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We couldn't prove that women are good at math. Here's why that's OK.

Turns out we were asking the wrong question.

We couldn't prove that women are good at math. Here's why that's OK.

Many people think men are better than women at math. Computer science researcher and feminist Terri Oda has suggested graphically that this is what people think the male-female math ability scale looks like:


Image via Terri Oda.

Well, I'm a woman, so I wanted to test this theory.

So I corralled my coworker Eric.

And we both just tried to solve this math problem:

Image via Wikimedia Commons.

We both got it wrong. Miserably wrong.

If you follow the logic of that blue and pink chart up there, Eric should've gotten it right. He's a man, after all. Grrrr. Sports. Beef jerky.

But that chart is also super wrong. Miserably wrong.

What does the correct chart look like? Terri shows us.

Image via Terri Oda.

This chart reflects a study that shows both men and women are about equal in skill when it comes to math. And both are, well, equally as bad.

And it took us both a little bit of time to understand that because we're both equally bad at reading mathy charts. But we figured that it meant if women aren't good at math, men aren't either.

So the question is if men and women are both equally bad at math, then why are men doing so much of it?

Image via NASA.

Because our brains, which we have proven are bad at logical reasoning, think like this:

So when a boy is mad at math, he is bad at math. When a girl is bad at math, all girls are bad at math? Yeah. OK. Image via xkcd.

The problem isn't how we do math, it's how society has made us think about math.

A male who's bad at math? An exception to the rule. A woman bad at math? Well what do you expect?! This way of thinking is wrong. It discourages girls from pursuing mathier futures, and it makes boys who struggle with math feel like very exceptional weirdos. That's not good for anyone.

Because of the way we see math in pop culture (and in our lives) we think it's this GIANT achievement only meant for the most perfect genius — and that most perfect genius is usually a man. Says society.

Society, you're wrong again.

Everyone — men and women alike — have the potential to get good at math. After we all agree on that, push our sexist lens to the side, and create our own math-judgment-free zone, the possibilities open WAY up.

Because here's the fun:

Now that we know men and women both have equal biological potential to be good at math, we know that they also have equal biological potential to have awesome, impressive math careers.

You know, in those mathy fields that are usually overwhelmingly male? If society and our silly notions about math and gender would get out of the way, I bet even more women would be in STEM careers making mic-dropping slides like this from Terri Oda:

Equality is a beautiful thing.

Courtesy of FIELDTRIP
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