Dear Ms. Macdonald,
I read with great interest your article at City Journal about how math IS harder for girls, in which you try to dispute the findings of a recent study that looked at test scores from across states and grade spans only to discover that there was no significant difference between girls' and boys' math scores. Let's forget the fact that I have no idea why a woman would be so eager to perpetuate a myth that can do nothing but damage to members of her own sex. Perhaps, because you are a writer, you are one of these misguided people who thinks you are not a "math person" and that it doesn't really matter if someone isn't good at math, because we just don't need that many physicists and mathematicians in this world. Therefore who cares if women aren't good at math? But you are dead wrong about that. Today, we need competent mathematicians and scientists more than ever, and, in the future, as anyone who is paying attention can tell you, our job market is going to demand more and more people who can fill these positions. A generalization that men are better at math and science than women is going to keep women where they have always been: in positions in which they can't rise to the top in their careers.
But, let's forget all that, because I have another question for you. Why is it that conservatives just do not seem to want to pay any attention to history? I'm generalizing, I know, but it seems to me that whenever I read articles in such publications as City Journal, I am always amazed at how little historical knowledge the writers seem to have. This is interesting coming from someone like me, who is not a historian. Even so, I do bother to have a fleeting acquaintance with the past (and I would certainly make sure my acquaintance was more than just fleeting were I to be someone who made a living writing articles that commented on social and political events of the present) and to let past experience inform me. Perhaps, even though I am not a historian, because I am a liberal, I just happen to have some sort of gene that causes history to come easy to me. Maybe if we were to look at history test scores of American children, we would discover that it's the liberals who excel in the subject, the liberals who know which events led to the devastation of societies, which events prevented devastation, and thus, the liberals who should get all the top government positions in this country, because conservatives just don't have the capacity to understand history's complexity. After all, this is what you argue vis a vis math and science and men and women, that women should not be getting the top positions in the field of math and science, that these should be left to the men who have greater abilities in this area, that if we have quotas based on sex, we will not be getting those who have the natural, superior talent in the field.
You may be wondering why reading your article has caused me to draw this conclusion. After all, you weren't writing about history. You were writing about math. Well, I seem to be doing something that we non-mathematically-brained women shouldn't be able to do. I'm making connections (making connections is a key mathematical skill. I bet you didn't know that. I bet your idea of math is really just arithmetic. I bet you didn't know that math is all about patterns, as well. Or that math is all about problem solving -- and I don't mean plugging numbers into algorithms and formulas when I say "problem solving"). If you had decided to try to make connections between what you were saying and historical fact, you might have done a little research. That research might have revealed that in Pythagoras's (you do know who Pythagoras was, don't you?) community in Croton, women were full members and teachers. Then you might have asked yourself: if women were full members and teachers of this early mathematical community, quite obviously sharing mathematical capabilities with men, what happened? Then you might have looked to more recent times, to times when education in such areas as science and math was not considered important for women, when girls had such things as needlework that needed to be learned (incidentally, such endeavors as needlework and sewing cannot be done without mathematical ability). You might have read about women like Emmy Noether who made fundamental contributions to algebra. She was on the team that was created to help Einstein with the relativistic theory of gravity. However, in 1915, she was denied a position at The University of Gottingen because she was a woman.
You might have asked yourself other questions as well, such as: 200 years ago, would you, a woman, have held a position writing articles for a magazine? Why, of course not. 200 years ago, we all know that women's writing talent couldn't compare to that of men. Women who could write were few and far between. Men were writers. Women were homemakers. Hmmm...I wonder if it was some horrible "classic feminist trope for how our sexist society destroys girls' innate abilities" that helped women break into the field of journalism and to prove that they could write with the best of the men. I suppose we could trace the history of journalism and find out, but then, again, maybe that would just be too taxing for your pretty little conservative head.
With All Due Respect,Emily Barton
Cross-posted at: What We Said.