Women and math: gender differences in learning styles

Women and Mathematics

A common assumption is that women can't do math. This belief is reinforced by stereotypes of female mathematicians as intellectual professor or unattractive old maid. These stereotypes do a diservice to present and future women mathematicians. For women mathematicians, the harmful stereotypes affect how they are treated in the workplace, how they think of themselves, and their relationships with colleagues. For future mathematicians, the stereotypes dissuade them from pursuing a career in math, make a choosen career in math a difficult avenue to pursue, and make for fewer female mathematician role models. Besides the stereotypes, math is a traditionally "masculine" discipline. Historically, men have dominated in terms of documented mathematical findings and famous scholars. Women are seen as too "soft" to handle math. The roles of women are seen as wife and mother which conflict with the role of mathematician. Additionally, the emphasis in math is on the impersonal "right" or "wrong" answers, in apposition to the "feminine" traits of being "caring" and "emotional." Breaking down the stereotypes of women mathematicians and having girls see more female mathematicians as role models would help to ameliorate the problem. In addition, the valuing of "feminine" traits would increase participation of women in math. Emotions should be included in math as well as other traditionally "feminine" traits.

For more about women and mathematics, check out the following references:

Henrion, Claudia, Women in Mathematics: The Addition of Difference. Indianapolis: Indiana University Press, 1997.

Kleinfield, Judith S. and Suzanne Yerian, Gender Tales: Tensions in the Schools. New York: St. Martin's Press, 1995.


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