I love the comic pages in the newspaper. Some of them are just mildly amusing, but some are bitingly funny and offer real social satire (Pearls Before Swine comes to mind here, as does Non Sequitur). But I was definitely not amused this past weekend when I read the April 19 strip of Foxtrot.
In case you aren’t able to view the strip: the first panel shows a string of numbers, below which is a key. Each letter of the alphabet is represented by a semi-complex mathematical formulation, which must be solved to yield the number, which in turn allows one to substitute letters for numbers in the string above. For example: A is the square root of 121, M = (9×11) – (7×11), and so on. When I was young, I loved solving encrypted phrases like this. I imagine other young kids – girls and boys – might have enjoyed this comics challenge. I imagine in particular one of those young girls who’ve read “Math Doesn’t Suck!” working her way through those 26 little pieces of math…only to be sucker-punched as her reward.
You see, the second panel of the strip shows Jason Fox, the young geeky brother, with his older sister Paige, who we know from past strips to be something of an airhead. Paige is holding a sheet of paper – the sheet we are looking at in the first panel. Jason says “Think of it as a challenge to prove me wrong.” Paige replies, “About what?” with a puzzled look on her face. Of course, when you solve the key and make the substitutions, the phrase is rendered as “Paige Fox is bad at math.” Naturally! Because math is HARD, Barbie! For girls, anyway. Right??!!?!?!
A month or so ago there was a strip (I wish I’d saved it; it’s inaccessible in the archives unless you have a paid account) featuring Paige in which she actually demonstrates her ability to think mathematically in a fairly sophisticated manner for a teenager, in the context of talking about shopping. When she finishes, the family member she is speaking to (I can’t remember if it’s Jason or her father) does not compliment her on her shopper’s savvy or ability to apply math in the real world. No, what he says is “You are so weird.”
Some time ago, Bill Amend announced that he was going to stop doing Foxtrot as a daily strip, moving to a Sunday-only strip. Given its hackneyed stereotypes and retrograde sexism, it would be great if he would come to the realization that he can’t be bothered to even continue with the Sunday strip. We’ve already got plenty of gender smog in the air we’re forced to breathe every day, thank you very much.
Here’s a math problem for Bill Amend: If Bill’s shoe size is, let’s say, 11, what size (in liters) puke bucket should I use to visit upon said shoes the thorough puking they deserve?