsSomething’s been bugging me for a long time now.

It’s been writhing there, just under the surface of my every day thoughts and challenges. My doctor summarized it perfectly during our final appointment.

We were discussing the huge disparity between my linguistic achievements and the lack thereof in math. I had always thought I had some sort of neglected math disability, so it came as a shock when she said I can grasp math concepts just as well as anyone else.

No math disability. It all lay in my working memory and processing speed. A huge part of why I had, and sometimes still have, such a hard time reading and writing.

Yet, math was not prioritized in the same way reading and writing was, despite the fact I struggled so hard.

What could have happened if math was treated with the same level of care as reading and writing? Why was it missed?

The doctor summed it up perfectly when she said with her signature dry humor, “You’re a girl. Girls aren’t supposed to be good at math.”

A picture of a kindergarten aged girl - yours truely.

I was a cute kid. Wonder what happened.

The meaning behind that sentiment rings true. I was a girl, and our culture tells us girls just aren’t good at math. Reading and writing are more culturally fitting. All the more reason to concentrate on that.

Girls are supposed to be quiet and day-dreamy. So when my attention drifted elsewhere, it was just me being a girl. It wasn’t me being a child in need of help harnessing their focus.

Had I been a boy, would my day-dreaming have been a cue for extra help early on? Would an interest in math and science have been nurtured more? Would I have been taught to better focus on what’s at hand?

To say nothing of the emotional trauma I’d gone through at that age. Would the lack of pressure to conform to “lady-like” standards have allowed me to clue adults in to my suffering?

How many closed doors would be open now?

Would I have gone into medicine, as I dreamed of back in middle school? Maybe I could be well on my way to curing cancer or asthma.

Would I have gone into environmental science? Maybe I’d be the one to find a solution to the energy crisis.

Could I have gone into an entirely different route to build a career business? Maybe I could have helped make the business world more accepting of those with disabilities.

I don’t know, but in many ways, I feel cheated. I feel cheated out of what could have been.

I also feel guilty for feeling angry. When I was in school, LD wasn’t as well known as it was today.

Most adults who guided me through childhood did the best they could with what information they had at hand. How could I be angry with them?

I’m angry at the system. I’m angry at the centuries of sexism and bigotry that have shaped the uglier sides of our world.

Things could have gone so much differently for me, and so many other girls just like me. Maybe it would have been better. Maybe it would have been worse. I don’t know, but I do know that lost potential makes me sad.

At least now I can channel all that hurt and rage into something more productive. If we don’t change our world for the better, who will?


Is Gender Bias Part of My Math Problem? — 2 Comments

  1. There also is an article somewhere on women, men and parallelparking of cars.
    The assumption was, that women had lesser spatial aptitute, and therefore they had a harder time parallelparking. The theory was that if women were given as much practice than men, they would be just as good/bad as men. IIRC, that was what they ultimately found, but then I cannot remember the exact research design.

    And I do think, for us who are reaching that age where these types of thoughts arrive (and where folklore says, men buy sports cars and get married to 20 year olds) the thoughts what could have been will arise ane be hard to swallow. But I’m also thinking, wow, must our mothers have felt shit for only being the secretary in that company, and her mother feeling shit for not being allowed to enter university at all. That just means, ignoring all the 25 year old privileged telling us half-olds, we suck, and keep on fighting that every woman has the same opportunity as all men, and at the same time respecting those women who are okay to be an unlicensed carer or a homemaker too. (I held a dinner party this November. No, it was not just to go ingrediens times four … :P)

    I also want to say n closing: For the average Jane it is much more important to know the general concept of, say, Einsteins theories of relativity than to be able to calculate the exact figures in a certain situation of relativity. Unless you sit in a spaceship next to Uranus, and you have to be home for Thanksgiving dinner, that is 😛

    But yeah, it is the time to ponder lost opportunities …

    • Unless you’re going into a math intensive field, you really don’t need to know advanced math. The problem comes in when girls are still discouraged (consiously or not) from pursuing said fields. It just seems to be magnified when it comes to LD and special education.

      As for our mothers and grandmothers, it really is all relative. In their time, with the fewer opportunities available to them, secretarial work could have been a big step for them. It really is all relative. If you look at other parts of the world, where it’s still illegal for women to work, being hired as a secretary could be a massive step forward.

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