Girls do Math: Surprised by the Surprise

I occasionally run into people who seem surprised that girls do math!

“You run a math club for girls? I thought math was for boys…”

And, even though I’ve run into people like this many times now, each time I do I can’t help but feel surprised by their surprise.

Throughout my own math education, there have always been girls and women doing math. In my high school, one of the top math students was a girl and one of the first math papers I ever published was co-authored with a woman. I did notice that there were proportionately far fewer women in math than in the general population, of course. But it never once occurred to me that girls couldn’t do math. Perhaps that’s why I’m so surprised when people seem surprised that girls can do math.

I don’t think it should be the slightest bit surprising. What should be surprising is the low representation of women in the field of mathematics. One might say that this low representation should in fact be rather alarming. It certainly begs questions such as: Why are women fewer than 6% of tenured faculty at 10 of the top US math departments? (This fact is from a 2004 survey conducted by the American Mathematical Society.)¬†Many have thought about just this question and many have proposed explanations. They range from the assertion that girls really are intrinsically not as good as boys at mathematics to the assertion that girls just don’t like math as much as boys to the assertion that the tenure process is inherently unfair to women. There are lots of hypotheses about this. Perhaps someday I’ll share my own.

But how does this relate to Girls’ Angle? In a certain sense, it doesn’t. Girls’ Angle was not born out of an ideology; Girls’ Angle has its roots in practicality. I simply noticed that certain girls benefit from an all-girl educational environment in mathematics. Seeing that there weren’t any comprehensive all-girl programs led by mathematicians, I decided to create one.

Girls’ Angle doesn’t assert that all girls should learn in a segregated environment or that girls should “avoid boys” when learning math. Girls’ Angle simply recognizes that there are girls who enjoy and benefit from an all-girl math educational environment and so it provides one. Furthermore, at Girls’ Angle we don’t just provide any educational program. We really strive to offer one that is second to none. That’s why, for instance, we have at least one postdoc mentor at every meet.

Some girls may actually feel that they are better off in a co-ed math educational environment. That’s totally fine with us. There are many good co-ed math educational programs out there. However, there are also girls that are better off in an all-girl math educational environment, and it’s much more difficult for these girls to find a good math program. In fact, I get emails from parents around the country looking for a program like Girls’ Angle in their area, but there aren’t any.

We’re still working hard to establish Girls’ Angle as a permanent presence here in Cambridge. If we succeed, then we’ll start expanding to other cities.¬†Until then, take advantage of our bimonthly math magazine and our videos. Girls’ Angle also offers a remote membership. The remote membership will never be as effective as our club membership, but if your daughter is already somewhat motivated to learn math, the remote membership can be quite useful. With luck, hopefully in the not-too-distant future, there will be a Girls’ Angle club near you.


About girlsangle

We're a math club for girls.
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