The Danica McKellar posts (review; interview) have sparked some discussion that I want to address here. It largely centers on the issue of McKellar’s approach: is it a good one? Or is it trying to replace one Bad Thing (girls’ dislike of math) with another Bad Thing (encouraging them to be, as one commenter put it, “consumerist tools of the patriarchy”?) More below…


Here at Aetiology, for example, Katie commented:

One of the reasons I liked science classes was because they were an oasis from the prevailing shopping/shoes/makeup ethic at my school.

Not every girl likes the same things. I think a diversity of approaches is what’s needed, and just because a book features both shopping AND math doesn’t mean it’s the cure-all to get girls into math and science.

Of course, no one suggested it’s a cure-all. This *is* working at a diversity of approaches–it’s for the girls who are interested in these kinds of things, that may be turned off by many of the examples mentioned in regular math texts (as Danica mentions, baseball, for one). If a girl is doing just fine in math as it is, well, great. As Katie herself noted, she *already* liked science classes in school specifically because they avoided this kind of thing. That’s great. But what about the girls who *are* into the “prevailing shopping/shoes/makeup ethic”? Shouldn’t they be targeted to be interested in math as well? As I noted in the questions, I have my reservations too, but I think it can work.

Others have suggested McKellar’s book will fail because she’s not addressing the cause underlying cause of all of this. Sure, some girls may turn away from math because it’s not “feminine” or because they’ll feel they need to “dumb themselves down” to get a boyfriend (topics Danica addresses in the book). But what about the step before that–*why* should girls care about being “feminine” or getting a boyfriend anyway? Obviously, the book doesn’t even try to tackle any of that, and some commenters have suggested that (as I asked Danica), she’s simply reinforcing stereotypes rather than empowering girls.

My own take on it is that, well, I tend to be fairly pragmatic. While I’d love to have the power to change the world in one sweeping blow, we all know that just doesn’t happen (or does so rarely enough that I can be rather confident I’m not going to be one of the people instigating it). However, we can each make small changes, chip away at a big problem in incremental steps. That’s where I see the value in Danica’s book–showing girls that being smart *and* pretty/fashionable/whatever is just fine, if that’s what interests you.

Signout commented:

“Teen-age cool” here seems to be code for “cool as defined by someone else.” I think Zuska and PhysioProf’s point is that even better that co-packaging math and coolness is convincing girls that they’re the ones who define their own coolness. As opposed to, say, some guy, or a female tool of the patriarchy, who decides that accessorizing/cheerleading/having the lead in the school musical is what makes them cool.

And Danica expressly advocates that girls decide for themselves what their own “cool” is. For her, she noted that she thought it was great when people recognized her for being a good math teaching assistant in college, rather than for being “that girl from the TV show”. The message is pretty simple throughout: being smart and having interests in things like fashion aren’t mutually exclusive, and that no matter what stage you’re at in life, developing your brain will open doors to places you may not have even dreamed of–even if you choose to walk through in 4-inch heels.

What I’m tired of is having people being so down on things like “accessorizing/cheerleading/having the lead in the school musical,” as if these are inherently bad things, or done by people who are too intellectually incompetent to be pursuing loftier hobbies. Heck, I was a cheerleader in high school. I was also on the quiz bowl team (and beat out several seniors to earn a spot as a sophomore). I still have people who are surprised that I’m intelligent because, apparently, I don’t physically look the part, whatever that means. I don’t find it empowering to girls (or women!) to suggest that we’re merely “consumerist tools of the patriarchy” because we choose to present ourselves in a certain way, or enjoy certain outlets, including fashion (admittedly not one of my interests, but still). And I think the earlier we can get to girls and teach them that they can be whatever they want to be (including smart and fashionable, if they so choose), the better.

Comments

  1. #1 Rob Knop
    July 30, 2007

    *why* should girls care about being “feminine” or getting a boyfriend anyway?

    You make this point yourself, but my answer is: why shouldn’t they? Obviously, they shouldn’t feel that they must care about these things… but if that’s what they’re into, no problem.

    Whenever I hear of somebody accusing somebody else of being a tool of the patriarchy because of what they like, I get grouchy. It doesn’t sound all that different from me being told that my intellectual maturity is stunted because I like to play games, or the time I was told that the only reason I believe in the Big Bang is because I grew up in a Judeo-Christian society.

    -Rob

  2. #2 Blake Stacey
    July 30, 2007

    Speaking pragmatically, I think that if a female youngster has well-developed math and reasoning skills — including the ability to detect lies-with-statistics and other forms of baloney — then she’s less likely to be a “tool of the patriarchy” whether she decides to wear makeup or not.

    And just how is anybody supposed to “define their own coolness” if they’ve never encountered the idea that math and coolness can go together?

  3. #3 RBH
    July 30, 2007

    One data point: I passed Tara’s book review and interview posts to a female high school math teacher of my acquaintance who herself has two daughters. Judging from her response she was very favorably impressed and expressed no reservations about the “cool” factor.

  4. #4 Doug S
    July 30, 2007

    Personally, I think the problem is not necessarily having an interest in fashion or cheer-leading (or whatever), but the suggestion that having an interest in one area automatically closes you off to interests in other areas. This book, from what I’ve seen, directly challenges that suggestion, and I think that’s a great thing. In the end, people should be free to enjoy what they enjoy, whether that be science, sports, fashion, or any combination of things. That is what we should aim for.

    As for math and science, the analytical skills you pick up when studying these areas are incredibly useful to a broad range of interests that at first brush may seem unrelated; which is why I get so annoyed at creationists butchering scientific methods. Any thing that encourages a broader range of people to pick up these skills is a good thing.

  5. #5 J-Dog
    July 30, 2007

    Personally, I think the “cool factor” is what makes it… cool!

    Tara – In other news, I sent you an email at the iowa science site – and a PM at the ATBC site.

  6. #6 Jennifer Ouellette
    July 30, 2007

    I think Tara nails an important issue: many of the commenters have their own bias against the possibility that a girl can be interested in both math and fasion, or cheerleading, or whatever. It’s just not so. I was a total dweeb in high school, one of the “brains” who was shunned socially unless there was a pop quiz. But nonetheless, I think I would have been interested in a book like Danica’s. I could have used some assistance both in relating math to the “real world,” and in the hair and fasion category. :)

  7. #7 Pi Guy
    July 30, 2007

    I like all sorts of numbers: 770 (SAT – Math) and 36-C (bra size) carry at least equal weight. I jest, but the point is that I can’t imagine why any guy who has the least little bit of self-confidence would be threatened by a woman just because she can do a Fourier Transform.

    Rather, if you get what I was trying to say with the 770/36-C comment, I find intelligence to be a very attractive feature, so much so that I would overlook other shortcomings – because we’ve all got them – like how well they fill out a bra (which really isn’t a shortcoming as far as I’m concerned). I’m certain that there are others like me. My buddies and I spent many afternoons in the lab hoping that a girl would show up in the Physics Building hallways, even if they were just lost or looking for the rest room but there were only three Physics grads the whole time that I was there. On the other hand, there were three women on the Physics Dept Faculty so there were some positive role models. Two were rather elderly – one was actually a retired(?) nun (I had her for two course and she was really good) – but the third often wore skirts and boots and didn’t seem to have any problem being a scientist as well as a woman, as far as I could tell. By all accounts, she was also very good.

    I recall an article that was printed in my college newspaper that broke down students’ majors demographics. Not surprisingly, women were completely underrepresented in science and math majors whereas men tended to avoid fields such as Education – especially Early Childhood Ed. It’s my belief, though, that the world would be a better place if we could get more even gender mixing in both of those areas.

    There are certainly differences between the genders but none that I can think of should preclude a woman from enjoying or succeeding in math.

  8. #8 Byzanteen
    July 30, 2007

    A third thread on McKellan, and you don’t even broach the important questions: Is McKellar godless? Is she married?

  9. #9 Science Avenger
    July 30, 2007

    I still have people who are surprised that I’m intelligent because, apparently, I don’t physically look the part, whatever that means.

    It means you are more attractive than the stereotype for intelligent women (and I second the motion). This surprise derives from the egalitarian presumption in our society Doug S touches on: the more attractive you are as a woman, the less intelligent, you are presumed to be. With men, if we are intelligent, we are presumed not to be athletic. I can’t count the number of times in high school I got comments like “Wow, you are on the math team AND the football team?!”, as if somehow athletic ability drained one’s brains. That’s one reason the message Danica is sending is so important, and her looks, as much as we hate it, plays a huge role. There is no excuse to be ignorant, whether you are deemed pretty by The Patriarcy or not.

    I cheer the comments here by Rob and Blake, and echo Pi Guy’s incomprehension that any guy would be turned off by a woman’s intellect. Nothing is uglier than stupidity, with the possible exception of laziness.

  10. #10 degustibus
    July 30, 2007

    Meanwhile, I’m wondering why you changed your photo, I liked the old one ….

  11. #11 Sister Howitzer
    July 31, 2007

    I’m not convinced this is entirely a gender issue. I know plenty of math and science challenged males, although they don’t seem to admit it quite so readily. Diane Ravitch has an article challenging the claim that girls aren’t as prepared as boys: Girls are Beneficiaries of Gender Gap.

    This 1998 NSF report says “High school females are now more likely
    than males to have taken geometry and algebra 2, and about
    as likely to have completed calculus.”

    Historically, men have dominated the fields of math and science, but that clearly is changing. For example, in 2006, 48.6% of medical school graduates were female. While there is gender disparity in engineering and many of the hard sciences, I wouldn’t assume it’s because girls think math is too hard.

    The bigger issue is the state of math education in this country. The National Council of Teachers of Mathematics (NCTM) published a “Standards” document in 1989 that dramatically changed the way math was taught, resulting in enormous controversy over math curricula and pedagogy. “Reform” math appears to be making the situation worse. An increasing percentage of entering college freshmen need remedial work in math, and fewer students are majoring in math and engineering. This is despite more students taking advanced math courses in high school.

    The math controversy is discussed in great detail at Illinois Loop , NYC HOLD and Mathematically Correct, to name just a few.

  12. #12 Mark Nutter
    July 31, 2007

    Maybe it’s just me but I can’t help but think that a lot of the intellect versus femininity controversy is fueled by a lingering culture of Puritan prudery. On the one hand, both male and female have a certain natural desire to be attractive to the gender of interest. On the other hand, cultural inhibitions against anything sexual have a tendency to promote a prejudicial view of any person or behavior that draws attention to one’s sexual role. “Nice” people are only supposed to pursue Platonic interests.

    For all the progress we’ve made in self-acceptance and an enlightened view of sexuality, we’ve still got a ways to go before everyone will be comfortable with the idea that it’s ok, even for “geeks,” to be sexy sometimes.

  13. #13 Agnostic
    July 31, 2007

    Mlles Smith and McKellar are too modest to say so themselves, but it’s clear that, as elsewhere, casting aspersions on those who possess enviable traits (such as physical attractiveness) only reflects the, well, envy, of the slanderer. For, as much as they will prattle on about celebrating the diversity of mankind, they are incensed when they see a certain kind of diversity in the flesh — i.e., inequalities in enviable traits.

    Rather than enjoy the fact that some people are quite attractive and socially graceful and charming — thank god, because most of us sure aren’t! — the party-poopers will only rest at ease when the beautiful scar their faces, when the gregarious lock themselves in their rooms listening to grunge music, and when the stylish shred their garments into rags. “Making everyone equal” never consists of elevating those at the bottom, but of toppling over those above.

    It’s true that those who have been blessed should maintain a sense of modesty, humility, and gratefulness for their gifts — they didn’t earn their good looks — but it’s quite another to bully them into feeling ashamed for having been so blessed. If you were born with two left feet, why not denigrate those who can cut a little rug as zombies who prefer vapid disco music over the intellectual profundities of The Who? As always, it is the mark of an insecure coward to attempt to beat others up in order to make oneself feel good.

    Frankly, I’m shocked and pleased that in this discussion there has been so much resistance to such craven tactics. Thirty years ago, it would have been impossible to argue for women to attend to their personal appearance — only a sell-out would dress above the level of a vagrant. Hopefully the tireless browbeating from humorless feminist ideologues is on its way out of fashion.

    (And of course it should be rare to find a person who excels in two independent areas: a small number times another small number is a far smaller number still. It’s astounding that people who style themselves as scientifically savvy could ignore such a basic truth.)

  14. #14 Stephen
    July 31, 2007

    There certainly are people who are unattractive, and there aren’t many options for change. There are certainly people who are naturally thin, without effort. But it’s always easy to assume that attractiveness is effortless for someone else.

    There are people who just aren’t very smart, and work hard to achieve something like ‘average’. Of those who seem to know everything there are very few who didn’t (and don’t) work very hard at it.

    So, basically, we’re asking students to work hard at becoming smart – in particular, science (and math) savvy.

    You need at least a little math to go shopping. Do you have enough cash for the current purchase? Is it going to leave enough for the next thing? It’s $0.45 for a yogurt, but $2.75 for six – which is cheaper? With six percent sales tax, how much tax will there be on $18.95? I’m currently trying to teach my 10 year old this level of math. In the grocery store, etc. And, i’m hoping these word problems will help bring reality to the effort, as well as help with word problems.

    It isn’t just that people who are smart are attractive. People who work hard at anything are attractive.

  15. #15 Justin Moretti
    July 31, 2007

    … I can’t imagine why any guy who has the least little bit of self-confidence would be threatened by a woman just because she can do a Fourier Transform.

    My reply to such a woman would be “I’ll show you my textbook if you show me yours.” The world needs more sexy female nerds!

    O Hermione Granger, where art thou? ;-)

  16. #16 PhysioProf
    July 31, 2007

    “Rather, if you get what I was trying to say with the 770/36-C comment, I find intelligence to be a very attractive feature, so much so that I would overlook other shortcomings – because we’ve all got them – like how well they fill out a bra (which really isn’t a shortcoming as far as I’m concerned). I’m certain that there are others like me. My buddies and I spent many afternoons in the lab hoping that a girl would show up in the Physics Building hallways, even if they were just lost or looking for the rest room but there were only three Physics grads the whole time that I was there.”

    Do you get that this attitude absolutely reeks of the male entitlement that is the real problem for women in science? Do you get that the underlying assumption of your attitude is that women exist for the purpose of being attractive to men? Do you get that *this* is what hinders women in science?

    Trying to convince girls that math prowess is consistent with femininity is a red herring, and only serves to reinforce what is the real obstacle to women’s success in science.

  17. #17 linus blanchette
    July 31, 2007

    Hello,
    The discussion surprisingly missing an unprecedented mathematical breakthrough from Penny Smith.
    Here is a link:
    http://comet.lehman.cuny.edu/sormani/others/SmithNavierStokes.html

    No one expected that the problem will be solved in decades let alone so soon. I am not saying all the little holes in the proof. Not to mention myriad of women who are dominating the Physics scene now

    This proves that along with Physics breakthroughs women are now every bit good at everything. So it is about time men gave up the idea that: oh they dominate literary stuff.

    It is time men (specially in this country woke up to education).

    Linus.

    PS: Tara, on other note, I am curious about your Iowa citizens for action group. The one in Ohio has an undeliverable address for check mail-in. What sort of activities you do?

  18. #18 HCN
    August 1, 2007

    Blake Stacey said “And just how is anybody supposed to “define their own coolness” if they’ve never encountered the idea that math and coolness can go together?”

    Speak for yourself! Though I am a clueless mom I do let it known that math is cool (having spent some child chauffeur time explaining how inertia locks on seat belts work).

    (though someday my kids will think that there mom is cool because she is an aerospace engineer… though not quite right now)

    Fortunately, unlike the era I grew up in (think “Mod Squad”, “I Dream of Jeannie” and “Lucille Ball” shows), my kids get to see competent female role models in Mythbusters (Kari), and in Stargate SG1 (Sam Carter)… oh, and Hermoine Granger (though daughter is now on an anti-Harry Potter kick right now, she is thoroughly entrenched in Japanese Manga and Anima… in Japanese. Apparently she has picked up her grandfather’s gene for learning languages quickly). Stargate is a recent household obsession (mostly in 16 year old son, but mom is trying to catch up… I just finished watching Season 1 of SG1 on DVD from the local library).

  19. #19 HCN
    August 1, 2007

    Okay, time for bed… I just committed an unforgivable spelling error. I just used “there” for “their”. AAARGH!!!

  20. #20 Seth Manapio
    August 1, 2007

    “Do you get that this attitude absolutely reeks of the male entitlement that is the real problem for women in science? Do you get that the underlying assumption of your attitude is that women exist for the purpose of being attractive to men? Do you get that *this* is what hinders women in science?”

    ———–

    Do you get that women DO exist for the purpose of being attractive to men? Men exist for the purpose of being attractive to women. We’re sexually reproducing creatures, without this attraction we’d die out.

    Somehow, though, around YOU, we’re all supposed to pretend that we don’t know the definition of sexy. Attitudes like yours are the real barrier for women in the sciences… no one wants to have to repress their sexuality completely in service of your fantasy of a sexless society.

  21. #21 Alvaro
    August 2, 2007

    Given the state of math education in the US, and the number of well-educated individuals I meet (including Stanford MBAs) who happily say “I have always been bad at numbers” when facing a simple mental multiplication, I’d like to first know what is the gender-independent source of the problem, which must be, say, 60-70% common to both genders, and then focus on the remaining 30-40% for girls-which probably has a component of anxiety performance.

    Thoughts?

  22. #22 Zuska
    August 2, 2007

    Contrary to Seth’s fond beliefs, this woman, at least, does not exist for the purpose of being attractive to men, and I suspect I am not alone in that. Nor does Mr. Zuska exist for the purpose of being attractive to women. Yet somehow we managed to find each other and mate despite this not being the purpose of our existence. Reproduction, alas, was not the purpose of our mating either, merely enjoying one anther was.

    Acknowledging that women do not exist solely to serve as the objects of men’s sexual fantasies does not preclude having satisfying intimate relationships with the opposite sex. It merely requires interacting with women as if they were human beings, not a set of tits and ass. If I am a graduate student in physics, I am in the physics department to get an education in physics, not to provide pleasant scenery to brighten your day, Mr. Manapio.

    All that said, I would like to make it clear that I have not yet taken an official position on the McKellar book. I wrote a post pointing readers to Tara’s review and interview, my readers offered their own comments. I have a copy of the book and am working on my own review at the present time, and am not yet sure what I’ll say in the end. There are things I like in the book, things I don’t.

    However, being critical of McKellar’s approach is not the same thing as saying that women should not be attractive if they want to be intelligent. That’s really failing to read closely and thoughtfully what critics of the book are saying. Critics are not saying women should strive to be ugly and hide their natural attractiveness. They are saying, is it such a good idea to continue to promote the idea that it’s good for girls to focus on fashion and getting a boyfriend as important goals? To focus on a notion of attractivenss as defined by what teen mags say is attractive, or what sexually obejctified women are portrayed as, as a desirable goal? I think that is a reasonable set of questions to raise, worth considering. Those questions are NOT the same thing as saying “women and men should not ever try to be attractive to one another, and who cares if the human race comes to an end.” Really. Can you hear how silly you sound when you pretend that’s what’s being said?

  23. #23 Laura
    August 2, 2007

    “I still have people who are surprised that I’m intelligent because, apparently, I don’t physically look the part, whatever that means.”

    The intelligence – physical appearance tradeoff stereotype has two negative sides. Not only can it lead a young woman (and others) to deem the math/science professions “uncool” but it can create a latent disapproval of “looking too good” within the scientific professions. As if one appears to spend time thinking about their outward appearance, they aren’t spending enough time thinking about their science. This attitude (both sides) not only can discourage young women from considering science/math related professions but can uphold another negative stereotype of scientists as socially inept irrelevant puttering geeks (ouch).

    Let’s face it, the way one presents oneself is important for success, no matter the profession. And in order for scientists to succeed in making members of the general public care about science, (which important for our success is it not?) they have to break that lame geeky stereotype. This blog is one great example of both making science interesting and available in a public forum and showing young women that it is cool to be a scientist. McKellar’s book seems to be an strong push from the other perspective, I support her goals.

    My group of undergrad girlfriends has split about 50/50 into steadily climbing corporate women and bio/medical doctor tracks. I’m the only non-medical biology type, and though I’m on the “stylish” end of the frumpy-stylish spectrum of female grad students in my department, when I visit my old buds they are vaguely dismayed to see and hear that my style passes for hip at work. I would imagine that this disconnect grows wider as one moves from Biology to say Physics departments; if the men are over-eager for any woman to walk down the halls, how will they react to a “stylish” woman? Finally, for a broader-group example of the “intelligent women shouldn’t look good” attitude, see the press on Speaker Pelosi’s or Senator Clinton’s fashion sense.

  24. #24 PhysioProf
    August 2, 2007

    “Do you get that women DO exist for the purpose of being attractive to men? Men exist for the purpose of being attractive to women. We’re sexually reproducing creatures, without this attraction we’d die out.”

    OH, NOES! If women scientists are not hawt enough, teh human race is DOOMED!

  25. #25 Signout
    August 2, 2007

    I’m a little late to the discussion, but I’d like to echo some of the other statements of clarification:

    I never said I or anyone else was or should be down on accessorizing/cheerleading/musical theatre. I just think there’s more to be gained from encouraging self-determination of cool than from presenting the majority-approved version of cool and encouraging aspiration to it. This is especially true for young women who, if they find themselves talented in a domain traditionally dominated by men–like, say, math–will find themselves forever being asked to explain their unfeminine choice.

    At the very least, they’ll be asked repeatedly why they’re not trying harder to be attractive to people. Either way, it’ll be good to have something (other than the big middle finger) prepared.

  26. #26 ArtK
    August 2, 2007

    Some good comments here. I think that some of this boils down to the classic discussion of feminism. Does “rejecting the patriarchy” mean refusing to do anything and everything that the patriarchy approves of, or does it mean choosing to do something despite the patriarchy’s approval or disapproval.

    I’m a strong believer in the latter definition. I think that the former makes one just as much a slave of the patriarchy as if one blindly conformed. It’s also a bit childish — doing exactly the opposite of what you are told, simply because you were told to.

    Another aspect is the fact that any proposed solution doesn’t solve the entire problem. “The tool isn’t perfect, therefore we reject it” is what I’m hearing. A variation on that is “this doesn’t work for me, therefore it’s wrong.”

  27. #27 Agnostic
    August 2, 2007

    Laura — good points. Most of the hostility toward women paying attn to their appearance is obviously coming from other women — guys have no problem. The same is true for men, proving that this conflict is not due to patriarchal oppression: most male scientists, engineers, etc. dress like 12 year-old boys. See:
    http://www.udolpho.com/weblog/?id=01042&title=Dressing-like-a-retard-isnt-impressing-anyone

    I’m sure women would appreciate guy geeks putting more effort into looking presentable, while the entrenched male slobs view their more dapper colleagues as one-upping traitors. In sum, reasonable people can agree that looking better is better for all involved, regardless of sex.

    Signout — you can’t define cool on your own. Only widely acknowledged sources of coolness can define it — that’s why we laugh when someone says, “But my mom thinks I’m cool / handsome / funny / etc.” There has to be a larger cultural shift that makes math & science cool; one person is too small. I wasn’t alive then, but I get the impression that during the ’50s it was more acceptable to be into math & science.

    Of course, scientists wore dress shirts and ties back then, so again part of the process of coolifying scientists will consist of them making an effort to not look like they were dressed by their blind 2nd-grade-droupout cousin.

  28. #28 PhysioProf
    August 2, 2007

    “[P]art of the process of coolifying scientists will consist of them making an effort to not look like they were dressed by their blind 2nd-grade-droupout cousin.”

    Not necessarily. Another route to “coolifying” scientists is teaching children that what is portrayed as “cool” is just marketing propaganda designed to create desire for worthless consumer crap, thereby fattening the coffers of huge corporations. Children should be taught that what matters in life is not the acquisition of makeup, fashion, and other worthless crap, but rather the nurturing of character, expertise, family, and friendship.

    I get that some people want to take the approach of portraying scientists as “cool”, i.e., just as interested in worthless superficial consumer crap as the rest of society. Where I differ is that I believe what is cool about science is that it provides a context for personal and professional development that is *not* related to makeup, fashion, and other worthless consumer crap. And I believe that if scientists make this clear, science will be appealing to girls who sense–deep down inside–that embracing superficial consumerist notions of “cool” and patriarchal norms of femininity is going to ultimately lead to a dissatisfying life.

  29. #29 Aaron
    August 2, 2007

    That’s a whole lot of words in the replies to say “girls are just jealous”.

    … and still no one’s acknowledged that being at the top of ANY field requires sacrifices. Sacrificing to get to the top of a social pursuit is always going to look cooler than making the same sacrifices to get better at something shut-ins can do almost as well – like science or music.

    … and then I have to work against overly sensitive types that think physical appeal doesn’t matter. Huge corporations didn’t create sex appeal, they just had to get good at adapting it for their purposes. It’s not patriarchal if it’s how heterosexual people are hard-wired to feel.

    Physically attractive, socially skilled people are always going to be the cool ones. I don’t see where an attempt to broaden the appeal of math and science can get anywhere without acknowledging that. Most scientists who want to be cooler would have see the most improvement going to the gym and spending more time talking to people. Maybe when people like Ms. McKellar who fit these “arbitrary”, “corporate”, “patriarchal” ideals find some acceptance in the community, we’ll see hot people flocking to technical fields.

  30. #30 Agnostic
    August 2, 2007

    First, I realize I’m a guest here, and my apologies to Mlle Smith for accepting the bait of trolls, but I think the main points have already been made and someone has to pipe up a bit at this ridiculousness:

    what is portrayed as “cool” is just marketing propaganda designed to create desire for worthless consumer crap, thereby fattening the coffers of huge corporations.

    Right, that must be why huge corporations sell dirt as food instead of sugary, fatty, or salty snacks — and why their marketing depts cook up propaganda on behalf of dirt. Dirt is all around us for the taking, so that selling it maximally fattens their coffers. It’s an ingenious decision on their part, isn’t it?

    I hear their next propaganda campaign will be to force us to believe that Oprah is a sex symbol — so, expect to see posters of a bikini-clad Oprah to soon replace those of Jessica Alba on the walls of adolescent boys.

    embracing superficial consumerist notions of “cool” and patriarchal norms of femininity is going to ultimately lead to a dissatisfying life.

    Yep, when I look around and notice who’s the most happy and satisfied with their lives, crotchety feminist activists are the first group I think of. Next in my mind is their male counterparts, who reject superficial consumerist notions of cool and patriarchal norms of masculinity by working as code monkeys and devoting their leisure time to Star Trek trivia.

    Finally, I’m positive that telling kids that they’re zombies brainwashed by corporate marketing propaganda — but that there’s still time to disconnect themselves from the Matrix! — will pay huge dividends in terms of attracting them to your career field. How has it worked out so far?

  31. #31 PhysioProf
    August 2, 2007

    “Yep, when I look around and notice who’s the most happy and satisfied with their lives, crotchety feminist activists are the first group I think of.”

    Someone’s gotta make blankies.

  32. #32 Tegumai Bopsulai, FCD
    August 6, 2007

    Someone’s gotta make blankies.

    Agnostic said crotchety, not crocheting.

  33. #33 bybelknap, FCD
    August 7, 2007

    Hello Tara,
    I have three daughters – 12 year old twins, and a 10 year old. I ordered the book simply based on your mention of it. All three of them have sat down with it and read chapters and done excercises in the last three days and all three have commented on what a cool book it is. This is summer vacation, and my kids are doing MATH. And ENJOYING IT.

    I don’t give a hoot what the broader social implications of cute girls being smart about math are. My kids are learning math, enjoying it, and they thanked me for buying them a math book. So thank YOU for bringing it to my attention on your fine Blog.

  34. #34 Brian Foley
    August 7, 2007

    This is without a doubt the most important post on any site about McKellar’s book so far. Thanks for opening it up.

    I am an advocate for the book (see Math Doesn’t Suck on Squidoo) but with serious qualifications. Your post, and the comments of your readers, addresses many of the issues I’m concerned with.

    As a middle-aged white man, (and a cranky one at that) I’d like to come down on this book for the obvious reasons. But I am hoping it will be a gateway for girls who suffer from mathophobia to becoming more intelligent and confident young women. Intelligence and confidence are two things that will then become their own gateway away from consumerism and superficiality.

    Many teens eventually grow out of those demons, and ability with math and critical-thinking skills can only speed up the process, no? The obsession with “femininity” and “popularity” are stages. They will eventually subside in healthy women, whereas the obsession with improving your mind only grows.

    Ms. McKellar seems to be planting some decent seeds for growth.

  35. #35 Renee
    August 8, 2007

    To address some of the, uh, controversy, I’d like to clear up some confusion about what women are “for.”

    A woman is for whatever she wants to be. That is undeniable. However, just because that is so, you cannot ignore what a woman EVOLVED to do. Women, and men, have evolved to maximize the spread of their genes to the next generation. Because of this, certain traits in both men and women were the result of some pretty powerful selection.

    Just because humans have some of the most maleable behaviors on Earth doesn’t mean that our behavior isn’t still heavily influenced by our purpose (from an evolutionary standpoint) to reproduce. This means that most women will care about finding mates. I think it’s perfectly reasonable- nay, necessary- to take that information into account when attempting to influence ANY human behavior, and that includes encouraging female interest in math.

  36. #36 Agnostic
    August 8, 2007

    I just wrote a long review of Math Doesn’t Suck, plus some commentary on the larger debate:

    http://www.gnxp.com/blog/2007/08/brains-and-beauty-review-of-math-doesnt.php

  37. #37 Seth Manapio
    August 9, 2007

    “Contrary to Seth’s fond beliefs, this woman, at least, does not exist for the purpose of being attractive to men, and I suspect I am not alone in that. Nor does Mr. Zuska exist for the purpose of being attractive to women.”

    “OH, NOES! If women scientists are not hawt enough, teh human race is DOOMED!”

    ————-

    Apparently, Physio-prof wants to live in a world where all reproduction is carried out by in-vitro fertilization and pregnancy by lotto. Thanks, guy, but I’ll stick with the current system.

    Would you guys stop being so reactive and think? On a biological level, you have the sole purpose of reproduction of or at least protection of your genes. This is about as true a statement as can be made, akin to stating that the speed of light is absolute. Making fun of it by creating a straw man, or just denying it, doesn’t change the nature of reality.

    Sure, you imagine that you have a “higher” purpose, which for some people goes so far as believing that they are a key player in an eternal struggle between good and evil for control of the universe. We’d all like to think we are more than our biology, and of course we are other things IN ADDITION to our biology. But none of us are anything to the exclusion of our biology.

    To attempt to create a society in which people don’t find other people sexy based on bra size, broad shoulders, or big brains is just pointless. Humans have a sex drive. We find each other sexually attractive. This is not a reason for shame, remorse, or social stigma, but an innate and necessary part of what we are. It is why we exist, from a causal standpoint, regardless of ignorant parody.

    Attitudes that try to force shame on the idea that men find women attractive, or women find men attractive, based on bra size, broad shoulders, or big brains, form real barriers for women in the workplace. No one wants to be around someone who they have to be ashamed about finding attractive, and no one gets to decide NOT to find an attractive person attractive.

  38. #38 PhysioProf
    August 9, 2007

    “Agnostic said crotchety, not crocheting.”

    WHOOSH!

  39. #39 Zuska
    August 10, 2007

    Attitudes that try to force shame on the idea that men find women attractive, or women find men attractive,

    Apparently Seth can’t read. Or he can’t read what I wrote. Or, he can’t read and comprehend what I wrote. Because this is what I wrote:

    Acknowledging that women do not exist solely to serve as the objects of men’s sexual fantasies does not preclude having satisfying intimate relationships with the opposite sex.

    How you get “forcing shame” out of that is beyond me.

    There is sooooo much in this thread that needs responding to…but not on a Friday afternoon. I’ll have to come back here later…

  40. #40 PuckishOne
    August 11, 2007

    Quoth Seth Manapio: “Would you guys stop being so reactive and think? On a biological level, you have the sole purpose of reproduction of or at least protection of your genes. This is about as true a statement as can be made, akin to stating that the speed of light is absolute. Making fun of it by creating a straw man, or just denying it, doesn’t change the nature of reality.”

    This is going to come as a monstrous shock to all of us (male and female) who have chosen not to reproduce. How could we be so…so…inhuman as to callously deny our Biological Imperative??

    We now return to your regular comments, once again sarcasm-free.

  41. #41 EW
    August 11, 2007

    Hmmm – how could you?

  42. #42 Seth Manapio
    August 13, 2007

    “Apparently Seth can’t read. Or he can’t read what I wrote. Or, he can’t read and comprehend what I wrote. Because this is what I wrote:

    ‘If I am a graduate student in physics, I am in the physics department to get an education in physics, not to provide pleasant scenery to brighten your day, Mr. Manapio.’

    How you get “forcing shame” out of that is beyond me.”

    —————–

    Well, Zuska, the forcing shame comment was aimed more at physioprof than at you, but none-the-less, your comment above is clearly meant to shame. I am supposed to be revealed as the slobbering jackass who can’t recognize your right to get a degree in physics without being “sexualized” or “objectified.”

    In other words, I am supposed to pretend you aren’t female. Which is unrealistic. You are female, I am male, and that will impact how we interact regardless of how you want reality to be.

    Of course, I never suggested that women were sexual OBJECTS. Thats a story about my comment that you are just plain making up for yourself.

    Again, I think your reaction was a knee-jerk reaction. I think the same of PuckishOne, although, PO has perhaps missed the point by a wider margin than you.

    If either of you had thought for perhaps a tenth of a second before framing your response, you might have recognized that your personal decisions are not relevant to the issue. You CAN–and you do–pretend that reproduction isn’t a central part of your biology, and that the drive to reproduce isn’t a must have for a species to continue, but that won’t change the function of ovaries or alter the basic rules of natural selection.

  43. #43 Seth Manapio
    August 13, 2007

    This is going to come as a monstrous shock to all of us (male and female) who have chosen not to reproduce.

    ———–

    It shouldn’t shock you at all. You should be acutely aware of the need to circumvent and alter your biology to make sure that this doesn’t happen. If you are shocked by my statement, you are either remarkably oblivious to your own behavior or your quest to remain child free is destined to hit some snags.

    The biological purpose of maleness and femaleness is clearly, obviously, and undeniably sexual reproduction. Males must attract females and females males. That doesn’t mean that you, an individual, cannot use birth control or be gay. Its an aggregate statement about why there are women and men, as opposed to just one sex.

    My point is that to somehow pretend that it is wrong for a woman to find a man attractive, whether she is a colleague or a student or a professor or a friend, is just stupid. It isn’t wrong. Its biology. She can’t turn it off. That doesn’t mean they have to run around a corner and have sex or that she should pinch his butt and call him “hot pants.” It doesn’t diminish his goal of becoming a physicist. It just means that some woman thinks he’s cute, and that is okay.

    This hysteria is unwarranted.

  44. #44 Load cell
    December 10, 2007

    thanks

  45. thanks a lot

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