No, Men Aren’t Better at Math

We all know the stereotypes. But where do they come from?

“Men are good at math, women are good at writing.”

Women were historically not allowed to do math. The ancient Greek female mathematician Hypatia was burned at the stake for “heresy” (keep in mind that Galileo……was merely sentenced to house arrest for heresy based on his discoveries.) Women were almost always excluded from university until the early 1900s. Sophie Germain (1776-1831) was an entirely self-taught number theorist who discovered a theorem and was praised by Carl Friedrich Gauss.

Married women were forbidden from managing money. A married woman who earned money did not own her money, it belonged to her husband. A woman could not legally get a credit card in her own name until 1974.

In contrast, writing novels was something women were permitted to do. Perhaps it was perceived by men as less of a threat than women making mathematical and scientific discoveries, and of course, there was no bigger threat to men than women managing money. Murasaki Shikibu wrote the first novel, “The Tale of Genji,” circa 1021. Writing novels was one of the very few ways, perhaps even the only way, an unmarried woman could make enough money to support herself financially. Writing novels was also something a woman could do from home. That is why we have seen relatively more notable female novelists than notable women from other professions. It is for no other reason than that women were not excluded from writing novels, but they were excluded from everything else.

Every profession, with the exception of novels and sewing, began as male dominated. The fewer women are in a profession, the more they are excluded and harassed by the men in that profession. As more women go into these professions, in spite of all the bullshit men throw at them, the amount of harassment decreases. And the stereotype declines. There was a time when, if you said, “Picture a psychologist,” everyone would have pictured a man. But I picture a woman, because 53% of psychologists are women now.

Patriarchy as a social system has differed across time and place. There is archaeological evidence that prehistoric humans (gatherer-hunters) respected women equally. Patriarchy is not biological. It’s not natural. It’s not caused by testosterone. Patriarchy can best be understood in the way war and genocide are understood, as methods of oppression and exploitation. Yet men have always used bioessentialism — the idea that everything men and women do, can do, and should be allowed to do, is determined by our biology — to justify patriarchy. Their biased pseudoscience has been debunked. So, let’s leave “men and women are hardwired for different things” at the door!

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