#IWD17 – Mathematicians Are (Wo)Men


This post had to go live on Mar 8, but I got busy with other things, so I decided to finish and publish it today, Mar 13. It connects to hashtag threads #IWD17 and #BeBoldForChange on social media.

Jeanette A. Scissum, Scientist and Mathematician at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center (CC-BY-NC 2.0). Read more about Jeanette

When I first moved my personal blog to Luana.me in 2013, I celebrated the grand opening of the new domain with a blog post that came straight from my heart, Dear Sister Mileva Marić, dedicated to Albert Einstein’s first wife, a mathematics genius whose life and talent slowly disintegrated in the shadow of Einstein’s lifestyle and family tensions.

It hurts when I think who Mileva could have become, given the chance – she had been a brilliant child and she was the only woman to be admitted in the all-male Polytechnic of Zurich at a time where academic access to women was almost unheard of (and I say ‘almost’ because some universities allowed women in as auditors, but not as students).

She must have been truly exceptional to be admitted in an all-male school, and the fact that her skills and mental health deteriorated quickly, after she met and fell in love with Albert Einstein, made me think about how much she could have achieved if it weren’t for the toxic people she had to put up with through her life.

Not everyone is strong – some people simply don’t make it without support, and I fear that Mileva might have been one of these people.

Now, times have changed, and life is a lot easier for many women around the world, especially in the Western countries. However, the stigma that women are intellectually less capable than men – and they can’t achieve success in STEM – is still alive and it still has power over the way people shape their own lives.

NOTE: I’m not talking about religious or cultural choices regarding stay-at-home moms and other lifestyle choices. It’s the very idea that women have a less capable brain that I’m trying to tackle in this post.

Cora Ratto de Sadosky (1912-1981) – Mathematical Association of America (CC-BY 2.0). Read more about Cora

The harm this (unfounded) idea causes to humankind and scientific progress is so huge that I feel something has to be done about it, at all costs.

(But no, not at the cost of closing academic positions and enrollment to men – that would be reversing the injustice, which is not what we want, right? I read something on those lines a few months ago and it made me shiver!)

I’m only a small and limited human being with very little social skills, a lot of physical and mental issues and a strong social phobia. I’m really not one who could speak at a TED talk or run a social campaign.

But I believe in doing small actions that help better the world.

With kindness, and compassion.

So I decided to join the Association for Women in Mathematics in 2015 as an individual supporter.

You can see the badge here on the right, on the sidebar.

I joined because I love mathematics, even though I’m no mathematician. I have a personal history of perceiving myself as stupid when it comes to math and sciences, but I can’t deny the love I have for these subjects – that slowly blossomed in high school as wonderful teachers helped me understand it – and the fact that I get teary-eyed and excited every time I visit my old university’s library, or I study the subject in my free time.

I love math and engineering, I can’t deny it.

So I renewed my membership in 2016 and I’m going to do it again this year, possibly with a few more donation to projects the association works on.

Being an AWM member is my way to stay true to myself and to #BeBoldForChange. A kind and silent way to be bold, but a way nonetheless.

There are many things I love about AWM, and they’re all summed up in their Feb 2017 homepage speech:

“As a professional organization, the AWM is committed to fostering an atmosphere that encourages the free expression and exchange of scientific ideas. In pursuit of that ideal, the AWM is committed to the promotion of equality of opportunity and treatment for all AWM members and participants in AWM-sponsored events, regardless of gender, gender identity or expression, race, color, national or ethnic origin, religion or religious belief, age, marital status, sexual orientation, immigration status, disabilities, veteran status, or any other reason not related to scientific merit.”

That speaks for itself, I believe.

If you want to learn more about AWM, the newsletter archives are open for everybody to read.

Yes, the title of this post is deliberately thought-provoking

But you know – it’s a nice kind of provocation, after all.

Think about it: there’s a lot of talking about men mathematicians and women mathematicians, but if you take the gender out of the terms, all you get is mathematicians.

Mathematicians are men, women, genderqueer, and they belong to as many ethnic, cultural and religious backgrounds as there exist in the world.

But for the title I chose to just say men and women for the sake of historical disparity.

We are all in it together, people. Math, science, engineering… they don’t care about your sex, gender, melanin in the skin and other physical traits.

Your intelligence, dedication, hard work and passion make your success in STEM.

As a last word, a special message to men for a more loving 2017

You are loved.

Celebrating women is not against you, nor it means that you – as a human being identifying as a man – are a lesser being or one to throw away.

You are important and are here to stay!

You don’t have to fear women.

If you do, make it a goal this year to find out why: something must be hidden in there that made you think so poorly of fellow human beings with different traits than yours, whether it was cultural influences or a trauma.

You don’t have to fear equality.

It just means being all in it together, which makes life richer and more fun!

Equality benefits you, too.

Because, you know, it is honestly awful to see men discriminated against when it comes to careers like teaching, childcare, elderly care, psychology and so on. Who says that all men must be tough and working as leaders or carpenters?

Follow your personal call. The rest doesn’t matter.

Thanks for reading, fellow humans. I love you. <3