A few weeks ago, I submitted an essay about “Men, Math and Masculinity,” now renamed as Part 1 for this is a Part 2 I did not intend to write.
There was a backlash, on Facebook and on other web sites. The backlash began as an email trickle and I was soon overwhelmed with hate mail informing me I should not be teaching and that I hated women. I had to stop reading the emails.
So now I would like to respond, point-wise.
First: I never said women cannot do math.
Second: I stated that after forty years of interventions, there remains a 30 point gap in math scores between high school men and women; this gap will not go away. That is a fact.
Third: I stated that this 30 point gap is due exclusively to the top one percent scores. If one ignores the top one percent, the average math scores are the same for men and women. However, what has happened is that math competence is dropping precipitously for both men and women. And that is a fact.
Fourth: I stated that there are biological differences in the brains of men and women. Women have more inter-hemispheric neurons and men have more neurons that run along the hemispheres. These are facts. It is possible that this gives rise to a male ability to focus, and the female ability to multi-task and communicate. And while this has no bearing on day to day life, it likely impacts the top one percent male and female achievers. It is possible that those top one percent in math, created math as a reflection of the male brain. (There was a lot of hate email on the broken reference links. The links were not broken; they were references. So please exploit your communication ability: use a library.)
Fifth: I stated that women are immensely capable of achievements in math needed for participation in engineering. But the constant tweaking of the math curriculum is ruining math for boys and, more so, for girls. And this, I think, is causing boys and many more girls, to drop out.
Sixth: I stated that it is likely that the top one percent in math will remain male dominated (just as nursing is likely to remain female dominated).
Seventh: Despite the aforementioned, I did say that women are eminently capable of being in that top one percent in math, but when they do, they are thinking like men.
Many feminist theorists are deconstructing masculinity. I take no issue with this.
Some feminist theorists suggest that masculinity cannot be analyzed as a performance by men, the way femininity can be analyzed (using feminist methods); they claim it is difficult to pry maleness and masculinity apart. I take no issue with this, either.
Some suggest that lesbians can “perform” masculinity “without men.” I take no issue with this.
If masculinity is a performance, and if maleness is tied too tightly to it, then it is logical to assume lesbians can consciously “perform” masculinity better than men. I take no issue with this either.
The only issue I take is that when a feminist/lesbian/drag-kings wishes to “perform masculinity,” they only “perform” brutes and not mathematicians.
So what is wrong with suggesting that there is another form of masculinity, math, that can also be “performed” by women? And that if we taught women how to perform this, they would excel in math and engineering?
So, yes, I do think that some of the world’s greatest female mathematicians appropriated masculine ways of thinking: Sophie Germain (she dressed like a man) and Emily Noether (who was a substitute teacher for her father). What is so wrong about thinking like a man? And as a reminder, of those I named in my essay, who were in the top one percent, two were male and one was female.
Eighth: I suggested that while math is abstract, it is a fabric we wrap around the physical world. In fact, Issac Newton invented calculus to study physical motion. And if we want more children to study math, we should reintroduce physical activity into the classroom: let them play games, see physics and then intuit the math. Let them kick soccer balls to see the Magnus effect; let them throw footballs to see the gyroscopic effect; let them throw rocks to see the parabolic trajectories. Instead, we are removing physical activity. And now children, and especially boys, no longer have the ability to envision math, physically. In fact, if you want more girls to study math, one way is to re-introduce the physicality that boys so desperately need (and much more than girls at that age); instead we are only introducing drugs to eliminated physicality (especially in the boys).
Ninth: Despite what people now think, we are NOT introducing engineering into the K12. We are introducing design. And if we blithely think that will fix the problem, we are in for a shock when students enter college and hit the wall of analytical engineering. We are relying too much on design engineering in the K12 and that will cause problems.
To those lunatics who emailed me and told me they did not want me teaching their daughters, I can only say this: you are right. I should not teach your daughters. Your thinking has likely already done them too much damage.
I have no issue with women being better at communication and multi-tasking. That was all we heard last year during the US budget crisis: “if women ran Congress, there would have been no shut-down.” I also think it is possible women might have a slight edge in general practice medicine; I now see a female MD and she is good. And I take pride when my wife tells me I am thinking like a woman. So when did it become misogynistic to suggest that thinking in math is thinking like a man?
When feminism was about economic, political and social equality, I supported it. But now it is about biological equality. And that, specifically, was my point. If you want to fix the math scores for boys and girls and draw more girls into engineering, we must set aside our obsession over a top one percent, learn how men think (for men created the language of math) and find ways to bring this thinking (abstraction, visualization, physicality, focus) back into the math curriculum for both boys and girls.
Gloria Steinem said, “We’ve begun to raise daughters more like sons…” Is that any different from what I wrote? I am just giving the details on how to do it and its possible positive ramifications.
If there was a slant of male pride in my essay, is that such a problem? In a world where men are vilified as murderers, rapists, spouse beaters, child molesters and for holding responsibility for society’s ills, is it so wrong for someone to take pride in being a man and in what men have achieved?
Also, the closure of my essay, about peeing while standing, was meant to be self-effacing fun. I am still reeling at all that hate I received over that closure. It was meant to be an anecdotal touch of humor, a joke – to induce laughter.
Here’s a joke: How many feminists does it take to change a light bulb? Answer: That’s not funny!
And, finally, if we do not start to teach math (as opposed to arithmetic), differently, in a language which the boys might just understand naturally (no different from how girls communicate better, naturally: nothing wrong with either), but which could readily be supplemented with “translators-based technologies” for the girls (to encourage their participation), then we will fail as a technical society. And that’s really not funny.
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