Thus Spake Zuska

Tara on Danica McKellar

Tara at Aetiology has a review of Danica McKellar’s new book Math Doesn’t Suck: How to Survive Middle School Math Without Losing Your Mind Or Breaking A Nail. She also snagged an interview with McKellar which you can find here. She asks McKellar about her motivations for writing the book and also why she choose to weave examples around stereotypical “girly” things like fashion, shopping, and makeup, among other questions.

McKellar, for those of you who don’t know or remember, starred as Winnie in the television series The Wonder Years. Afterwards she went on to earn a math degree summa cum laude from UCLA. She also has a published proof. (Thanks to Tara for that link.)

Comments

  1. #1 PhysioProf
    July 25, 2007

    “why she choose to weave examples around stereotypical ‘girly’ things like fashion, shopping, and makeup, among other questions.”

    I’m sorry to say that her answer to that question was very unsatisfactory. It sucks to sell math to young girls by convincing them that can learn math and still be consumerist tools of the patriarchy.

  2. #2 LJG
    July 26, 2007

    PhysioProf – I would disagree. Using baseball stats examples is a way to relate to boys in class, so I don’t see why using something most teen-age girls can relate to is so bad. Why should you have to choose between accessorizing and being smart anyway? Who said if you were smart or good at math you had to shun everything else you may like? Why can’t you be a cheerleader, be good in math and science, and have the lead in the school musical? It’s the stereotypes (even the ones that shun ‘girly’ things) that put women in little ‘society appropreate boxes’ every day. Realizing that ‘oh, I am good at math and science and I can be teen-age cool too and those two things are not at odds within myself’ is something of value, I think.

  3. #3 Signout
    July 26, 2007

    “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.

    I’m just sayin’.

  4. #4 Chris Rowan
    July 27, 2007

    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.

    Ideally yes, but how many people (of either sex) realise this when they’re 14?

  5. #5 Tara C. Smith
    July 27, 2007

    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.

    She actually does discuss that in the book. She’s not saying necessarily that “makeup makes you cool” or “loving clothes makes you cool.” She mentions, for example, how she was tired of always being told she’s so good because she’s pretty, or because she’s a good actress or a celebrity, and that being good at math was a way to be recognized for her brain rather than other attributes. There’s a lot of that kind of message in the book, even though many of the examples used in the book are rather superficial.

  6. #6 PhysioProf
    July 27, 2007

    “She actually does discuss that in the book.”

    So, what’s her excuse for shilling patriarchal bullshit?

    NOTE FROM ZUSKA: sorry, this comment got hung up in moderation. my apologies.

  7. #7 Science Avenger
    July 28, 2007

    Come on, how can anyone find fault with this? We just got the study that showed math was the most important subject to master in preperation for college science classes. Now comes this intelligent, well spoken, hot (Did he say hot? Yes he did) young woman sending a fabulous message to other, younger women about math that might, just might, do a thing or two to balance out this gender-unbalanced academic scientific world Zuska so eloquently reminds us of from time to time. Influencing more young ladies to take math in high school is apparently going to make for more successful women in science classes in college. If in doing so Danica might play to one too many sorority-girl values, it’s a tiny price to pay. One progression at a time.

    So “Go Danica!!!” I say, and not just at the Indy 500. Is there something in the name?

  8. #8 PhysioProf
    July 29, 2007

    “If in doing so Danica might play to one too many sorority-girl values, it’s a tiny price to pay. One progression at a time.”

    Says you. It is perfectly reasonable to conclude that the benefit of making some girls think math is hawt and kewl is not worth the cost of more patriarchal consumerist apologia.

    It should be possible to teach girls that math is cool without reinforcing pernicious patriarchal norms. For example, maybe girls would find it appealing to discover that doing math is a way to have fun that doesn’t involve distorting their personas to suit the desires of others?

  9. #9 Science Avenger
    July 30, 2007

    As fate would have it, I was helping a coworker learn how to use excel today, and mentioned to her that it was a good idea to use different colors for entered values vs routine formulas vs special formulas. I use green, black, and blue respectively (old lotus guy), but told her anything she liked would do.

    Later in the day she sent me her first effort for review, and lo and behold, guess what color scheme she chose? Pink, black, and background pink! She also organized it in a very logical and efficient manner. I guess I should have chastized her for reinforcing pernicious patriarchal norms, but goofball that I am, I complimented her on a fine first effort, and encouraged her to learn more. [shrug]

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